Global Media

moderator: Henry Jenkins, Comparative Media Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Aswin Punathambekar, Communication studies, University of Michigan
author: Carolina Acosta-Alzuru, Grady College, University of Georgia
author: Jonathan Gray, Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University
author: Abderrahmane Sissako
published: March 20, 2014,   recorded: April 2009,   views: 2204

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Just as digital technology has expanded the means of producing media, so has it increased the geographic range new media may travel. Locally generated content can zip around the world in a heartbeat. But, says moderator Henry Jenkins, “as a society we’re in a contradictory state in terms of having greater access to global content than ever before, but not having developed a conceptual framework to think about it very well.” These panelists attest to an unsettled time for global media.

At a recent Bombay conference celebrating the globalization of Indian film, Aswin Punathambekar saw international heavy-hitters, including Warner, Fox Searchlight, and Disney, all attempting to shape the future of the industry. Part of Indian film is still defined by the families that started the industry in the 1930s, but the last decade or so has seen dramatic changes, including attempts at fusing with Hollywood, and perhaps more dramatic, the explosion of new distribution channels through media piracy and imitation. Bollywood now exists outside of Bombay, says Punathambekar, in Karachi, Dubai, Beirut and Nigeria. The “culture of the copy” has come to define production and circulation of film and TV programs in these outlying hubs.

Two billion people watch Latin America’s telenovelas, long serial dramas featuring outsize villains and heroes. Carolina Acosta-Alzuru provides a tour through a global business that produces 12 thousand hours every year. Different regions feature different flavors. While Mexican telenovelas are “moralistic and melodramatic,” Venezuela’s programs appear suffocated by the censorship of the Chavez regime. Multinational broadcasters compete to distribute their products (distinguishable by differently accented Spanish) all over the world. They also fail to prevent bloggers and YouTube aficionados from placing episodes on the Internet. She laments the missed opportunity of telenovelas to teach and present the world in constructive ways.

Instead of movie theaters, Malawi features “video shows,” where men only watch pirated films on DVD, says Jonathan Gray. This impoverished nation produces neither original films nor TV programs, but people flock to see video copies of 20-year-old American action movies. Village music sellers neglect native musicians to hawk Dolly Parton CDs (she’s “as big as it gets,” says Gray). Country music is huge in Malawi due to American missionaries who passed through in the ‘70s. Gray believes it’s worth studying how media circulates not just spatially, but temporally, throughout the world.

Filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako acknowledges the appetite in Africa for western media. “It is a sad situation for my country, and in a larger way for the continent, because if images are a mirror, imagine you go every night to your home bathroom, and see somebody else in front of you.” He mourns the overwhelming “reculturization” of his countrymen via telenovelas and Bollywood, which prevent an actual appreciation of other cultures, and also obstruct an interest in authentic African life, including his own films. Sissako works out of France, and when he tries getting his native Mauritanian television to show one of his films, “they ask me to pay for it.”

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