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A View from Henry Jenkins

How Media Changes Cultural Identities

Two recent articles in the International Herald Tribune point to the ways that modern media are changing the ways people live in relation to national cultures. Both of the stories are interesting on their own terms but even more provocative…

  • February 23, 2004

Two recent articles in the International Herald Tribune point to the ways that modern media are changing the ways people live in relation to national cultures. Both of the stories are interesting on their own terms but even more provocative read side by side.

In the first story, we learn that the ability to access national language and in some cases national origin cable programing is allowing immigrants to maintain much stronger ties back to their mother countries than had been the case for previous generations. The story reports that: “The satellite provider Dish Network now offers 50 international or foreign-language channels, including Polish and Portuguese. Across the United States, Time Warner Cable offers 37, including Arabic, Russian, German, Greek, Filipino and Vietnamese. In New York alone, more than 90,000 of Time Warner’s customers currently get the international channels.

“Such channels are laying another set of bridges between immigrants and their native lands, joining jet planes, inexpensive long-distance calling and the Internet. Immigrants can follow the same catastrophes and laugh at the same homespun jokes as their relatives and friends back home. For relative newcomers, it means they can relax in front of a television without being baffled by a new language, and they can immerse their children in their native tongues, narrowing the generational distances typical of immigrant families.”

Cultural conservatives worry that this around-the-clock access to the mother country’s media may make it harder for such groups to assimilate into American culture, but many of the immigrants argue that they live in and around American culture and it is important not to lose touch with their roots.

The second story reverses this argument, showing the ways that the outsourcing of communications-related job to India and other Asian countries is speeding up the process of westernization.

As the article explains, “Binitha Venugopal, who used to answer calls at ICICI OneSource, which employs 4,200 people, said her co-workers were gradually becoming Americanized. They are materialistic, their values are changing,” Venugopal said. Dating and live-in relationships are common. Yet these young Indians’ daily exposure to American customers is discomforting. Many of them deal with car insurance but may never own a car, book hotel suites that cost nearly as much as their annual pay, and chat about pretzels, snow and baseball, which they have never tasted, seen or experienced.”

In both cases, the concern is whether as a result of global communications, people live, mentally in one culture, physically in another.

Of course, it is also interesting that these stories both appeared in the International Times Herald, a publication created to accomodate “road warriors” who travel regularly between different airports and need a newspaper which takes an international rather than local perspective. Aren’t the publication’s readers also living between worlds, inhabiting multiple cultural realities?

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