The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.
– Ida B. Wells
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In Comm638, Strategic Communication for Global Audiences with Dr. el-Nawawy, we discussed at length the impact of media on global cultures.
Geertz (1973) defined culture as: “an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life.” (cited in Ogan, 2007, p. 296)
Naturally, one must learn what these symbols represent. We first learn our culture through our language, families, environment, etc. With the development of mass media such as print, radio, and television, we are exposed to more aspects of our culture as well as other cultures, thus expanding our worldview and perhaps questioning our own version of culture.
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The Frankfurt Institute’s Adorno and Horkheimer developed the term “culture industries” to describe the pop culture products that are “tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to plan” (Adorno, 1975, cited in Ogan, 2007, p. 295). In their critical view, mass media then was a tool, providing ideological justification for the societies driven by capitalism where those pop culture products and industries originated. UNESCO (1999), however, viewed culture industries as a positive force because they are economic resources that allow creative expression to be “copied and boosted by industrial processes and worldwide distribution” (cited in Ogan, 2007, p. 295).
In general, I agree with Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical view that mass media breeds mass deception while acting as a hegemony machine. I’m inclined to agree that today’s global media conglomerates are in the business of working to pacify, distract, or create a passive audience. Even with all the choices given to us (hundreds of TV channels, radio stations, news sites, magazines), we are moved to watch the same news stations or read the same publications or Internet sites. We come to trust the information given to us, even though news is never objective and there are no single truths (Ogan, 2007, p. 309). At the same time, however, platforms like Twitter or weblogs have given a voice to the voiceless and recorded revolutions. In our digital age, the Internet offers opportunities to discover truths, to see people for who they are, to see how Photoshop or creative cropping creates the story the media want to to tell.
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During this course, ReNee Troy-Mebane and I worked on a paper and PowerPoint Presentation that profiled a transnational media corporation and the effects of its magazines on the global audience. Using the theory of transnational media management, we explored how Hearst Corporation’s international publication Cosmopolitan Magazine affects the international cultures in which they are marketed and if those international markets have any effect on Cosmo or Hearst. We wanted to know if the international versions of Cosmo were able to define their own standards for publication or if Hearst encourages the promotion of Western ideologies. ReNee and I found that Hearst attempts to balance localization and standardization to maximize success, but intentionally and strategically attempts to instill Westernized ideologies in foreign markets.
When creating messages, as discussed in our third course, Constructing Messages and Audiences with Dr. McArthur, strategic communicators should be well aware that their audiences are not made up of people who are exact replicas of themselves; their audiences will always have a level of diversity whether it be age, gender, race, ethnicity, religious involvement, political leanings, economic status, or a combination of some or all of the above (and, of course, those not listed). This is especially true for transnational media corporations, as ReNee and I explored with our project. This ever-present diversity means that messages will always fall on many ears and have alternate meanings attached to them regardless of the initial intent. Their communications will never be truly neutral. Strategic communicators should be mindful of their messages’ construction and also remember that many ears means many voices.
Communication is always political and is always embedded within relationships of power. (Dutta, 2009, p.284).
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But, any silence of voices does not mean they are absent. Giving voice to the voiceless sounds so noble, but we have to make sure we are not giving them our voices. We want to give them tools, methods, language, resources, to develop their own voices, but again, who’s to say those things are the right ones for them? For example, if Americans are swooping into Africa at any given moment, we are only bestowing them with our Western ideologies, those ingrained in our psyche for hundreds of years. Introducing Cosmo to new countries squeezes Western ideologies on international readers. Spivak (1999) explores this idea in her research on knowledge and imperialism (as cited in Dutta, 2009). Knowledge structures should “be examined in the backdrop of the imperialist desires that constitute them” (Dutta, 2009, p.283); that is to say, we must remain cognizant of our ideologies and privilege when it comes to globalization politics; we must practice continual reflexivity, remaining aware of the representations we use in politics (Dutta, 2009). We must avoid turning a representation into marketable “posterchild” for a cause. Because, even when we carve out space to listen to Others, we must be aware that “this other is continually erased from the discursive spaces of mainstream social systems” (Dutta, 2009, p.283).
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The field of strategic communication could be part of the movement to “advocate a shift from focusing on discourses of power to highlighting everyday experiences” (Rakow & Nastasia, 2009, p.267). While Rakow and Nastasia (2009) are speaking of the problematization of gender, I think it can be applied to strategic communication in a way that encourages critical awareness of marginalized groups which then can be “translated into people’s everyday work knowledge” (Smith, 2005, as cited in Rakow & Nastasia, 2009, p.266). Strategic communicators must acknowledge the voiceless in order to begin the process of giving them a voice, but it has to be part of everyday conversations in order to signal the paradigm shift.
Dutta’s (2009) essay on Spivak would tell us to interrogate everything. We must question everything and ask why until we understand or seek to change. This is something I will always do – keep asking questions while remembering that the world is made up of billions of different voices.
Appadurai, A. (2010). Disjuncture and difference in the global cultural economy. In D. K. Thussu (Ed.), International Communication: A Reader (pp. 383-392). New York: Routledge.
Dutta, M.J. (2009). On Spivak: Theorizing resistance — Applying Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in public relations. In Ø. Ihlen, B. van Ruler, & M. Fredriksson (Eds.), Public relations and social theory: Key figures and concepts (pp. 278-300). New York: Routledge.
Ogan, C. (2007). Communication and culture. In Y. Kamalipour (Ed.), Global Communication (pp. 293-318). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Rakow, L.F. & Nastasia, D.I. (2009). On feminist theory of public relations: An example from Dorothy E. Smith. In Ø. Ihlen, B. van Ruler, & M. Fredriksson (Eds.), Public relations and social theory: Key figures and concepts (pp. 252-277). New York: Routledge.