Global Entertainment and Popular Culture
Special Guest Lecture by Gareth Chang, with Professor Toby Miller, UC Riverside
Gareth C.C. Chang, Managing Partner of GC3 & Associates International and former CEO of Star TV, in a lecture delivered in the International Institute’s Global Studies 1 class on May 5, analyzed the interplay of technology, the globalization of the media, and cultural identity from a perspective students are rarely--if ever--exposed to: an extraterrestrial’s eye view, looking at the planet earth from deep in space.
What Chang meant to suggest by this perspective is that to understand where global entertainment and popular culture are headed, one should begin by looking afresh at the starting point: the fundamental cultural, political, and economic landscape of the earth as it stands today.
An Extraterrestrial Eye’s View
To Chang’s visitor from space, the earth today basically looks like this:
- It still is haunted by terrorism, border conflicts, and nuclear threats.
- Power, in the wake of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, is being fundamentally “rebalanced,” with rising nodes of regional strength in China, Russia, and the European Union.
- Economies are increasingly becoming borderless and wealth is being redistributed. “The haves and the have-nots are going to average out,” Chang argued.
- Huge new markets -- notably China and India -- are emerging and are providing vigorous competition to traditional producers.
- New “human skill sets”-- with less emphasis on specialization and more on wide-ranging knowledge and adaptability (“the new renaissance man”) -- are required in today’s “very complex and multicultural world.”
- Competition for scare natural resources, especially energy, is going to reach crisis proportions.
In this sort of world, Chang continued, globalization is increasingly going to take the form of “clusters or concentrations of exchanges.”
Globalization: City-Regions, Economics, and Cultures
Physically speaking, the “clusters” of which Chang spoke will consist of enormous conurbations, or city-regions, each with a population exceeding 20 million. By the year 2010, the ten largest of these city-regions will all be outside the United States -- some in Asia, some in Latin America. What will be the consequences of this? “The cultural merging of the front edge of intellectual trends,” Chang declared, “will be outside the United States. . . . The people of the city-regions will be driving the leading edge of . . . policy and economics.”
These city-regions will be at the forefront of increasing cultural, technical, and social integration. But at the same time, there will be a widening of the gap of “wealth and social standing” between them and the rural areas of the world. In other words, in the years to come, we can expect a growing economic and cultural divide between the advanced, urban areas of the world, and the less advanced rural areas.
Globalization: Media and Content
The growth of global cultural, technological, and social integration will involve far-reaching changes in the character of the media and in the content it carries, Chang continued.
First, ours is now a “very wired world,” and will become even more so. The amount of information in circulation and the speed of its flow is undergoing tremendous growth. Significantly, the areas of greatest growth are India and China.
Second, although this “very wired world” is very much characterized by mass media, advertising is actually becoming very targeted. However, “today, content [of entertainment programming] is still predominately Western.”
Third, ownership of media empires can be expected to fall increasingly into the hands of entrepreneurs in world’s city-regions, which raises the issue of potential foreign censorship of what Americans see and read.
Fourth, all this will contribute to “identity crisis” in non-Western areas around the world.
Globalization: Media Empires
In the years to come, Chang said, the traditional media empires, such as Disney, Viacom, Time Warner/AOL, Universal, Vivendi, and so on, will yield to companies like Sony, Matsushita, Samsung, GE, Philips, and Siemens, "equipment manufacturers that are moving into content." But the real stars, Chang declared, "are companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google. The three of them together have a far higher market track than the traditional media empires and the equipment manufacturers put together."
Moreover, "purely working on their ability to control software . . . and give you the information you want when you want it, is [what will make these firms into] the future media empires." Some of what are usually thought of as “computer companies” are rapidly transforming themselves into media service providers. Chang mentioned, for example, Apple, which is “no longer really a computer company” (it now controls only 2 percent of the market), will soon be marketing things like i-Video, or i-Phone, which will include entertainment delivery along with telephony.
Globalization: Future Trends in Technology & Media
Chang described an attractive, even exciting, future for the media, one where content-rich information will be available at one’s fingertips 24/7. Product innovation and competition to meet individual enterprise and consumer demand will be fierce. The result for the consumer will be instantly available information “tailor-made to each taste and interest.” The demand for “breadth, localized and in-depth content” will increase the pace of development of “non-Westernized programming.” The result will make the twenty-first century a truly “multi-cultural world.”
Implications: “What’s in it for me?”
“The convergence of technology and media,” Chang argued, “will open up unlimited career [pathways] and life adventures for the young and the old.” Opportunities will abound “to learn and expand one’s understanding of the world.” In this environment, “the undergraduate degree is not as important as it used to be. The very education, however, is crucially important. You could be a trained technical person and a [college] graduate and move in almost any direction or you could be [for instance] a sociology major and also move in almost any direction. Today we are talking about overlap. . . Because the amount of information that is available to you is so vast and deep, you can adapt very quickly if you are willing to learn.”
In addition, opportunities for entrepreneurship will expand exponentially. Chang contended that today to launch a media venture requires so little capital that “start-up cost is no longer a major issue.”
In short, Chang concluded, the twenty-first century will be the century of the “renaissance person.”
Toby Miller (professor of English, Sociology, and Women’s Studies at UC Riverside), who commented on Gareth Chang's talk, balanced Chang's extraterrestrial eye's view, which emphasized broad trends, with an almost microscopic examination of some of the seamy aspects of globalization. Miller's object was not merely to point out that globalization has its downside, but to argue that globalization is not necessarily a foreordained, automatic process. Rather, globalization happens through human mediation.
Miller asked the class to consider, for example, what happens to our computers once they reach the end of their useful life, a useful life that nowadays is very short indeed. Discarded computers are mostly sent back to their country of origin: China. This is in large part because computers are horribly polluting, and the very strict environmental-protection laws of most Western countries make recycling them very expensive. Hence, they are shipped back to China. There, the computers are broken down and stripped by child labor, wearing no protective gear at all. The safe, useful parts of the computer are recycled; the useless parts -- full of pollution -- are dumped, thus contaminating the air and soil. Of course, in the process the child workers are exposed to huge doses of harmful pollutants.
Or, Miller continued, consider the spread across the globe of Hollywood films. This is not simply the result of consumer preference -- of the “fact” that Hollywood produces movies and TV programs people like, and therefore sell well. Or, to put it another way, consumer preference is not the complete picture behind the success of Hollywood. In Miller’s words, some people believe Hollywood produces films that are popular “because it has an unfettered, free-enterprise hand, unlike national broadcasters like the BBC or CBC, or national cinemas, like the Mexican national cinema. [Hollywood is free of ] government purse strings or government control. Thus there is [in this view] a magical operation the market such that the hopes, desires, and dreams that consumers have get reflected in the stories that are told, most effectively and efficiently by Hollywood.”
However, Miller continued, “there is another side to the story. . . . It is a side that suggests this notion of the private sector simply responding to consumer demand . . . is a little bit simple. In fact, the federal government, state governments, and city governments throughout the United States are crucial players in the success of Hollywood. This is not a laissez-faire system, and never has been.” For example, Miller pointed out that after World War I, the United States banned the import of movies as well as celluloid from the defeated Central Powers (mainly Germany and Austria). Up to that point, the United States had imported movie-making technology from these and other European countries. Now, through the intervention of the U.S. government, the roles were reversed. “In the 1920s, the U.S. government paid for Hollywood movies to go all over the world, in order to advertise the U.S. style of life. In the 1940s, when Walt Disney was going bust . . . , the federal government gave him a massive subsidy and paid him to make anti-Nazi films for screening in Latin America. In the 1950s, many front organizations for the CIA and the FBI were paid money to buy various properties -- books, plays, and so on -- and have them made into movies that told a story that suited the United States.”
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Gareth Chang was formerly chairman and chief executive of STAR TV Group, a multichannel satellite television network that reaches more than 300 million viewers across Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East. Before that, he was corporate senior vice president of Hughes Electronics and president of Hughes International, responsible for worldwide operations in Europe, Canada, Middle East, Latin America and Asia/Pacific. In addition, Chang was president of DirecTV International, executive chairman of DirecTV Japan and chairman of Hughes-JVC Technology. Prior to joining Hughes in 1993, Chang held the positions of corporate vice president of McDonnell Douglas and president of McDonnell Douglas Pacific and Asia. He also served as the founding executive chairman of the Joint McDonnell Douglas-Shanghai Aviation Executive Board for the production and sales of commercial jets; senior vice president of McDonnell Douglas Information Systems Company; divisional vice president of engineering and director of design and technology for McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company. He is also a member of the Committee of 100, Pacific Council, Atlantic Council, and the Council on Foreign Relations. A strong patron and supporter of the arts, Chang is also on the Council of Governors of the East West Players.
Toby Miller, Professor in the Departments of English, Sociology, and Women’s Studies at UC Riverside and director of the UC Riverside Program in Film and Visual Culture, studies the media, sport, labor, gender, race, citizenship, politics, and cultural policy via political economy, textual analysis, archival research, and ethnography. He is the editor of Television & New Media and editor and coeditor of the book series Popular Culture and Everyday Life (Lang) and Sport and Culture (Minnesota), he was also chair of the International Communication Association Philosophy of Communication Division, editor of the Journal of Sport & Social Issues, and coeditor of Social Text, the Blackwell Cultural Theory Resource Centre, and the book series Film Guidebooks (Routledge) and Cultural Politics (Minnesota). He has recently become the coeditor of Social Identities. After working in broadcasting, banking, and civil service, Miller became an academic in the late 1980s, when cultural studies was starting its boom, and was able to parlay a combination of his work experience, theoretical interests, and political commitments into a new career, since which time he has taught media and cultural studies across the humanities and social sciences.
Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2005