Multimedia Communication as an agent of cultural imperialism

April 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Multimedia communication as an agent of cultural imperialism Mr C Masuku( Media and Society Studies Department at Midlands State university)


The assertion that , “Multimedia communication is an agent of cultural imperialism”, has awake the scholars and invoked them to talk about from several point of view. A well informed judgement will be given in support of the exposition from Southern Africa, in which Zimbabwe falls. It is vital and apt from the preamble to define key terms like Multimedia, communications, culture and imperialism.

The term “Multimedia”, is defined from different angles, as it is suggested by Biagi (1999:382) as the term used to describe any media that combines texts, graphic, sounds and video. Calvert (1996) defines Multimedia as essentially linking traditional type of media into one environment. Hansen (1997) defines it as a “synthesis of digital media types of combining text, graphics, audio, animation and video. From the three definitions, interactivity is a feature of most multimedia, new media or hyper-media

Vambe and Gunduza (1999) viewed multimedia in three different components. These are Oramedia, print media and electronic media. Ora-media includes songs, speech, dance, folk-tales and idioms. Print media includes newspapers, books, letters and all other printed matters, Electronic media include television, telephones, fax and satellites digital communication. In short, multimedia is a dynamic fusion of several media to create one text, which can be oral, written or electronic.

Sullivan et al (1983) defines communication as ; “ the creation and exchange of meaning, in which message, people in cultures and reality interact so as to enable meanings to be produced and understanding to occur. Nyamajiwa (2003) defines communication as the creation and exchange of meaning between individuals who are essentially different but, have something in common to enable them to share what each one has.

Williams (1990) identified three categories of culture. Culture to him is; “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, customs and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. Williams (1990)’s first category of culture is “a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development. The second category of culture refers, “to a particular way of life whether a people, or a period, a group or humanity in general. The third and last category refers to culture as the works of practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity.From the above three categories, culture therefore refers to such practices such as language, the art, fashion, philosophy, journalism or the mass media and advertising . Hence culture is then asserted by Williams (1990) as a; “complex whole, which includes cultural practices such as consumption and shopping, economic practices through which people manage to satisfy their material needs and political practices or aspects of life which involves the distribution of power within and between collectives.

Fourie (1996:198) defines culture as everything from the cultivation of civilisation, human faculties or manners, the improvement of the intellectual by means of education, to the cultivation of plants or animals. Hagget (1983:248) defines culture as, “the patterns of learned human behaviour that forms a durable template by which ideas and images can be transferred from one generation to another. Cummings et al (1983:158) says that culture is a totality of knowledge, belief, values and attitude held by society across time. Stuart (19800 asserts that “culture is ordinary”. What one does at the present moment, the way he/she carries around him or herself is part of culture. One salient issue is that culture is dynamic and it changes all the time.

Another important term to be defined is “cultural Imperialism” This is a compounding term that is made up of two separate terms that can be defines and interpreted differently if time permit. Schiller (1986) defines “cultural Imperialism”, as the subjection of a country to undue pressure by a culture of the metropolitan (bigger powers). In addition, it is characterised by an unidirectional pattern, creating imbalance and a colonial cultural dependence of the North by the South. Cultural dependence also includes reliance on the West from technology to produce and disseminate these cultural products.

Bullock and Stallybrass (1977:303) assert that; cultural imperialism is the use of political and economic power to exalt and spread the values and habits of a foreign culture at the expense of a native culture.

Tomlison (19910 state that, cultural imperialism refers to a range of broadly similar phenomena. He further claimed that defining this compound term requires a broadly accepted view of both “culture” and “imperialism”. Furthermore, Tomlison (1991:4) point out that the term; “imperialism”, refers primarily to a political system and the other to an economic system. He further pointed out that the term, “imperialism”, refers to the domination associated with global reach of capitalism. Soviet ‘imperialism” is believed to mean political domination of Eastern bloc satellite. Lenin (No year) perceived Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism.

Bilton et al (1981) defines “cultural imperialism” as “the aggressive promotion of Western culture based on the assumption that its value system is superior and preferable to those of non Western culture. Bilton et al asserts that; “cultural Imperialism” lead to the construction and establishment of big firms like Econet, Bertelsmann, Viacom, Sonny, News Corporation, Walt Disney, General Electric and so forth. These corporate firms are more than media house as they are engaged in other business non other than the media related business. Their ownership patterns are either vertical, horizontal, cross ownership or diagonal.

In addition, cultural imperialism in the Southern African region is reinforced through the use of language such as English. Webster et al (1981:68) argued that; “ One key vehicle through which this occurs is the way the global firms tend to use English as a world language”. In historic terms, the ubiquity of English that is relatively recent. It has much to do, first, with the impact of British colonialism-on whose land “the sun never set”. Hence it can be true to support that;, “Multimedia communication” is an agent of cultural imperialism in Southern Africa like Zimbabwe.

Nevertheless, the communication technology upon which global interconnectedness, so heavily relies and uses English for the bulk of its data information storage and exchange like the internet, cellphones, books, television and so forth makes it possible for the rest of the world to believe that media are “American”. The leisure industry is similarly tied into English, especially via the English-Language based music industry; “Madonna is unlikely ever to have to go to language school to sell her record”. From this claim it is true that multimedia communication is an agent of cultural imperialism in Southern Africa like Zimbabwe. In short, Becker (1981) ans similar theorist believe that this dominance of Western Cultural products ensures the long-term survival of capitalist world markets

Another supporting evidence to back up the claim that Multimedia communication is an agent of cultural imperialism in Southern region especially in Zimbabwe is exposed by the use of satellite broadcasting and satellite television. Chari et al (2003) argued that Dstv is a pretty new phenomenon that hits the market in Zimbabwe. From his contribution, it can be observed that Dstv (Direct Satellite television) is an economic market equipped with technology, which is electronic media. As multimedia communication tool it transcend the cultural imperialism by portraying the Western cultures image meaning and the language which is foreign to the local population, that is English. In contrary one would argue that since this is watched by few audiences in urban centres, it has less influence on the local culture, hence the assertion can be dismissed as untrue that multimedia communication causes cultural imperialism in Zimbabwe

The Web (www.com) is one media which contributes immensely to multimedia communication. The web goes a step further than e-mail in that it shares text graphics, video and audio on-line. It requires a series of technology with its cultural manipulations that enable users to “roam”, which is a form of scanning through various websites for topic interest. It need a computer, modem and a telephone. Biagi (2000:219) claims that, this means the web has ushered a new culture of communication on that changes social relations in the world. Social site such as Face book, Tagged, Sky rock, Goggle chat, hot-mail chat,Multiply.com, Twitter, 24.com (South Africa) and many others enables people across the globe to communicate and exchange their culture.

The extensive trade, commerce and education provided to the masses about new media technology, has its cultural which widely leads to the creation of corporate companies like IBM, Compaq, Dell, Econet, Viacom, Walt Disney, Bertelsmann, news Corporation, general Electric,Sonny, Vivendi and so forth. Such organisation are meant for economic market, political, ideological domination and disseminate certain knowledge, norms and values which influences human behaviour.

In a nutshell it can be argued that “Multimedia Communication” has resulted to global culture, that is culture without fixed root. This highlights the powers of Transnational corporations (TNC’s) and global media organisations and the ideological baggage they bring with them and impose on other. However, cultural imperialism has been criticised for failing to recognise that countries subject to TNC’s influence do not necessarily absorb all their ideologies like some sort of cultural sponge. It can therefore be concluded that ‘cultural imperialism” is the aggressive promotion of Western Culture based on the assumption that its values system is superior and preferable to those of non-Western culture.

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  3. The typical myopic anglo view of “the world around us”. “Us” defined as “anybody who speaks English” in some or other form. In an attempt to excuse for doing so, they call it an “imperialistic indoctrination”.

    Multimedia -as in the technical definition- are in use in all languages and associated cultures. Many of them fitted their cultural expressions into the new media to stay.

    Many people with the imperialistic handicap are not aware of this as they do not understand the other languages while the underlying multimedia technologies are very much the same.

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