Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Republicans, Democrats, and Special Sauces

These chapters provided an understandable explanation of the modern use of communication theory that we’ve discussed, gave recent updates on the big debates, and took a relatively unbiased stab at explaining the goals of different groups (including within the US, through an extended discussion of the goals of the major US political parties). Their writings helped give answers to questions we’ve come up with throughout the semester, such as why pricing for cell phones and internet is so different between the US and the EU. Overall, it was a current and realistic review of how, through a political framework, the US is handling major issues such as net neutrality. After spending weeks dissecting global governance, these readings reminded me that many issues are still hashed out nationally: and when it comes to crafting national policy regarding international issues, things get dicey. The readings acknowledge that “since the US system is stacked against ambitious legislation on hotly contested issues, legislative deadlock on telecom issues remains likely.” Moreover, they indicate that given our political system, even our best efforts are merely compromises: “A recurring propensity of US political economy is to create compromises built around encouraging new technologies and entrants.”

Content is an incredible factor, as was highlighted here and in our class discussions. Who owns what, and who should have to pay for what? Attempting to develop legislation regarding internet copyright law requires policy makers to both predict and account for all of the rapidly developing platforms through which content is being viewed and distributed. Not an enviable task. In the meantime, it is easy to see how content users can become distanced from the source of their content and resentful of the need to pay for it. As the book reminder us, however: “Nothing is really free.” (As a music major who has also worked in the world of non-profit arts, however, I am familiar with the negative results of consumers who were not interested in paying for content.)

Online advertising and privacy were addressed as well. Just as we unabashedly stroll through the internet viewing content, however, so do others as they view OUR content. These readings also touched on the rising importance of online advertising, much of which is cleverly (and somewhat dangerously) linked to what many view as private user data. It will be interesting to see how successfully the Obama administration can address these and other communication issues.

Nothin' But Net...Neutrality

This week’s reading, “The Political Economy of the Inflection Point” by Cowhey and Aronson discusses how political economy policy is changing within the U.S. In particular, I found the discussion of net neutrality to be quite interesting.

The authors state that net neutrality is based on two key issues; the first being that flat-rate pricing should guarantee that both high-volume and low-volume users are all being charged the same rate at any specific network speed. The second issue states that networks should not block, nor delay access to websites.

It is no surprise that many proponents of net neutrality include consumer advocates as well as companies such as Google and Yahoo which thrive on consumers having uninhibited access to their websites and applications. Opponents of net neutrality largely include cable and telecommunication companies that claim that they can only achieve innovation, and provide high-quality services to consumers through tiered services.

Net neutrality is essential because a free and open internet allows for democratic discourse on issues of importance. If the internet did not allow the open discussion of ideas, our democratic freedoms would be stifled and we would not be at liberty to easily express our opinions. Think about it, if a companies such as Verizon or Comcast were legally entitled to govern the speed of certain websites, how can we be sure that this control would not be used to serve their own agendas. This is similar to previous class discussions on the role of MNCs in international media distribution, where MNCs fail to provide consumers with truly objective information. Network owners could potentially block competitor’s websites, which would lead to a handful of powerful companies controlling the content to which we are exposed. Just as a functioning public sphere is essential to democracy, the technology that supports the public sphere must be open and free from influence. Therefore, net neutrality is essential to democracy and must be protected.

Network Neutrality...What?

As I read Peter Cowhey and Jonathon Aronson's excerpts from Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation, I could not help but be slightly confused by the jumble of economic terms and concepts that are foreign to me, a student whose expertise are no where near up to par when it comes to economics. The concept I did understand and am interested in is network neutrality. However, even this term can be confusing and I was led to outside sources for a clearer definition.

Of course, for simple definitions I went to where everyone heads to begin research, Wikipeda (I did of course verify the sources!). Net neutrality is simply the effort that the Internet be free of any form of restrictions on content, platforms, or access. According to the Federal Communications Commission, net neutrality is the principle that "consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement, connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network, and competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers".

There are two sides to every story. Proponents of network neutrality argue that the users will finally be in control, not the companies who work for profits and often attempt to block internet usage. Net neutrality would prevent providers from backing up, slowing down, or dismantling certain services to consumers, regardless of who "controls" the content. Opponents of network neutrality maintain that such laws would prohibit further innovation and improvement of services. Companies will have no desire to increase technology or services if they will not be able to make a profit from charging users different amounts of fees.

Network Neutrality has recently received much coverage due to efforts by the Bush and Obama administration. The Obama administration stands firmly committed to curbing the profits of internet companies who charge different prices for services provided, and often block internet access. The administration advocates a "level playing field" for all firms and consumers to have the same ability to access content at equal prices. Members of his own party remain on the fence, as some believe the legislation would prevent further growth and innovation, joining in with many Republicans with the same view of opposing increased web regulation. Net neutrality will continue to remain a hot topic throughout the year.

Politics and ICT Policy

This week's readings, chapters from Cowhey and Aronson's book Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The Political Economy of Innovation, offered a unique perspective on the roles of public policy and global market governance in the diffusion of ICTs, especially in developing countries. I appreciated the historical context ventured in the first chapter, "The Next Revolution in Global Information and Communication Markets." The authors state the essentiality of politics and policy in communications infrastructure--as we know from previous readings and discussion, national governments used to play a prominent part in that infrastructure. But thanks to the ascent of a more global, and more civil-based, society, communications infrastructure has been partially transferred to the private sector. However, governments do not want to be forgotten in this trend toward privatization and still have a hand in affecting ICT policy. As the authors state, "Some economists decry most government regulation, but the politicians' romance with intervention is (to borrow a phrase from Cole Porter) here to stay."

The authors provide some possible explanations for politicians' views on that intervention in Chapter 5, "The Political Economy of the Inflection Point." The main reason is that the United States has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, "the pivot of this inflection point," and truly drives the agenda in the global ICT market. In 2000, when the Republicans captured the White House as well as both houses of Congress, they were well aware of this fact and of the rise of broadband services worldwide--and of the American lag in said broadband services. They took steps to pressure the FCC to adopt a leadership that would be more conservative (read: laissez-faire) on ICT economic intervention. Republicans argued that this policy plus others, such as scaling back regulation of the Bells' broadband networks, would promote market growth and investment. Of course, this hands-off approach also matched the GOP's national platform, as part of politicians' efforts to please their constituencies and attract revenue to the ICT market.

When the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, they pursued their own version of "the long-standing propensity in the US for policies favoring easier market entry." They just went about it in a different way, of course--one that matched their own national brand of more government regulation, in the form of net neutrality. According to the authors, net neutrality imposes price controls on broadband access and services and is "a government program to promote modularity." When AT&T sought to merge with BellSouth in 2006, the Democrats on the FCC made sure net neutrality figured into the negotiations in a big way: they made AT&T promise to maintain it by providing fixed-rate broadband service for 30 consecutive months after the merger. The authors express curiosity at what could happen after the 2008 elections; while ICT policy has not been a huge priority of the Obama administration so far, it will be interesting to see how net neutrality and FCC policy changes affect the landscape of broadband and other technology in the US. Whatever their policies, both sides of the political divide understand that in the world we live in, power on a global scale is to be found in the ICT market, and they all want a piece of the pie.




Monday, October 26, 2009

Transformations...US in the center of it?

This week in Cowhey and Aronson's book, "Transforming Global Information and Communication Markets: The political economy of innovation", they discuss the transformations to come at the global level, especially in the telecommunications (telecom) industry. They mention that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have not only accelerated information economies in prosperous countries like the United States, Japan, and Europe, but for developing countries as well, such as, India and China. This reminded me of a case I studied in another class, it was called E-Choupal and it described the way an innovative system for selling farmers’ products was implemented in a specific community, and how it helped all the people involved in the project. E-Choupal is an example of the growth effects ICTs have on developing countries.

The authors also make it very clear that they think the US is a great influence on the global policy agenda and they discuss the arguments against this, such as: China is now becoming the leader and that the US’s declination is due to its spending in major ICT market segment.Cowhey and Aronson, dispute these arguments by saying that the US has a large lead in its deployed ICT stock; US has the largest investment base and flows in the critical areas for innovation; US will remain the leader for the foreseeable future in software, networked digital applications, high-value-added commercial content, and high end IT computing systems and solutions; US will continue to be among the top three global markets across the full range of ICT markets; and US is the leading producer of high value-added content. For these reasons the authors think the US will remain in the center of the inflection point at least through 2020.

The authors mention various times how the United States is a pivotal part of at the global level in communications policies, because of the influence they have right now and that they will posses in the near future. Implementing innovative ideas that revolve around Information and Communications Technologies into developing countries can help them prosper and grow their information economy. ICTs come with many changes and that is what these countries need, a change towards the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Go ahead, take on FOX!

Manuel Castells, author of Communication, Power, and Counter-power in the Network Society provided interesting analysis of how the concept of 'power' is relevant to the media. Castells summarizes, "the media have become the social space where power is decided...the fundamental battle being fought in society is the battle over the minds of the people". Where before, one directional communication served the interest of those transmitting the news, now horizontal communication is a force to be reckoned with - mostly by politicians. Politicians cannot control blogs, or even journalist on various TV stations. This is especially evident in some of the pitfalls the Obama White House is facing in recent weeks.

Recently, the Obama administration has ran into a few problems with a media outlet known as Fox News. Unfortunately, Obama and his aides are used to, as his own communication director acknowledges, "controlling the media". While this may work for networks such as NBC, CBS, and ABC it does not work with Fox News. Fox News admits to being very critical of the Obama presidency, but is not anymore critical than their coverage of the Bush presidency (if you remember correctly, Beck and ORiley could not say enough bad things about Bush). I think that Obama and his advisers are so used to "controlling the media" and having many media outlets (such as MSNBC and The New York Times) promote their agenda that they don't quite know how to handle an organization that refuses to play a part in that. Now, say what you want (and I know we are all very opinionated!) but there is no excuse for The New York Times not covering the Van Jones story until after he was forced to resign, when Fox News had been the instigator of spreading the story. Simply put, Obama doesn't know what to do when Fox News and their watchers have the power.

But, they seem to have figured it out. Attacking Fox for being a mouthpiece of the Republican Party is one way to go. The other is of course, refusing to allow administration officials (including Obama who in his most recent media blitz could just not grant an interview to Fox News) to ignore the organization. Now they have successfully brought the struggle into the spotlight, encouraging other media outlets to "ignore" Fox News, criticizing it as not reporting the news, but just opinions. I do not think this was the wisest decision for an administration skidding on thin ice with the American people to make. Side comments like these, from Annita Dunn and Robert Gibbs, only further play into the argument that Fox News is making about the short comings of this administration. As they keep attacking the organization, the cable news station ratings only keep rising. Perhaps, instead of wasting all this time critiquing it, they should appear on it, to set the record straight or correct where Fox has misstepped. Many of the hosts are inviting this, as Beck has installed a telephone line that only the White House has the number too - encouraging them to correct his reporting so that the American people can be more informed.

But go ahead, Obama administration. You have successfully given your power to Fox News, who in turn has given it to the American people. If you want to get the ball back in your own court, maybe you better start playing the media and power game a little bit better.

Sources:
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/18/white-house-escalates-war-fox-news-1925819282/?loomia_ow=t0:s0:a16:g2:r1:c0.158369:b28396617:z0

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/10/19/white-house-official-says-obama-team-controlled-media-coverage-campaign/

The Emergence of Noopolitik

In the article “The Promise of Noopolitik,” the authors discuss the emergence of noopolitik and its reliance on soft power. They make the case that diplomacy will be carried out increasingly by non-state actors as they are growing in strength and influence. This will lead to an increase in transnational NGOs that will focus on representing the needs of civil society. Non-state actors are more apt to carry out noopolitik because they “often serve as sources of ethical impulses.” They will be able to disseminate information through the nodes in their network and can assist in preventing and resolving conflict.

States that are able to work with this new generation of non-state actors will become strong and powerful regardless of their size. States must realize the importance in coordinating with these actors and must act using a network approach, rather than a state-centered approach. The noosphere, which includes both cyberspace and the infosphere, is essential in this process as it can incorporate ideals, values and norms rather than just information.

During his first few weeks of being in office, President Obama announced that the U.S. international relations strategy would focus more on utilizing development, diplomacy, and defense as tools to engage other nations. This strategy lends credence to noopolitik, especially if the government utilizes non-state actors to assist with the process of development and diplomacy. So, perhaps in the next few years, the U.S. will take on a greater role in championing the use of noopolitik.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Manuel Castells, Creigh Deeds, and Bob McDonnell walk into a bar...

Okay, not really. But in reading Castells' article, "Communication, Power and Counter-power in the Network Society," especially his discussion of media and politics, I kept coming back to the showdown that is currently playing out on our local TV stations. The state of Virginia will elect a new governor on November 3rd; will it be Democrat Deeds, a state legislator from the rural southwest corner of the state, or Republican McDonnell, a lawyer who grew up in northern Virginia and who now lives in Virginia Beach? At this writing, McDonnell is leading Deeds by 14 points. However, there are still two weeks left before the election, and anyone who's watched a political race unfold lately knows that a lot can change in the final stretch. And the media inarguably ignites the spark that can lead to that change.

As Castells states, "In our society, politics is primarily media politics." We learn from the media, be it print, television or Internet, everything about a candidate, from where they stand on abortion, foreign policy, or healthcare, to how they take their coffee. In this race it has been little different: we are deluged daily with TV ads from both candidates and read about them in the newspaper and online. Castells reminds us that the vast majority of voters do not actually read candidates' platforms--they make their decision based on how they present themselves to citizens, who in this case become media consumers. The media's power lies not in its inherent characteristics, but in how they are used by others: "the media are not the holders of power, but they constitute by and large the space where power is decided."

Why is this? Politicians try to build up an atmosphere of trust through the media--vote for me! I know what I'm doing! Plus, I'm just more likable than the other guy! Personality becomes extremely important in elections--can voters relate to the candidate as a person? They wouldn't be able to decide without campaign ads, televised debates, and editorials in the paper. Without the media, how would anybody get elected?

The media has shaped the course of this upcoming election in Virginia, not always to the benefit of the candidates. In one ad, Deeds is seen on camera changing his position on tax increases, a subject he'd been asked about--and answered differently--just a few minutes before. In McDonnell's case, the Deeds campaign has focused closely on the master's thesis he wrote in 1989, which stated that working women were "detrimental" to the family. These negative tactics are emphasized through media, which again conveys its political sway. Will the negative ads work in this case? Currently, Deeds is considered to be running a more negative campaign than McDonnell, which could be contributing to his lag in the polls: people often respond more favorably to ads that focus on the candidate and his values, rather than those that attack his opposition. As Castells says, "... character, as portrayed in media, becomes essential; ... politicians are the faces of politics."

How this will translate on Election Day remains to be seen. I'll definitely be watching, neutrally, from the other side of the river in Maryland. Our governor's race is next year.

State and Non-state actors collaborating in a Network-centric World

David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla bring an interesting concept in their reading, “The emergence of noopolitik”. Noopolitik as they describe is an approach to statecraft “that emphasizes the role of informational soft power in expressing ideas, values, norms, and ethics through all manner of media”. It focuses on the collaboration of state and non-state actors working together, neither having more power than the other instead working to create a network-centric world.

The authors mention that in the Noopolitik approach does not concentrate on power, instead it focuses on the sharing of knowledge. They mention the importance NGOs or civil society actors are to the approach, how these types of organizations are already building transnational networks and coalitions, and that governments should learn how to work with them. Ronfeldt and Arquilla tell us that to be able to apply an effective Noopolitik approach we have to create a noosphere and that this sphere would include: “openness, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, humane behavior, respect for human rights, a preference for peaceful conflict resolution, etc”.

This article sounded very similar to a book I finished reading this past weekend for another class, it was called “Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits can tackle today’s Global Challenges Together” by: Mark Gerencser, Reginald Van Lee, Fernando Napolitano, and Christopher Kelly. The authors of the book describe an cross-sector approach called megacommunity, which is a public sphere in which government, business and civil society work together on issues of mutual importance (e.g. climate change, natural disasters, health care, and conservation issues) to achieve results. Their central focus is that problems as big as climate change or natural disasters, are issues that cannot be resolved by an organization alone. Although it is difficult for the three sectors to work together, in the end the result is a solution that could not have been reached with the collaboration of all the participating organizations.

Both approaches, the megacommunity and noopolitik, are similar in many ways, such as: the collaboration the idea that everyone should have a voice (state and non-state actors) and the importance of networks, creating and maintaining them. The difference is that the noopolitik is a statecraft approach and the megacommunity is an approach to tackle big problems that might be affecting a country, region, or even an issue that has a global effect.

I think we can see how the future will be centered on collaborations, alliances, and networks. Both of these readings focus on just that, government and non-government actors working together to achieve mutual goals, because in the end the decisions made by both affect the population in some way, some more than others. Also the idea that eventually power will not be the main focus that instead the sharing of knowledge will become the focal point is a very interesting statement and I hope to see at work in the nearby future.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Information and Power (and the apocalypse, too)

There was a element of melodrama behind Ronfeldt, Arquilla, Castells, and Benkler’s arguments this week. From Ronfeldt & Arquilla’s discussion of an apocalypse and their patriotic declaration of all the wonderful ideals America stands for (from openness, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, humane behavior, respect for human rights, to a preference for peaceful conflict resolution) to Benkler’s giddy enthusiasm for all the possibilities the Internet could provide to humanity, I started to get nervous that none of them would come back to reality and discuss the real issues going on with communication. Thankfully, they did.

While Ronfeldt & Arquilla may be years from seeing their dream of a “noosphere” realized, their call for a focus on soft, ideational power is welcome and encouraged. Perhaps recognizing their idealized view, they themselves acknowledged that all realpolitik is not bad and all noopolitik is not good – citing Al Queda’s use of the noopolitik concept in successful communication. Their general assertion, seconded by the other articles, is that information and power are increasingly intertwined, and it’s time to reconcile this relationship.

Likewise, Castells argues that “the media have become the social space where power is decided”. This power struggle is being played out in the changing roles of journalists, their media corporations, and politicians. He observes that while the 24hr news cycle has served to increase the importance of politicians for the media, it is likewise decreasing the autonomy of journalists. In the end, much as information and power are increasingly intertwined, so too are media corporations and governments. Castells offers that mass self-communication is providing a new place for social movements and “rebellious” individuals to “build their autonomy”. (I’d argue that an individual does not need to be considered rebellious to crave autonomy.)

Benkler discusses this mass self-communication in detail, praising it as a new mode of production unrestrained by physical capital requirements. While this isn’t to say that users aren’t ignoring market opportunities, that isn’t the only reason these opportunities are being created. The expenses that normally prohibited entry to certain creative markets are now shared between users. (Large websites that host mini-stores like Etsy.com provides a perfect example). Even as he acknowledges that “any consideration of the democratizing effects of the Internet must measure its effects as compared to the commercial, mass-media based public sphere, not as compared to an idealized utopia of how the internet might be”, Benkler’s praise for the possibilities of the internet does deserve some challenging. In highlighting the “very fluidity and low commitment required of any given cooperative relationship” and how this can increase the “range and diversity of cooperative relations people can enter, and therefore of collaborative projects they can conceive of as open to them”, are we, too, buying into the media’s “hyper” commitment to 24hour production? Just because there are increased opportunities for individuals to engage in cooperative relationships, does that make them valuable? By citing the “low commitment” required, Benkler himself indicates that we are spreading ourselves more thinly across an increased number of modes of communication. (To provide the obvious example, simply because Facebook connects us to people we may easily reach out to, does that make these relationships meaningful?) While I may reserve a slight amount of cynicism with respect to the vast opportunities offered by the Internet, I also concur much of what Benkler lays forth. As all the authors surmise: while we may not like the new ways in which communication is being used, we can’t afford to ignore these evolutions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Serious Japanization

This weeks reading on “Taking ‘Japanization’ Seriously,” highlights the rise of Japanese cultural exports and how this may influence Japan’s cultural power in the world. Iwabuchi states that although Japanese technology such as walkmans are widely used in America, these exports are “culturally neutral” technologies and the “country of origin has nothing to do with ‘the way [that they work] and the satisfaction [that a consumer] obtains from usage.” These products are “culturally odorless” and do not produce the image of a “Japanese way of life” by the user.

Iwabuchi further details how Japanese animators incorporate cultural odorlessness by creating their anime characters with non-Japanese features such as big blue eyes or blonde hair. This shows how a Western-dominated cultural hierarchy influences transnational cultural flows in the world. This point particularly resonated with me as I used to teach English in Japan and witnessed this first-hand in my classroom. My elementary and junior high students would show me their latest manga (comic books) and to my surprise, the characters had blonde hair and blue eyes, which looked nothing like their jet Black hair and dark eyes. I would ask my students, why do these characters look European if they are supposed to be Japanese? My students would respond that the characters are drawn to look “kawaii” (cute) and they could not possibly be “kawaii” if they had Asian features. The first time I heard this, I was truly shocked and wasted a lot of time trying to explain to the children that their features were just as beautiful as European features. No matter how hard I tried to teach them an appreciation for their features, they still insisted that European features were cuter. I found this Western-dominated cultural hierarchy particularly ironic and frustrating. Why does something such as manga, which is distinctly Japanese, need to use characters with European features to sell? I do not think Japanese animators and cartoonist do this unconsciously, but rather it is done intentionally in order to sell their products to an international audience.

The other point I found interesting in Iwabuchi’s article was his discussion of the “shift from a Western gaze to a decentered global gaze,” in regards to transnationally circulated images and commodities. These images and commodities become odorless through a transculturation process, which transforms an existing cultural artifact into something new to fit the consuming culture. I witnessed this in Japan during a discussion I had with one of my junior high school students. The conversation went as follows:

Student: Zainabu, have you ever been to Disney World?

Zainabu: Yes. When I was about 8 years old, I went with my family.

Student: (Student looks shocked) Oh so you came to Japan when you were 8 years old?

Zainabu: No. I went to the Disney World in America, not the one in Japan.

Student: (Student looks super shocked) There is a Disney World in America???

The conversation continued for about 20 minutes with me trying to convince the student that (1) there is indeed a Disney World in America, (2) Disney actually originated in America, and (3) Mickey Mouse can speak English. Thinking this was just the ignorance of one student, I interviewed several other students to find out if they knew that Disney was an American company. To my surprise, the majority of my students did not know this and thought Disney was a Japanese invention. In the world of my students, Disney was culturally odorless.

Transculturation ultimately helps conglomerates carry out globalization because if countries are able to transform products to make them appear more indigenous, they are more likely to be accepted by its citizens.

T.V. Shows: Do they influence our lives?

This week in “Reading Television: Television as text and viewers as decoders”, by Katz and Liebes, I thought they made a very interesting point: that research before, instead of analyzing the effects a certain T.V. shows had on the community in a specific country, they just assumed everyone who saw the same program understood the message the producers were trying to transmit. This is a very na├»ve assumption. Knowing that people in a same country experience things differently, have different values and morals, and different ethnic backgrounds, how can we assume that people will react and understand the same thing? We cannot assume that people will react and interpret things in the same way, especially if it is a foreign product. For exam[le: American T.V. shows in foreign countries, we can’t expect them to react the same way American viewers react to the programs.

Katz and Liebes take as an example the show “Dallas”. Dallas was a combination of soap operas and prime time television. It was an international phenomenon! Dallas was seen in many countries including: Germany, Denmark, Algeria, and Israel to mention a few. Depending on the culture and values of each country, the viewers had different reasons of either relating to the show or simple watching it for fun. Some did not view the show as close to reality, because the further apart the viewing country is from the country that produced the show, in terms of culture, values, and traditions, the less a person sees it as a reality. Katz and Liebes tell us that domestic productions are subject to more criticism in terms of relating to the reality of the viewing community, because it should somewhat represent the country’s actual reality. On the other hand, foreign productions, although it may not be the true reality of the producing country, the fact that the program is from a foreign country it gives it an excuse to be less like reality.

Dallas had a hidden family drama in its text. Family dramas in general have been researched to see if the values the show presents affects family life of the people who view it. We can take examples like Full House and 7th Heaven that presented wholesome family values, unity, trust, and that family is the most important thing in life. On the contrary, shows lie Desperate Housewives present a world of betrayal, a dysfunctional family, adultery, and looking out for oneself. How do these T.V. shows affect or to what extent do they form our perception of right and wrong, good or bad? It has been said that exposure to negative situations like deaths, rapes, homicides for example on cop shows make us immune to the grotesque factor of it all. Since we see things like adultery, fights, people killing each other, betrayal, for some people it becomes something normal in life that just happens and it stops being unexpected.

I think T.V. shows influence do our lives, the characters become role models for the viewers. The effects differ in each country, the same show might not have the same reaction or interpretation in foreign countries as it does in the domestic one. The concept of reality is relative in a T.V. show and it depends on the viewer’s perception according to their own values, morals, and culture.

Monday, October 12, 2009

From a Faraway Land, We Bring You...Dallas?

So what is our role? Iwabuchi’s article paints us as fascinated consumers of exotic international culture, Katz & Liebes argue between identifying us as dazed viewers or active “de-coders”, and Deuze declares a new hybrid role of producer/consumer.

I had strong reactions to each article. Iwabuchi reminded me of my childhood fascination with Japan (and my love of my Walkman - although I didn’t actually know then that the Walkman was one of its products.) Katz & Liebes reinforced the fact that when I (rarely) watch TV, it is to escape. Finally, Deuze made me think about how often I resent the new expectation to serve as a producer of media.

To start with Japan, it was interesting that the bulk of cultural examples given were media products aimed at children. Although anime and other forms of entertainment are enjoyed by a variety of ages, there is a sense that the young, popular culture is that which is most easily imported – not the traditional high arts (Kubuki, etc.). After rendering these popular arts odorless, are they still really Japanese – and can we say that we really are experiencing “Japanization”?

Likewise, are we to believe that watching Dallas “inspire(s) the masses to examine their own interpersonal relations”? I found myself agreeing with the earlier analysis of television viewing that Katz and Liebes were working to debunk, that which acknowledges that most viewers turn to TV merely to escape. A more depressing realization was that after all the promise of the positive power broadcasting and satellite TV provided, what we ended up with was the ability to transmit Dallas around the world. (Let’s be honest about the intentions of satellite broadcasting: we’re not “saving” the third world with soap operas. On the other hand, is “saving” what TV is trying to do anyway?)

However, I did latch on to another conclusion that Katz and Liebes highlighted in their analysis: Dallas allowed viewers to experience strong emotions such as love and hate in a neutral setting. Who hasn’t watched Grey’s Anatomy (you certainly don’t need to know what has been happening this season) just to get in a good cry? Additionally, they noted that “heavy viewers learn the television message ritualistically and hegemonically, not by negotiation.” This brought to mind an earlier article from Dewey that compared the “transmission” and “ritual” view of communication. As Katz and Liebes noted, news and family dramas are the most frequently studied types of programs. Perhaps it is because they seemingly provide such good examples of these two types of communication? Overall, their article seemed to leave us with the somewhat unsatisfying conclusion that TV is a lot of things to a lot of people, and we still aren’t really sure how to analyze its effects.

Finally, Deuze’s article made me wonder if anyone else ever gets the sense that media corporations are asking us to do their job. (Having worked in marketing and PR, I’m appreciative for every patron that forwarded one of my e-mail advertisements or recommended a concert to a friend. Working for a non-profit, every bit of customer support was appreciated.) Amazon falls somewhere in the middle for me: while I personally resist completing a product review after every online purchase, I appreciate others that do, since I place faith (too much?) in their comments. But helping a car company help promote its wares? Somehow I think we haven’t noticed we’ve been duped. Am I complaining about a role others (including the un-paid workers at Bluffton Today) seem all too happy to take on, or is it time to re-evaluate our roles as consumers in this shifting global economy?

The Dallas Phenomenon and Global TV Culture

Among this week's readings, I thought Elihu Katz and Tamar Liebes' article, "Reading Television: Television as Text and Viewers as Decoders" particularly interesting. I remembered hearing my parents talk about watching Dallas back in the 1980s, especially how the question "Who shot J.R.?" buzzed around America throughout the summer of 1980. What I didn't know until reading this article was that Dallas was not just an American but an international sensation, and also that its format was revolutionary at the time. The authors' exploration of the implications of the show's reach was quite relevant to our discussions of global media culture.

To a majority of the world's population, watching television shows is a purely entertainment-centered action. However, the values and culture taken from TV shows can influence existing cultures in countries and regions around the world. According to the authors, in the case of Dallas this influence comes in the form of "kinship relations" (373) within the Ewing family and between the Ewings and other dynasties, as well as "the permeability of the institution of the family to the norms of business, and vice versa" (374). The show presented a different interpretation of familial relations than most other prime-time shows of the time; perhaps this contributed to its very loyal following, first in the United States and then overseas.

Katz and Liebes stress the need for "audience decoding" (376) both in the States and abroad in order to more completely understand the effects of American TV's exportation. Dallas, as a worldwide smash, offered a perfect avenue to do so. The authors give examples of selected countries' response to the show filtered through the prism of each culture. In Germany, for instance, viewers responded to the show in terms of a "repressed patriarchal structure," a reflection of that country's relatively conservative society. To them, the show was a form of escapism. In Holland, on the other hand, Dallas was not viewed as escapism but rather as an expression of various real-life emotions such as joy, sadness and love. (377) Perhaps the most telling example, though, is that of Algeria. For its citizens, the show represented "a reminder of the reality they [were] fast losing" (378), that of a traditional patriarchal family where various generations live in the same place.

Another view mentioned in the article by Stolz states that "it [Dallas] contributes...to the erosion of traditional cultures by changing the leisure-time agenda" (378), but I don't quite see it that way. Yes, the show took time away from a local program that could have been produced and broadcast in its place. But in their own analysis of various cultural responses, Katz and Liebes show that people are not blindly accepting the American culture of the show but synthesizing it with their own. While some may argue this has problems of its own, I don't think traditional cultures are totally disappearing because of it.

There hasn't really been another show like Dallas since. To be sure there are plenty of nighttime soap operas, most set in a) police stations; b) law practices; or c) hospitals. But none of them have inspired the massive international following of Dallas. Why is this? Grey's Anatomy, for example, is plenty soapy enough, with good-looking cast members and high drama to be had every week. But it's hardly a worldwide phenomenon. Maybe it's because of the advent of Hulu, YouTube and their ilk; people don't have to wait as long to see their favorite shows, so there isn't as much building suspense each week. Or could it be because local content is slowly beginning to challenge the iron grip of U.S. media production? Perhaps it's a combination of both. Whatever the reason, the lack of a 21st-century Dallas-like media production shows how quickly the global media landscape has changed.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Analysis Question #2--Global Governance and Media Conglomerates

The current world economic situation has called into question the way that global media is governed and how it disseminates content. With the global economy in crisis, the gulf between rich and poor--both nation-states and individuals--seems to have widened. Concurrently, a few international media corporations are continuing to increase their influence across the globe: a majority of the media content, both news and entertainment, the world sees is controlled by a small number of Western-based conglomerates: the News Corporation, TimeWarner, and Disney. Some argue that through glocalization, more regional and local opinions are being expressed through media--but this isn't entirely true. While more local sources of media are indeed emerging, they are still affiliated with, still filtered through, the prism of these large multi-national corporations. In order to more accurately represent local media content, I think nation-states certainly need to revisit the issue of global governance.

The trend over the past few decades in government media regulation has been, well, a significant lack of it. Privatization and liberalization in the industry has definitely contributed to the rise of the conglomerates, as have the skyrocketing development of ICTs and convergence--the combination of different technologies and industries that creates new cultural products and ways of distributing them. The huge networks that these conglomerates create, along with the huge amounts of capital and the economies of scale that come with them, have made it hard for smaller media companies to break into the market, according to Sean Siorchu et. al's "Introduction to National Media Regulation." However, with the current economic situation, the media industry, like many others, has lost money--for example, here in the United States, many newspapers have folded after decades of publication. For nation-states, this economic climate is perhaps an indication that they need to play a larger role in their governance of media. There's little doubt that the large conglomerates will continue their dominance, but for the sake of individual cultures, especially those in developing countries, nation-states need to actively assert their role as global governors.

Although, as Daya Kishan Thussu states in "Mapping Media Flow and Contra-Flow," Southern media content does make its way to the developed North more than it used to (films from the Indian Bollywood, for example), it's not enough. Glocalization is much more common: "...media content and services [are] tailored to specific cultural consumers, not so much as because of any particular regard for national cultures but as a commercial imperative." That phenomenon supports the fact that media as defined by Western ideals is all about profit margins, ad revenue, and of course the spread of democratic thought. The free-market economy imperative of global media means that local and regional interests are not always accurately portrayed or represented, and this is where individual nation-states can really inject their influence on behalf of smaller media companies. Whether they would be successful remains to be seen, but I think they owe it to their citizens to advocate on their behalf and push for stricter government media regulation.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Analysis #2 - Corporations take on Global Governance

This is a particularly relevant time to talk about the difficulties facing global journalism. While the topic of global governance is a relevant and pressing issue regardless of the economic climate, media outlets are facing increasing challenges in remaining afloat during the current economic crisis. Many blame this pressure on journalism, of course, on the growth and challenges of online media. Coincidentally, today marked the opening of a World Media Summit in Beijing, organized by China’s Xinhau News Agency and attended by major global media players such as News Corporation, the BBC, and Google. (Is it any surprise that Rupert Murdoch was invited to give a keynote speech?)

A key part of this analysis question is being discussed this weekend: how do we handle media ownership and rights of information and communication on a global scale? Interestingly, this Summit is distinguishing itself from previous attempts at defining global governance (through the UN and others) in that it is being hosted and attending by the media corporations themselves. (As we’ve read, many of these corporations have budgets that are bigger than the GDP of many countries, so it seems fitting that they’re staking a claim in the global governance debate.) Not surprisingly, a focus has been on securing payment for use of content, particularly from websites and blogs. Murdoch gave a fiery speech demanding payment for content and expressed interest in returning to older subscription models. He was challenged, however, by a media critic and journalism professor who called for a new model of governance that reacts to the new media climate – both its opportunities and challenges alike. “(Jeff) Jarvis said aggregators, bloggers and people who use Twitter to share news stories give content creators free distribution and that companies should find ways to capitalize on that, instead of trying to police it.” (New York Times article)

While we must address older concerns, I agree with Jarvis that it must be done within a new framework. To encourage both continued and increased diversity of coverage of topics from culture to conflict, journalists need both the support of media organizations and the freedom to convey their varied stories.

I-report, U-Report, We all Report?

I have noticed a theme throughout class regarding the trend towards consumers becoming producers within media industry. We have discussed blogging, the ability to leave comments on news websites, and the proliferation of independent (or pundit, if you prefer) citizen journalists. The class has always moved to this discussion each week in various ways, and the essay in the IC Reader by Mark Deuze, "Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries" really elaborated what we have been focusing on in class.
Deuze states (as defined by Jenkins) that convergence culture is "both a top-down corporate driven process and a bottom up consumer-driven process". He then summarizes the two different approaches to this new form of convergence culture. First, this new form of media consumption allows us, the consumers, to exercise direct control over what we watch, what we tune out, and what we absorb from the media. As an example, I prefer to watch Fox News over CNN. Also within Fox News, I pay specific attention to certain journalists or hosts over others - but when a commenter is on that I do not agree with or can tolerate listening too, I aptly mute the discussion. In this way, I am exercising complete control over what I consume through the media. The second approach Deuze analyzes is the "collaborative media", in which we each participate in media production and consumption. A prime example of this is blogging - even for this class. We are creating our own media products and we enable our peers to in a sense, be co-producers with us - we allow their comments (or criticisms) and may edit our post to reflect others ideas. This form of collaborative media is prevalent in even today's major news outlets - Fox News and CNN.
IReport.com brands itself as "unedited, unfiltered, news". On this website, citizen journalists can post their own stories. These reports are unedited (the site claims "that means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post") stories to appear on CNN, they must be fully vetted and fact checked by CNN employees. Last month, 724 and last month over 378, 547 were posted. IReport.com was picked up by CNN. However, CNN exercises final editorial control over the posts by citizen journalists, bringing to light questions about how involved the author is in the final process and if it is really collaborative media. For IReportIReport stories appeared on CNN. As always though, there is fine print to be read. Before submitting an IReport story to CNN, the user must read and agree to the terms of use and in there is a hidden provision: "CNN has the right to edit and/or alter any submission. CNN reserves the right not to use the material you submit at all and/or as little of the material as it chooses...you hereby grant to CNN and its affiliates a non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide license to edit, telecast, rerun, reproduce, use, syndicate, license, print, sublicense, distribute and otherwise exhibit the materials you submit, or any portion thereof, as incorporated in any of their programming or the promotion thereof, in any manner and in any medium or forum, whether now known or hereafter devised". In summary, you hand over all rights to your personal work to CNN.
Fox News has a similar form of citizen journalism - UReport. Users can upload pictures and videos for submission to Fox News. UReports terms of use are similar to CNN's "The Site may provide you with the chance to upload or provide messages, photos, videos, clips, ideas, feedback, comments or other content (“Content”). You understand and agree that FOX has the right in its sole discretion, but not the obligation, to monitor, edit, and remove any posted Content, and assumes no liability for any such Content". However, when it comes to posting comments on stories Fox does not assume editorial content, "However, FOX accepts no responsibility whatsoever in connection with or arising from such Messages".
Both IReport and UReport have dramatically increased the impact of citizen journalism. Without these forms of media interaction, video from places such as Iran and other state controlled media outlets may not be seen around the world. The original submission of these writings, pictures, and videos is citizen journalism in its truest form. But before these can be published by CNN or Fox News, the news outlets exercise complete content control - vetting, fact checking, and editing the submissions. Is this then true collaborative media if an outsider has control over the final content? Deuze does an excellent job of summarizing these tensions by explaining, "the same communication technologies that enable interactivity and participation are wielded to foster the entrenchment and growth of a global corporate media system that can be said to be anything but transparent, interactive, or participatory".

Analysis Question #2 - Global Governance

As McChesney illustrates, the global media “system is dominated by fewer then ten global TNCs, with another four or five dozen firms filling out regional and niche markets.” Should we be concerned that so much power is held by only a few entities? Absolutely. With conglomerates controlling the content of information distributed to the public, we as consumers are not always getting unbiased, unfiltered, objective information. The information that we do receive is subject to the whims of the corporate conglomerates that produce the information in a manner which is beneficial to their bottom line, as well as the bottom lines of their sponsors. McChesney describes the global media system as “one that advances corporate and commercial interests and values, and denigrates or ignores that which cannot be incorporated into its mission.” Nation-states indeed must consider revising the global governance of media systems in order to increase the diversity of information that is produced. The current global governance system does not encourage media companies to produce information that would be considered critical of their parent company. Therefore, how can we rely on them to adequately and objectively inform the public of diverse views.

There needs to be strong national governance over the media systems. This is necessary in order to ensure that the public sphere allows for discourse on public issues without the influence of media conglomerates that have their own agendas. In the reading “Global Governance,” the authors(Siochru, Girard & Mahan) explain that the public sphere provides “diversity in media content” where voices that are disinterested in sectional interest and more concerned with transparent and open communication and debate can express themselves on matters of common concern. A functioning public sphere is essential for democracy, however the current global governance systems does not allow for this. With media conglomerates dominating the information that we consume, we are not exposed to a diversity of ideas, but rather, we are exposed to information that highlights what is in their best interests.

The authors of “Global Governance” explain that plurality encourages “a multiplicity of different types of media, offering people different avenues for media participation and reaching different audiences with a variety of range and depth of content.” However, what good are these various sources if they are all being controlled by one entity. Just because there are many different media outlets does not mean there are a diversity of opinions being expressed through these channels. It just means that a singular opinion is being expressed through multiple channels. In fact, the increase of media offerings is perhaps more dangerous to the public sphere because it gives the guise that diverse opinions are being expressed, when in fact this is not the case.

With more national governance, we will be more likely to receive information that would allow for uninfluenced public discussion without the interference of corporate interests. The public sphere is necessary for democracy, and it will only work properly if the media stops functioning as a tool of corporate interests and is governed on a national level.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Telenovelas Promoting the Census

There was an interesting article in the Post (sorry, Prof. Hayden) about a new effort by Telenovelas to promote participation in the Census by Latinos. (As Thussu's article alluded to last week, this popular format provides an effective vehicle for transmitting messages.) A character on a popular Telenovela will gain employment as a census worker to both temper fears that participation is not private and to emphasize the importance of this effort in securing funding for groups that may not be accurately counted. The Post questions, "What is Telemundo up to? Does its experimental census subplot have something to do with subliminal advertising, product placement, ratings? The answer is sort of, but not exactly. What it's really about is a mash-up of a familiar tradition in Latin American media behavior with the needs of a sophisticated modern gringo public-service campaign."

The print version is a bit longer and has more detail on this arrangement (which involved no exchange of money and no contract.) Of course, in accessing the online version I thought of last night's class again when I was delayed by two successive ads that covered the entire screen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Can't Have One Without the Other

This week’s reading, “Geo-ethnic storytelling,” particularly resonated with me, and put a lot of my childhood into perspective. Everyday when I was home with my mother, who is an immigrant from Guyana, I would be forced to listen to Guyanese news radio broadcasts. In particular, I have fond memories of my mother blasting “Caribbean Experience,” a Saturday evening radio show that plays Caribbean music and infuses news stories about the Caribbean in order to “bring the island home a little closer.” As my mother cooked Guyanese “pepper pot stew”, “ox-tail soup” and “sorell juice,” she would listen intently to the news stories from her home country and dance up a storm to the rhythms of her native Caribbean music. As a child, I never understood why that radio show was such an integral part of her life and often made her cry, laugh, smile and shout about issues in her home country. Now, it all makes sense.

My mother was simply feeling the effects of geo-ethnic story telling, which the authors describe as “a practice that aims to produce culturally relevant and locally vital information to immigrants in the host society.” The reading focuses on print material, however, geo-ethnic story telling can play out in any form of media. Caribbean Experience is broadcast from Howard University and focuses on reaching the Caribbean Diaspora in the Washington DC area. The article argues that geo-ethnicity has to be ethnically or culturally relevant AND geographically bound to effectively reach the immigrant community.

Both elements are absolutely necessary, and without them, the ethnic media will not have an impact on the desired community. I saw this play out when I would travel with my mother to visit my Granny in New York. Granny faithfully, and almost exclusively, listened to New York-focused Caribbean radio broadcasting. My mother would listen as well, however, she was never really persuaded by these broadcasts to participate in the New York Caribbean community. Of course, she was interested in the broadcasts because it informed her about her homeland, however she was not as engaged in New York Caribbean issues as she was in DC. She perceived the New York broadcasts to be irrelevant to her daily life in DC.

This sentiment also appears to play out within the Caribbean media itself. For example, during the Carnival festival season, neither the New York, nor the DC Caribbean media seem to make a concerted effort to promote Carnival celebrations in other areas of the U.S. Most focus on encouraging their constituency to attend the local version of Carnival, as there are approximately 19 Carnival festivals held throughout the U.S. over a four month period. Although Caribbean people in the U.S. usually travel to other regions to attend Carnival festivals, there does not seem to be any media campaigns to promote the festivals on a macro level. In turn, my mother would never make an effort to attend New York Carnival, even if she was in New York, during festival season. Although she was culturally tied to the Caribbean people in New York, she was not vested geographically and therefore had no desire to attend.

Ethnic media plays a great role in preserving cultural identity and keeping immigrants connected to the homeland. However, in order for this media to be relevant to its target audience, it must not only be culturally relevant, but it must have some significance to the local community. Without both of these crucial elements, ethnic media will not be meaningful to immigrant communities.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Globalization: Exports and Imports of Foreign Media

This week’s readings had a recurring topic: the global media, who dominates the sphere and the factors of imports or exports of foreign media. McChesney, Thussu, and Tunstall all agree that the United States (US) is the largest exporter of media to the extent that many people call media globalization, the Americanization of media. Although it has been proven that people have a preference for local media, many countries import some US content. I personally think that even if you do see American movies and television programs, it does not mean this will eliminate your local culture. Maybe some phrases and fashion trends might be copied from the TV shows, but the culture in essence will not be affected by it.

In Puerto Rico, being a Commonwealth of the US, most of our media is imported from the US. We only have about 4 local TV channels, all the rest are American. I have also experienced the glocalization Robert McChesney describes in his article, “The Media System Goes Global”. Glocalization refers to the globalizing media with a local focus. For example, international broadcasting stations like ABC, FOX, The CW, CBS they keep the same basic programming but add some local features so it appeals more to the public in a specific country. They do this by showing local commercials, renaming the channels as, for example FOX Puerto Rico, ABC Puerto Rico, and so on. For some reason, this makes the channels seem more unique and gets you thinking, “Wow! This programming is made just for me”, although they are just passing the same schedule as they do in the US.

The US’s biggest export market is the European Union (EU). US media products also reach many other countries in either a direct or indirect manner as Jeremy Tunstall explains in “Media Nationalism”. Direct exports refer to programs, movies, etc. that have no alterations and is presented in the foreign country exactly as in the country of origin. Indirect exports are the ones that include alterations such as: subtitles, dubbed in another language, cutting out scenes because of cultural, religious, or political reasons, and selling a program idea and format to another country so they may produce it. The indirect forms of exporting media make it less obvious where it is coming from.

Hollywood has an extraordinary dominance over the film industry since the beginning of its days. Daya Kishan Thussu tells us that in 2004, US exports of film and TV programs totaled $10,480 million and it continues to grow annually. Hollywood just as other international companies has many joint ventures and partnerships with countries such as Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. This variety makes Hollywood movies appeal to a more diverse audience which maximizes profits and increases exports. Hollywood does have its competitors, like: Bollywood, a film industry from India; Japanese anime and manga, which has grown to be very popular; and Telenovelas, Latin American soap operas shown in most Spanish speaking countries and in the US where there is a large Hispanic population.

The globalization of media has many different faces: imports, exports, dominating countries… It is clear that the US has great control over media globalization and is country with the most exported media. Although new technologies have allowed new competitors to come into the mix with Hollywood, this will probably not affect its growth and quantity of exports.

You Say Global, I Say Glocal

When we received our syllabus, Prof Hayden made mention of the fact that while our textbook was literally being printed this fall, it would swiftly become out of date. While the theory and history of Thussu and others remain relevant, reading our articles from even as recently as 2007 makes me wonder what has happened since their publication. Have the big three media giants changed? Are the predicted countries continuing to show promise? I looked up current news stories on this week’s topics and discovered that, in short, the predictions of our readings have played out. From India and China continuing to experience incredible growth – even admit infrastructure issues and censorship debates – to Murdoch’s empire continuing to grow – these articles provided an accurate framework for understanding today’s updates.

The Economist had a cover story feature on the telecom industry in emerging markets last week, focusing on a range of topics from mobile phones being used for paying bills in Africa to the challenges and victories of infrastructure in India. Fox announced just last week that it is investing in its first Chinese film. (An interesting development considering Murdoch’s murky past with China, as discussed by McChesney.) Murdoch’s team has been busy in other areas as well, having announced this week that News Corp. is creating its own “internal wire service”. As an example of “glocalization”, this service will not be responsible for original content, but will “rejigger copy from the company’s far-flung news outlets so it is suitable for local audiences”. Other changes are afoot as well. Similarly, Murdoch announced today that it will begin charging for select content within its websites for The Times and The Sunday Times. “We are moving away from the traditional model of volume in favour of developing more direct relationships with our customers based on their interests and passions."

While our readings focused on globalization, what they demonstrated (which was reinforced in these news stories) is that globalization has never achieved an equal flow (thank you, Castells) between nations. As Rai and Cottle point out, while it’s great that India is watching CNN, how many of us have ever seen ZEE TV? At best, we’re experiencing “glocalization”, typically in one direction, and even that has limited reach (and questionable effectiveness).

Further, McChesney’s article proposes that globalization may encourage media, especially films, to move away from displaying controversial messages such as negative portrayals of ethnic groups because their products may be seen and challenged by an international audience. We’re also seeing this work in reverse, however. In an attempt to “glocalize” their products, multinational companies such as L’Oreal and Pond’s are using their extensive advertising budgets to tailor campaigns – and hoping their controversial messages won’t be found out. While in India this summer, I repeatedly saw advertisements that strongly insinuated that love could be found after using skin lightening creams. This article raises the question of the ethical responsibility of multi-national corporations and points out that “multinationals are falling over themselves trying to "think globally and act locally". Here is a case where acting locally has been manipulated into a calculated double standard.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

McDisney

We all remember the days growing up filled with McDonald’s Happy Meals and Disney Movies. Some of my fondest memories were days where we would be picked up from school by my dad and then meet my mom for dinner near her office. While I’m sure my parents would have preferred to any other type of food fare, they always obliged to our request and shouts of “McDonalds”. And there we would sit with our greasy food, around a not so clean table, discussing the events of the day. The only thing that further contributed to the happiness would of course be a Happy Meal Toy. Then we would go home and gather in the living room to watch the newest Disney video on VHS. Those are the memories that make up childhood for most of us.

Robert McChesney’s “The Media System Goes Global” discusses the rise and impact of global media partnerships, one of these being the 10 year partnership between two of the worlds giants – Disney and McDonalds. When consuming happy meals and playing with happy meal toys as children it never occurred to us to think of the logistics behind such a merger. Although the partnership was not in existence until 1996 and we were past happy meals by then, the story still lends itself to a great case study. As McChesney states, “Disney and McDonald’s [had] a 10 year exclusive partnership to promote each other’s products in 109 nations, a relationship so detailed that the Wall Street Journal termed the two firms McDisney”. This means that between 1996 and 2006, all the Happy Meal toys were promotions of Disney movies and other Disney products. However, this seemingly genius partnership was not to be renewed when it came to a close in 2006.

The last Disney movies to be promoted with Happy Meal toys were Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Although the 10 year deal probably benefited both companies, there were negative implications. Due to the language of the contract, McDonald’s advertising budget was largely spoken for in terms of happy meals. Confined specifically to Disney promotions, McDonald’s was stuck often promoting a movie that was not successful, such as Treasure Planet. While McDonalds was forced to promote such failures, its competitors such as Burger King could promote other studio’s films, such as DreamWorks widely popular Shrek series (Fast Food Chain has Beef with Disney). Disney also had issues with the partnership. As McDonalds faced increasing complaints about the unhealthy nature of its food, Disney wanted to distance itself from the often criticized fast food giant. The connection between Disney’s movies and McDonald’s happy meals may not have been a big issue if the food in the happy meals kids begged for was healthy (Disney Dumps McDonalds).

Disney is characterized as a part of “The Holy Trinity” by McChesney, its holdings including ABC, ESPN, Miramax, resorts, and much more. Its widely popular movies have developed young teenage stars who appeal to kids around the world. On the surface, such a popular culture firm should have been successful with the most recognized golden arches in the world. However, the negative implications as mentioned earlier led to conflicts of interest, and ultimately the decision by both partners to not renew the agreement for another ten years. The fairy tale of mergers did not end in happily ever after. But, both firms continue separately to encourage children around the globe to find their own happily ever after with their happy meal toys and animated movies.

http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2006/05/disney_mcdonalds.html (Disney Dumps McDonalds)

http://articles.latimes.com/2004/jun/14/business/fi-disney14 (Fast Food Chain has Beef with Disney)