Americanization, transnational television and its effect on national identity

From what was a theory laden lecture I took great interest in Brian’s discussion on transnational TV challenging the idea of national identity.

As Brian noted in the lecture.’TV programs don’t have the same effect as an army in deploying their ideology yet they do work on a cultural level’. So if we are to look at TV like a product, then it seems relatively simple that it can be sold. Packaged with desirable ingredients and marketed to consumers – which inevitably is all of us – it becomes a matter of what you are selling.

For a long period of time it seemed like the idealised family was the most marketable commodity. Think Happy Days, Home Improvement, Family Ties. Selling the family dream back into a family of TV heads. More recently, with the arrival of shows like Friends and Seinfeld, you could say the importance changed from family values to how important friends are in the big city.

Regardless, there’s something fairly common about these shows. They’re all American.

Not to say local shows weren’t popular in the 60’s up until now, yet it would be safe to say that the majority of TV shows existing around these periods were informed by the mass media coming out of the States.

This idea is referred to as Americanization, and it’s distinguished.

Take Israel. Maoz Azaryahu ascertains in his article “Israel Studies” that ‘the introduction of television and Coca-Cola signaled that Israeli society was undergoing a process of cultural re-orientation and that Israel was losing its pioneering character.’

Losing its pioneering character? I’m not so sure they ever were that pioneering. Regardless, for Azaryahu to suggest such a thing should make us realise the power of TV (and Coca Cola). As an invention, TV is perhaps the most pioneering of them all. As a brand, Coca Cola is equally so. These American commodities are having a profound influence on Israel’s cultural landscape. Whether or not Israel would have pioneered its way forward is moot. The fact of the matter is America and it’s adopted TV baby is influencing a traditionalist nation like Israel in a profound way.

Noting how ‘culturally, socially and experientially on opposite sides of the planet’ America and India used to be, Akash Kapur attributes the drastic change that occurred in the early 1990’s as a result of liberalizing its economy. This change allowed trade with America (debatably this would have been occurring under British rule also) and resulted in ‘a newly liberated population… indulging in a frenzy (some called it an orgy) of consumerism and self-expression.’

‘A frenzy’ is certainly what TV has created. Through a careful consideration of content and form, TV is the perfect cultural weapon for normalizing the most obscure of things. The ideal family. The ideal friendship (Friends was broadcast to over 100 countries in its prime). The ideal world.

The American world.

Sadly, this isn’t actually the case. As dramatic and epic as an worldwide takeover by the Americans through TV would be, Hamid Nacify notes that “[we] may think with American cultural products but [we] do not think American”. I think to an extent this is what both Azaryahu and Kapur were getting at. Americanization has flooded our world with American products and these are having an undoubtedly profound influence on us all. Yet they don’t define who we are. They don’t rewire our brains to think like American decedents.

I would argue that my sense of national identity is formulated through the experience of everyday life events that take place separate from cultural products such as TV and varying other forms of media. These merely inform, they don’t form from the outset.

This being said, I’ll leave you with a scary article that suggests perhaps some of us are a little more influenced than others by what we see on the box. Paragraph 7 in the section on Legitimising Torture. Thanks Jack Bauer.

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