Critique of the Cultural Imperialism Theory

7 July 2016

?Abstract This paper stands to critique the Cultural Imperialism Theory. The paper further looks at both the negative and the positive effects of Cultural Imperialism. The cultural imperialism theory sets to shape the concept of cultural imperialism itself. It concludes that, though the western world is eroding the culture of developing countries and Nigeria as a study, Nigeria as a Nation should put on some safety belt in safeguarding our heritage.

Keywords: culture, imperialism, media imperialism, cultural imperialism Introduction A man’s pride lies in his confidence and his personality is greatly nurtured by his culture. Culture is the characteristic of a particular group of people, defined by things such as language, religion, social habits, music and arts that are passed from one generation to the other; it can also be the tradition of the people (Zimmermann, 2012).

Critique of the Cultural Imperialism Theory Essay Example

According to the New Oxford Dictionary, culture is the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concept of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquire by a group of people in the course of generations through individual land group striving. Imperialism as defined by the Dictionary of Human Geography, is the creation and maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire, based on domination and subordination.

According to Downing, Mohammadi, and Sreberny-Mohammadi (1995), Imperialism is the conquest and control of one country by a more powerful one. According to Boyd-Barrett (1977 p. 117): Media imperialism is “the process whereby the ownership, structure, distribution, or content of the media in any country are singly or together subject to substantial external pressures from the media interests of any other country or countries, without proportionate reciprocation of influence by the country so affected

Ogan (1988) also states that, “Media imperialism is often described as a process whereby the United States and Western Europe produce most of the media products, make the first profits from domestic sales, and then market the products in Third World countries at costs considerably lower than those the countries would have to bear to produce similar products at home”. Cultural imperialism is the cultural aspects of imperialism. It can be seen as the cultural legacy of colonialism, or forms of social action contributing to the continuation of western culture.

Cultural imperialism theory gained prominence in the 1970s. It explains the media situation as it existed at that time. The nature of media (electronic and print media), at that time, promoted a one-way, top-down transmission system from dominant country to dominated country that theoretically gave rise to a passive audience and a powerful media (Senupta and Frith, 1997 cited in White, 2001 and Ekeanyanwu 2012, p. 38). Therefore, cultural imperialism is the subjugation of a local culture and the imposition of an alien culture on the local culture (Ekeanyanwu, 2005:29).

According to Schiller (1976): The concept of cultural imperialism today best describes the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating center of the system. The public media are the foremost example of operating enterprises that are used in the penetrative process.

For penetration on a significant scale the media themselves must be captured by the dominating/penetrating power. This occurs largely through the commercialization of broadcasting. (The press invariably is commercial at the outset). Positive and negative Influences of Cultural Imperialism on the Third World Nations Human beings learn new things through their five senses, and prominent among them are sight and hearing. Hence, people learn new things from the television and radio, especially from news reports and stories.

They imitate what they read in books, magazines and newspapers about other countries that they think are more developed than them. It is important to note that no person or group of people or even a country can live alone without others. The mass media, as a major carrier of culture, help in so many ways in supplying the cultural shapes and vice versa in all developing countries. In the real sense of it, Cultural Imperialism has influenced the third world nations both positively and negatively.

Cultural imperialism has led to the increase the pace of development in Nigeria and other less developed countries. Many good ideas and methods copied from developed countries like England, France and the USA have helped in no small measure to improve Nigeria in areas like education, health, housing, style of living, agriculture, trade and industries, systems of government and technology (Chrissey, 2008). These are the positive effects of cultural imperialism or interaction between Nigeria and the western countries but let’s not get carried away because it did more harm than good.

Just as we are quick in copying the good things in foreign and developed countries, we are also tend, to be quick in picking up some habits which have led to a shift in our cultural orientation. Over-exposure to foreign culture has led to a shift in the cultural and religious organizations of Nigeria. Many programmes aired in Nigeria are foreign and their impact on the youth is that it has bred anti-social behaviors and negative values on the Nigerian youth. As a result of this influence, many Nigerians, mostly the youths, now dress, talk, eat and even behave like foreigners.

Some adult females try to look like the whites by bleaching their skins. The way and manner in which foreign films, materials, and media contents influence our modes of dressing, behavior, dancing and general physical appearance is alarming, which if left unchecked could result to turning our nation into a cultureless society (Chrissey 2008). Limitations of cultural imperialism Theory This is evident in the countless definitions that have been offered by different critical theorists. The theory lacks precise definitions.

The lack of conceptual precision or consensus has been a major obstacle to the development of a precise theory to inform research on cultural imperialism (Fejes, 1981; Lee, 1988). Sui-Nam Lee (1988) analyzed various terms relating to cultural imperialism, criticizing the theory for not being specific. But he did not help in making it any more specific as he proposes the use of yet another term – “communication imperialism” – complicating the notion of cultural imperialism. Uche (1996) draws clear and distinct lines between cultural imperialism, cultural synchronization and cultural juxtaposition.

He argues that what most person call cultural imperialism may actually be regarded as cultural synchronization. According to him, cultural imperialism means external culture that is imposed upon another culture against their will. Cultural synchronization means an external culture that is welcomed and imitated by another culture which the external eventually supersedes in an evolutionary fashion. Cultural juxtaposition means the placing together of locally produced cultural elements with the externally produced (or as the opposition and coexistence) of distinct types of cultural productivity within late capitalism.

This cultural imperialism theory totally goes against the uses and gratification model, which righty presumes an active media audience that are able to process and interpret media messages or stimuli from their individual socio-cultural experiences and backgrounds. It also builds on mass society and the magic bullet submissions which have long been discredited in media practice and scholarship (Ekeanyanwu 2001, p 41- 42). James Ettema, D. Charles Whitney, also suggested in their studies of the media that audiences make conscious choices concerning what they listen to, read, and watch.

Defense for the Cultural Imperialism Theory One cannot merely degrade cultural imperialism because of a lack of definitive precision. One must recognize and accept cultural imperialism for what it is – a critical theory; and as Litttlejohn (1999) argues “critical theories consist of a loose confederation of ideas held together by a common interest in the quality of communication and human life” (p. 15). Critical theories therefore operate at a macro-level, although less specific, rather than at the micro-level.

Cultural imperialism focuses on broader, less explicit issues of culture, transnational media and political economy while active audience theory focuses on the individual audience members. One will note that this is one of the basic premises of the argument that cultural imperialists have used in defending the theory. Schiller, in response to active audience proponents, has contended that these researchers are basically trying to apply cultural imperialism to the micro-level or individual audience members and the theory does not attempt to explain this.

Instead, the theory is designed for application to macro-level situations such as the flow of information between countries. A Reflection on the Cultural Imperialism Theory The author of this paper is of the opinion that cultural imperialism no longer exist. Cultural imperialism, according to Ekeanyanwu (2005), is the subjugation of a local culture and the imposition of an alien culture on the local culture. Initially, this could have been the order of the day but now it is more of cultural synchronization.

According to Uche (1996), cultural synchronization means an external culture that is welcomed and imitated by another culture which the external eventually supersedes. From general observation we willingly accepted the Western way of life. Although, it took over our own culture because of our negligence, it still does not change the fact that we have imbibed it into our own culture. Furthermore, the author is also of the opinion that if developing countries like Nigeria, were still under the rule of the Westerners, it would be more developed than the stage it is now.

It might not be called a developed nation but would be striving to get to that stage of development. Conclusion The very awareness of the presence of cultural imperialism serves to diminish its impact. Since we are aware of the negative influence and effects of cultural imperialism amongst us, our minds should be at alert in order to diminish its impact on us. The solution lies in the acceptance of our own culture. Let us learn to be proud of our own culture as we have no other place to call our own, but Africa.

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