Thursday, April 24, 2008

Globalization, Mass Media and Cultural Intrusion: Nepali Perspective

Nirmala Mani Adhikary

Globalization has become a unidirectional gateway to American and Indian mass media entering Nepal. The flow of information from super-power United States and regional-power India to Nepal is contributing to impose foreign values and for cultural invasion over Nepal.

The impact of globalization on Nepalese society could be analyzed with regards to diverse fields such as culture, economy, politics, policies, media, etc. In general, this essay is confined to analyze the role of mass media as the means of making Nepal the target of 'cultural globalization.' In particular, it is focused to analyze the role of the mass media of super-power United States and regional-power India for cultural invasion over Nepal. The connection between international power relations and the media in the process of globalization has been considered here.

Globalization: unidirectional gateway

Globalization has been defined as "the 'name' that is often used to designate the power relations, practices and technologies that characterize, and have helped bring into being, the contemporary world" (Schirato and Webb 1). Apart from economical and technological aspect, the term has been widened to include "broader cultural, political and environmental dimensions" (IMF 2) as well. Even there is claim that "it has become a new religion of both modern and post-modern societies on this planet" (Bhattachan 81). There seems no hard and fast rule or any widely accepted recipe to define the term. Some view the meaning of globalization as "less than precise" (Schirato and Webb 1) and, for others, "there is nothing mysterious about globalization" and it has extended "beyond national borders" (IMF 2).

Whether one likes or dislikes the phenomenon, "it seems everyone has a stake in its meaning, and is affected by its discourses and practices" (Schirato and Webb 2). It is true in case of Nepal too, especially after the restoration of democracy in 1990. "The democratically elected governments of Nepal since 1990 also encouraged the process of globalization" (Dahal 56). The present condition, as one Nepalese sociologist observes, is such that "the fever of 'globalization' has caught up Nepalese policy makers, planners, political leaders, intellectuals, academia, media people, and layman alike" (Bhattachan 80).

Just like in the case of defining globalization there are contrasting views regarding the impact as well. Both the views, globalization as a process that is being considered beneficial, inevitable and irreversible vis-à-vis being regarded "with hostility, even fear, believing that it increases inequality within and between nations, threatens employment and living standards and thwarts social progress" (IMF 1), have been recognized. From Nepalese point of view, "Globalization is taking place not on terms of equality of nations, but is based on relations of dominance of a few and the subordination of the many" (Acharya 26). It has been observed as 'monopoly' that is manifested "in terms of the market economy wedded with liberal democracy, high-technology and media revolution" (Bhattachan 81). Even straightly, "the universal process of globalization" is "commonly understood in Nepal as 'Americanization' or 'Westernization' (imposition or adoption of Western culture, values and life style eroding the indigenous ones)" (Dahal 57).
The issue of 'monopoly' in the context of media has direct concern with the doctrine of 'free flow of information.' "Developed by the United States and other Western nations after World War II," the doctrine has been considered by supporters as "a means of promoting peace and understanding and spreading technical advances" (MacBride and Roach 287). The critics have recognized as accompanying "the international expansion of American power" and complementing "the related doctrine of the free flow of capital, commodities, and resources" (Mattelart and Mattelart 156-157). The doctrine has been even severely criticized, "Free flow is like a free fox among free chickens" (Schirato and Webb 176).
In such scenario, 'free flow of information' obviously becomes the 'mantra-at-the-ready' in the hands of powerful nations in order to dominate others. The communication flow, as some critics claim, "is one way, from the powerful nations to the weaker ones" (Vivian 425). In case of Nepal, the flow of information from different sources should be considered. The mass media of United States as well as of India have got entrance through the gateway of globalization, which is not bi-directional from the Nepalese point of view.

International power relations and media

The mass media play a crucial role in almost all aspects of daily life in these days. Because mass media could far exceed the reach of any previous interpersonal communication they are capable of instantaneously connecting virtually every human being. In 'global village', as Marshall McLuhan would term contemporary world, media are the largest focus of leisure time interest, providing the shared 'cultural environment' for most people and more so than any other single institution. They have been considered as the driving forces behind the cultural globalization.
Since the world is believed on the process of 'cultural globalization' with the media as the driving forces, a question of politics immediately raises. It is not simply a question of unequal distribution that some countries having more access to and control over media. It is that whether such access and control of some countries can undermine others' culture. The most fundamental question of society, concerning the distribution and exercise of power, turn on the understanding of the connection between international power relations and the media.
In "What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream", Chomsky discusses that different media are doing different things, and argues that the 'elite' or 'agenda-setting' media (of US) are setting "a framework within which others operate." He observes that framework as "a reflection of obvious power structures." (Chomsky 20) In other words, "world patterns of communication flow, both in destiny and in direction, mirror the system of domination in the economic and political order." (Sinclair et al. 301) As Chomsky observes, no one, trying to break the mold, is going to last long. He further argues that the product of media won't be without the interest of the power systems around them. "If that wouldn't happen, it would be a kind of miracle." (Chomsky 22)
It is understandable, in this light, why most of the media would have a vested interest in the Capitalist system and would be inclined to give support to its most obvious defenders. It is not unlikely to assume the international media as the carriers of powerful nations' culture. Though it is debatable how much they would be successful actually to influence the audience it is clear that international media, at least, lead the world in their transportability across cultural boundaries. With reference to the "framework" observed by Chomsky, there is substantive ground to believe that American as well as Indian media have their obvious cause to support the 'monopoly' or 'power relations.'

Cultural imperialism paradigm:

The mass media constitute a primary source of definitions and images of social reality and the most ubiquitous expression of shared identity. The reality we confront these days is, in fact, "mediated" reality. Since the sociological significance of media extends beyond the content of media messages their influence is not limited to what we know. They are the domains where "the central problem of today's global interactions" that is "the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization" (Appadurai 324) has to be dealt. So there are differing views with respect to the question of a global culture.
Herbert Schiller, in Mass Communications and American Empire, has criticized the Western-controlled international mass media preempting native culture, a situation he sees as robbery, just like the earlier colonial tapping of natural resources to enrich the colonizers. He argues that the one-way communication flow is especially insidious (Vivian 425). Schiller, while analyzing the connection between international power relations and the media, propounds the thesis of cultural imperialism, or more particularly media imperialism.
Those who believe the concept of cultural homogenization would argue the phenomenon acting "as a universal solvent that will dissolve all cultural differences in a dull and colorless homogeneity throughout the world" (Lechner and Boli 283). Such line of thought would see information technology being used as "the tool to displace indigenous cultures for the benefit of global popular culture" (Subba and Uprety 144). However, there is another strand of the cultural globalization debate, which has the idea of cultural hybridization, that is, "the blending of foreign and local to make a new form" (Schirato and Webb 156).
Cultural imperialism paradigm has been dismissed by some critics as "a simplistic application of the now-discredited hypodermic needle model of mass communication" and some others like to see the phenomenon as "simply internationalism brought on by the ever more sophisticated media of mass communication" (Vivian 427). Sinclair, Jacka and Cunningham see the cultural imperialism discourse having serious inadequacies, both as theory and in terms of reality that the theory purported to explain. For them, the thesis was "based on quite incorrect assumption." They argue, "Actual transformation of the world television system made it less and less sustainable on the empirical level, and shifting theoretical paradigms, including postmodernism, postcolonialism, and theories of the 'active' audience, made its conceptual foundations less secure." Rather, "a trend toward greater regional exchanges" has been observed. (Sinclair et al. 302)
Lets take their claims of technology transfer and greater regional exchanges one by one. First, if we talk from technological aspect, there is nothing to deny that it is easier than ever to communicate because of technology. But it will be more difficult to societies like ours because one lacking technology or money to purchase or develop local technology be at a distinct disadvantage in global communication. Electronic colonialism, the dependency relationship established by the importation of technology, foreign produced software, along with engineers, technicians in short, and the wherewithal to direct and manage information resources, creates a real dilemma. It upsets natural, evolutionary development and socialization process. Clearly, Nepal is not in such a position to expect free flow of information truly and "domestic channels ... can neither thwart the invasion of airwaves, nor can they compete with them" (Subba and Uprety 144).

Second, even if there would be a trend toward greater regional exchanges, countries like Nepal would not be on safer side. Rather, there would be two fronts of the battle. The cultural invasion would be from world centers as well as regional centers. The regional centers would not be less worrisome because "for polities of smaller scale, there is always a fear of cultural absorption by polities of larger scale, especially those that are nearby" (Appadurai 324). Then, it is not the case of cultural imperialism paradigm being irrelevant; rather there is indication of the situation being more complex. Nepal's complaint today is not solely about cultural imperialism from United States but from India (and other places like Hong Kong) as well. Thus "the sword is a double-edged one with both Indian and global players effectively pushing the native traditions to the corner" (Subba and Uprety 145). Such situation does not deny cultural imperialism paradigm, rather it explores the need of multidimensional approach to the paradigm.
However, they have yet another point to criticize, "the cultural imperialism critique neglected the internal historical and social dynamics within the countries susceptible to their influence" (Sinclair et al. 303). Ideally, countries like Nepal, who are inheritor of civilization of millenniums history, should be capable of overcoming any cultural intrusion.

Cultural invasion by foreign media:

Three major conclusions could be drawn from above discussions. First, globalization has failed to rescue the 'free flow of information' being misused by powerful nations as mere curtail to hide their dominance. Thus the process has become unidirectional gateway to American and Indian mass media entering Nepal. Second, the connection between international power relations and the media is in such a way that international mass media, specifically American and Indian here, won't be free from the interest of the power systems around them. Third, the cultural imperialism paradigm propounded by Schiller is still relevant for analyzing Nepal's situation.
Now, it is to be analyzed whether the flow of information through American and Indian mass media is contributing to impose foreign values and for cultural invasion over Nepal. Clearly, this is the scope of mass media research, which is relatively new discipline in Nepal. The issue of foreign media's impact is even in less priority. Even one of the most significant and extensive researches done in Nepal, Mass Media and Democratization: A Country Study on Nepal (IIDS, 1996), did not incorporate the issue. However, the issue of cultural invasion from both Hollywood, or the West, and Bollywood, or India, has been matter of discourse.
Bhattachan has alleged globalization for promoting the 'West is the best' psyche and thereby contributing for "the rapid destruction of indigenous cultural systems through the process of homogenization." To prove that "the impact has been more intense and deep" he presents an example of Thakali youths speaking "English fluently but not their own mother tongue." Claims even extend to the extent that looking down upon their own traditional norms and values is common among those Nepalese "who have come in contact with Western norms and values through various media." (Bhattachan 89)
In one instance, Nepalese youth of Khumbu has been observed taking Terminator as his best film and Arnold Schwartzneger as his role model (Luger 41). Liechty has identified a new group of youth as 'teenagers' whom locals have not only perceived "with tastes in imported, Western 'English' music" and not going "for the (Nepali) folk songs" but also as "disobedient, likely to take drugs" and viewing 'blue' (pornographic) film (Liechty 180-181). Such emergence of "a category of antisocial, vulgar and potentially violent young males" (Liechty 182) is, perhaps, one of the most shocking impacts of globalization experienced by Nepalese society.
Taking foreign mass media as the primary source of definitions and images of social reality has contributed in shifting the entire value system of some people:
"These Nepalese people are discovering that individualism is good but communitarianism is bad; that Christianity is good but animism, Bon, Lamaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism are bad; drinking local beer (chyang and tongba) is bad but drinking Western beer is good; that riding car is good but walking/trekking is bad; and drinking water is bad but drinking Coca Cola is good." (Bhattachan 89-90)
One research conducted in 2003 revealed that Indian (Hindi) channels were Nepalese women's first choice for entertainment. Star Plus alone was the choice of 31.75% respondents. While they used to watch Nepal Television for one and half to two hours in a day, the time spent for watching Indian television was three-four hours daily. Hindi tele-serials were the most favored programs among the respondents except the newscast by Nepal Television at 8 pm (Asmita 27). The popularity of Kasauti Jindagi Ki, a tele-serial aired through Star Plus was found so popular that 64% respondents were watching it regularly. Kyon Ki Sas Bhi Kabhi Bahoo Thi (47.25%), Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki (47%) and Kahin Kisi Roj (37.75%) were also found very popular (Asmita 31-33).

Those serials were presenting extra-marital relations in one or another form, which 50.25% respondents had never seen and 28.5% respondents had seen rarely in Nepalese society. However, 36.5% respondents said that it was the 'story' because of which they like the serials. Thus they were fond of such affairs even being aware that extra-marital affairs were seen perverted in Nepalese society. As many as 15.25% respondents even admitted that television watching for them was like an addiction (Asmita 38-39). The research revealed the paradox that Jagriti, aired through Nepal Television, was 'most-admired' program but the respondents even preferred watching Hindi serials if they would be aired at the same time (Asmita 54).
Vinay Thakur, 38, a hairdresser at Bagbazar in Kathmandu, has considerable examples regarding the influence of Hindi movies and television shows. During an interview, he claimed that nearly all of his male customers use to ask him to make hairstyle just like a particular film star like Hritik Roshan, John Abraham, Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan, etc. Contrastingly, his female customers are willing to imitate the stars of Hindi tele-serials rather than heroines of Hindi movies. He memorized no customer willing to imitate hairstyle of Nepalese film star, with an exception of Rajesh Hamal whose influence he had experienced some years ago.
Apart from Bollywood stars, Vinaya mentioned Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as another 'role model' of his customers. It was immediately after the success of Titanic movie. Such experiences can be associated with the Indian experience after introduction of Star TV carrying "lots of U.S.-originated programming" and the impact has been observed, "many Indians now dress like the Americans they see on 'Baywatch'" (Vivian 426) "I have to be watching movies. Otherwise, how I could be up-to-dated about newer hairstyles?" Vinaya admitted, "I don't understand English at all. But I have to (watch the movie)."
Lok Ratna Chitrakar, 29, clothes merchant by profession since generations, has experienced the media induced cultural globalization himself. According to Lok Ratna, he started to help his father when he was about 11. He remembers persuading his father to add new items such as pieces of Kurta-Salwar, typically popularized with the process of what he terms 'Indianization' during those days. Previously, they used to sell traditional Nepalese clothes including Hakupatasi, Gunyu-Cholo, Daura-Suruwal, etc. When he fully took the charge of the business at 19, he decided to sell jeans wears mainly. He had shifted his shop to New Road. With the change in 'trend', last year he withdrew jeans wear and opened a John Player's showroom. He has put a hoarding board outside the showroom with Hritik Roshan as the model. He has been just trying to cope with the shift in customers' clothes preference, Lok Ratna maintains. He considers media behind the shifts in clothes preference, "You know, when Rangeela movie was a hit, I sold hundreds of Rangeela cap."
The foreign media do not influence just in direct ways. Their insidious influence comes indirectly too. For instance, number of Nepalese movies has been identified as mere copy of Bollywood movies. Many of the programs aired through commercial FM stations hardly heard 'Nepali' though they are produced in Nepal. When Mahashivaratri and Valentines' day happened on the same day, "majority of RJs of commercial FM radios including Kantipur FM and Hits FM completely ignored Mahashivaratri" (Nirmal). The shift in cultural identity, at least those who claim being 'modern' is evident.
For critics, such evidence reveals the lack of guidelines for safeguarding national culture, and thereby putting the national security in danger:
"If a nation state's identity and its means of survival are determined by its traditions and culture, then Nepal has a lot to do before it can grapple with the prevailing situation. The irony is that a nation-state like Nepal depends heavily on their unique culture traditions to sustain their distinct identity. This is their first line of defense, so to say. Once their identity is undermined, their long-term chances for survival become scarce, because other forms of their defense mechanism are even less developed." (Subba and Uprety 144-145)


The doctrine of 'free flow of information' seems becoming mere an instrument of domination in the hands of powerful nations. As the consequence, foreign media's influence as exporters of foreign culture is going on unobtrusively. Because media have their obvious cause to support the 'monopoly' or 'power relations' there seems sufficient ground that they tend to impose 'cultural homogenization.' American and Indian media could not be exception. As empirical evidences show, globalization has become a gateway to Western and Indian mass media to impose foreign values and for cultural invasion over Nepal. This has brought urgency to policies specifically designed to deal cultural globalization through mass media because the condition will remain so until Nepal could not utilize the gateway for two-way flow.

Works Cited:
Acharya, Meena. "Globalization Process and the Nepalese Economy." Impact of Globalization in Nepal. Ed. Madan K. Dahal. Kathmandu: NEFAS and FES, 2005. 26-47.
Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." The Globalization Reader. Eds. Frank J. Lechner and John Boli. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. 322-330.
Asmita Mahila Prakashan Griha. Nepali Mahilaharuma Televisionko Prabhav. Kathmandu, 2003.
Bhattachan, Krishna B. "Globalization and Its Impact on Nepalese Society and Culture." Impact of Globalization in Nepal. Ed. Madan K. Dahal. Kathmandu: NEFAS and FES, 2005. 80-102.
Chomsky, Noam. "What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream." You Are Being Lied To. Ed. Russ Kikc. New York: Disinformation, 2001. 20-24.
Dahal, Ram K. "Impact of Globalization on Nepalese Polity." Impact of Globalization in Nepal. Ed. Madan K. Dahal. Kathmandu: NEFAS and FES, 2005. 48-79.
IMF (International Monetary Fund). "Globalization: Threat or Opportunity." accessed on August 7, 2006.
Lechner, Frank J. and John Boli (Eds). The Globalization Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
Liechty, Mark. "Youth Identities and the Experience of Modernity in Kathmandu, Nepal." Youth Cultures A Cross-cultural Perspective. Eds. Vered Amit-Talai and Helena Wulff. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Luger, Kurt. Kids of Khumbu. Kathmandu: Mandala Book Point, 2000.
Mattelart, Armand and Michele Mattelart. Rethinking Media Theory: Signposts and New Directions. Trans. James A. Cohen and Marina Urquindi. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
MacBride, Sean and Colleen Roach. "The New International Information Order." The Globalization Reader. Eds. Frank J. Lechner and John Boli. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. 286-292.
Nirmal, Aayod Dhaumya. "Parampara Ra Parivartanko Dosandhma Mahashivaratri." Space Time Daily. Kathmandu, Falgun 25, 2058 B.S.
Schirato, Tony and Jean Webb. Understanding Globalization. London: SAGE, 2003.
Sinclair, John, Elizabeth Jacka, and Stuart Cunningham. "Peripheral Vision." The Globalization Reader. Eds. Frank J. Lechner and John Boli. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. 301-306.
Subba, Phanindra and Hari Uprety. "Impact of Globalization: How to Resolve the Nepalese Security Dilemma." Impact of Globalization in Nepal. Ed. Madan K. Dahal. Kathmandu: NEFAS and FES, 2005. 124-152.
Vivian, John. The Media of Mass Communication (5th edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1999.

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