Cntical Stadies in Mass Commanication 8 (1991), 13-28

Not Yet the Post-Imperialist Era

By H. I. Schiller

  The early formulation in the late 1960s of the cultural domination thesis occurred in a specif c historical era. Although that period is over, this by no means indicates that cultural domination no longer exists. The difference today is that national (largely American) media-cultural power has been largely (though not fully) subordinated to transnational corporate authority. A total cultural package—f lm, TV, music, sports, theme parks, shopping malls, etc.—is delivered worldwide by a small number of multi-billion-dollar media combines. To the extent that communication research ignores or glosses these developments, it loses its explanatory power.

APART FROM the persistent explanatory and semantic efforts in recent years to minimize or discredit the idea of cultural domination (Ang, 1985; Liebes & Katz, 1990), changing conditions make it desirable to reassess the original thesis.

Two governing circumstances strongly influenced the early elaboration of the theory of cultural dominance in the mid- 1 960s. The first was the then-existing world balance of forces. Twenty-five years ago, the international order could be divided into three major groups. The most powerful of these was the so-called First World, including essentially those countries that were grounded in private propertied relations and whose production was undertaken by capitalist enterprise. The Second World comprised those nations that were organized along state ownership of property lines and that called themselves socialist. The last category (in every sense) was the Third World, containing those countries that had just emerged from the collapsed European colonial empires. In the case of Latin America, these nations continued to sufler economic exploitation although they had been nominally independent for over a century. In most of the Third World states, national liberation movements still existed, and the social structures had not yet been completely captured by new, privileged elites. In this general map, the United States was by far the most powerful individual state in the First World and in the other two categories as well. Although the Soviet Union, after the Second World, claimed superpower status on the basis of possess-ing nuclear weapons, its economic and technological position was decidedly subordi-nate.


Herbert I. Schiller is Professor Ementus in the Department of Communication, University of California, San Diego. This is an expanded version of a talk given to the annual meeting of the Union for Democratic Communications, University of California, San Diego, October 12, 1990. Copyright 1991, SCA


The other determining feature of this period in the cultural realm was the rapid development of television and its capability for transmitting compelling imagery and messages to vast audiences. These geopolitical and technological conditions provided the social landscape for the era's cultural domination perspective. The essential assumptions undergirding it were (and are) few and relatively straightforward: Media-cultural imperialism is a subset of the general system of imperialism. It is not freestanding; the media-cultural component in a developed, corporate economy supports the economic objectives of the decisive industrial-financial sectors (i.e., the creation and extension of the consumer society); the cultural and economic spheres are indivisible. Cultural, no less than automobile, production has its political economy. Consequently, what is regarded as cultural output also is ideological and profit-serving to the system at large. Finally, in its latest mode of operation, in the late twentieth century, the corporate economy is increasingly dependent on the media-cultural sector.

The thesis assumed that the state socialist (Second) World was, if not immune to Western cultural- informational pressure, at least to some degree insulated from it and would, under certain circumstances, support limits on its advance. The Third World, in contrast, was seen as an extremely vulnerable and deliberate target of American cultural exports. At the same time, it also was viewed as a potentially organizable force—not yet frozen in class relationships—that might give leadership to a comprehensive restructuring of the world information system. The movement for a new international information order was one vehicle for such a mobilization.

The charge that American-produced cultural commodities—television programs in particular—were overwhelming a good part of the world hardly needed documen-tation. But the data were there (Nordenstreng & Varis, 1974).  


Twenty-five years later, some of this map has changed. Most importantly, th Second World (the socialist "camp") has all but disappeared. With the (tempo rary?) exceptions of China, Albania, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, there is n longer a state socialist sphere in the global arena. The Eastern European states, along with the Soviet Union, are in varying stage of capitalist restoration. Rather than providing an oppositional pole to the Firs World, they are now eager adherents to that world, as well as its supplicants. The offer national space to the marketing and ideological message fiows of their forme adversaries.

In a material sense, the strength and infiuence of the First World, especially tha of its most powerful members, are less restrained than they were in the precedin period. This is observable not only with regard to the erstwhile socialist bloc bu even more so with respect to the people and nations of Africa, Asia, and Lati America. Actually, the condition of the Third World vis-à-vis the North (Western Europ~c Japan, and the United States) is one of near-desperation. Now under the control elites that accept and benefit from the workings of the world market economy, the    


African, Asian, and Latin American nations are deeply in debt and stalled for the most part in efforts for improvement. Most of the Third World nations seem more helpless than ever to resist the demands of their creditors and overseers. Despite some variability in this condition and occasional balking by a recalcitrant ruling group, the general situation reveals practically an abandonment of the challenging economic and cultural positions this group advanced not so long ago.

The role of television in the global arena of cultural domination has not diminished in the 1990s. Reinforced by new delivery systems—communication satellites and cable networks—the image flow is heavier than ever. Its source of origin also has not changed that much in the last quarter of a century. There is, however, one significant difference. Today, television is but one element, however influential, in an all-encompassing cultural package. The corporate media-cultural industries have expanded remarkably in recent decades and now occupy most of the global social space. For this reason alone, cultural domination today cannot be measured by a simple index of exposure to American television programming. The cultural submersion now includes the English language itself, shopping in American-styled malls, going to theme parks (of which Disney is the foremost but not exclusive example), listening to the music of internationally publicized performers, following news agency reports or watching the Cable News Network in scores of foreign locales, reading translations of commercial best sellers, and eating in franchised fast-food restaurants around the world. Cultural domination means also adopting broadcasting systems that depend on advertising and accepting deregulatory practices that transform the public mails, the telephone system, and cable television into private profit centers (En-gelhardt, 1990).

Alongside this all-service-supplying cultural-media environment, the relative economic and political power of the United States continues to diminish. This suggests that American cultural domination is not guaranteed in perpetuity. Yet irrefutably that domination has been preeminent for the last four decades and remains so to this date, though subsumed increasingly under transnational corpo-rate capital and control. The cultural primacy that the ruling national power in the world economy historically exercised may now be changing. The commanding position of American media products in the post-World War II era, the expertise derived from more than a century of successful marketing activity, and the now near-universal adoption of English as the international lingua franca still confer extraordinary influence on U.S.-produced cultural commodities. How long this influence can be sustained while American systemic power declines is an open question. But in any case, American national power no longer is an exclusive determinant of cultural domination. The domination that exists today, though still bearing a marked American imprint, is better understood as transnational corporate cultural domination. Philips of the Netherlands, Lever Brothers of Britain, Daimler- Benz of Germany, Samson of Korea, and Sony of Japan, along with some few thousand other companies, are now the major players in the international market. The media, public relations, advertis-ing, polling, cultural sponsorship, and consultants these industrial giants use and support hardly are distinguishable from the same services at the disposal of  


American-owned corporations. Still, a good fraction of these informational-cultural activities continue to be supplied by American enterprises. These developments leave most of the peoples and nations in the world more vulnerable than ever to domination—cultural, military, and economic. Former oppositional forces have collapsed. Unsurprisingly, at this moment, there seems a barely contained euphoria in Washington and other centers where capital rules. George Bush, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October 1990, proclaimed "a new era of peace and competition and freedom." He saw "a world of open borders, open

trade and, most importantly, open minds" (Transcript of President's address to U.N. General Assembly, 1990, p. A-6). How aptly expressed are the current objectives of the for-the-moment unre-strained global corporate order— open borders, which can be transgressed; open trade, which enables the most powerful to prevail; open minds, which are at the mercy of the swelling global flows of the cultural industries. At least for now, the celebratory mood seems justified. Still, the currently triumphant corporate jugger-naut is not on an open freeway with no stop lights and road checks. Possible sources of slowdown will be considered later.  


Not all view the developments described above with skepticism or dismay. Indeed, some see the phenomena that now characterize daily life in a very large, and growing, part of the world as evidence that cultural domination no longer exists, or that what appears as domination actually fosters resistance to itself. The idea of cultural diversity, for example, enjoys great popularity among many cultural observers. The central assumption—that many diverse cultural tendencies and movements operate, with no one element dominating—is the familiar pluralist argument, now applied to the cultural field. A more recent construct is the notion of "globalization." In this proposition, the world is moving, however haltingly, toward a genuinely

global civilization. There is also the very widely accepted hypothesis of an "active audience," one in which viewers, readers, and listeners make their own meaning from the messages that come their way, often to the point of creating resistance to hegemonic meanings. Most comprehensive of all is the postmodern perspective. Whatever else this approach offers, it insists that systemic explanations of social phenomena are futile and wrong-headed. Mike Featherstone, editor of Global Culture, writes:

Postmodernism is both a symptom and a powerful cultural image of the swing away from the conceptualization of global culture less in terms of alleged homogenizing processes (e.g. theories which present cultural imperialism, Americanization, and mass consumer culture as a proto-universal culture riding on the back of Western economic and political domination) and more in terms of the diversity, variety and richness of popular and local discourses, codes and practices which resist and play-back systemicity and order (Featherstone, 1990, p. 2).

Each of these presently prevailing ideas asserts that:

1. Imperialism no longer exists. (A variant is that U.S. imperialism, in particular, is a spent force.)    



2. A new global community is now emerging—global civil society, so to speak— that is independent of the interstate system. It is busily constructing alternative linkages and networks that provide space for new cultural environments. 3. Finally, it is of little consequence if cultural outputs from one source occupy a preponderant share of an audience's attention, because individuals reshape the material to their own tastes and needs. In this schema, the individual receptor takes precedence over the cultural producer. How do these propositions stand up when examined against the actual context of observable conditions? IMPERIALISM'S VITAL SIGNS ARE UNIMPAIRED Is imperialism dead? Is the United States a declining imperialist power? These are two separate though connected questions. Imperialism, understood as a system of exploitative control of people and resources, is alive and well. At the same time, opposition and resistance to imperialism are far more intense now than at the end of the nineteenth century. The existence of 125 new nations testifies to the fact that many relations of domination have been broken. But powerful means of control still exist. Most of the African, Asian, and Latin American nations continue to experience economic, financial, and even military domination.

Although the term "imperialism" rarely appears in Western media, the word seems to befit the deployment of more than 400,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. It is also a signal that people's efforts to arrange their affairs without regard for the interests of current controllers (of oil, real estate, or good geographical bases) will be met with overpowering force. Moreover, the Middle Fast situation reveals another aspect of contemporary imperialist strategy: the ability to mobilize interna- tional organizations—now that the Soviet presence has been integrated into the West—for imperialist aims. President Bush explained it this way: "Not since 1945 have we seen the real possibility of using the United Nations as it was designed, as a center for international collective security" (Transcript of President's address to U.N. General Assembly, 1990, p. A-6). A good part of the world's population lives in desperation, often below the subsistence level. A recent dispatch from Mexico City starkly described the appall-ing conditions in the capital city of the country directly south of the United States (Guillermoprieto, 1990). Hundreds of millions of people on all continents are similarly affected. When efforts are made—as they continuously are—to radically change these awful conditions, invariably there is foreign intervention to maintain the arrange-ments that offer advantage to one or another global governors and their local surrogates, the so-called national elites. In recent years, Central and South America serve as models of this process. Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Cuba have felt the force of U.S. intervention—economic, military, ideological—when they have tried to create new living conditions. Similar treatment has been meted out across Africa—e.g., Angola, Mozambique, Zaire— and Asia as well—e.g., Vietnam, Afghanistan. The U.S. military deployment in Saudi Arabia is only the most recent instance of 18 MEDIA-CULTURAL POWER MARCH 1991 imperialism. This action takes place amidst growing contradictions, however. The relative position of the United States in the world economy seems to be declining, yet it embarks on a costly and potentially disastrous adventure to maintain control of an economically and strategically valuable region and a source of colossal profitability. One explanation, one most pleasing to officialdom, is that American power is still dominant. It is expressed best byJoseph Nye, a former top-level State Department official and currently a professor of international relations at Harvard University: Obviously, we have strengths and weaknesses.... But the mistake many analysts were making was to take a single anecdote illustrating American weakness, such as a decline in auto sales or the fact that the Germans concluded a deal with Gorbachev, and extrapolating from that to some very broad general conclusions that we were going down the tubes. We still have a lot more strengths than weaknesses (Nye, 1990, p. 1). Interestingly, Nye finds some of these strengths in what he calls "soft power." "Soft power—the ability to co-opt rather than command—rests on intangible resources: culture, ideology, the ability to use international institutions to determine the framework of debate" (p. A-33). Soft power, as Nye defines it, is

essentially the control of communications and definitional power. This is cultural imperialism with a semantic twist. Nye may be overly sanguine about the capabilities of "soft power" to do the job, but he is not totally off the mark, especially with respect to "hard power." Fortune's 1990 list of "The Global 500," the 500 biggest industrial corporations in the world reveals that "The U.S. Ieads all countries, with 167 companies on the list. That's more thanJapan, West Germany, and Canada combined.... Americans are No. I in 14 of the 25 industries on the Global 500." Still, the magazine notes, "Impressive as these figures are, U.S. dominance is

slowly giving way. In 1980, 23 U.S. companies made the top 50, compared with only 5Japanese. Now there are 17 American and 10 Japanese." But other factors must be considered in evaluating the present strength or weakness of the American global imperial position. One momentous development is the break-up of Communist Eastern Europe and the accelerating restoration of capitalist forms and practices there and in the Soviet Union. Removed thereby is an oppositional pole that served to severely limit, though not fully check, the exercise of American power in the postwar years. One (possibly too extravagant) reading of this situation is that "Washington may enjoy a greater freedom of action in foreign affairs than at any time since the end of World War II" (Toth, 1990, p. A- 6). Certainly, the Saudi Arabian intervention would have been inconceivable a few years ago. In any case, whatever the extent of the expanded range of American power, for the poorer people and countries in the world, the new situation is a disaster (Ramirez, 1990). The unrestrained use of what is called "low intensity warfare," against desperate people, now moves closer to realization as American military power no longer has to be concerned with Soviet counterforce (Klare, 1990). Whether it can disregard the financial cost of such undertakings is another matter. Domination is further strengthened by the enfeeblement of the Non-Aligned Movement of the nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, established in Belgrade      


in 1961. Its present weakness can be attributed, in large part, to the enormous growth of transnational corporate power in the last twenty years, the collapse of the nonmarket sector of the world, and its own internal class stratification. Today, the ruling strata in the periphery have nowhere to turn except to the reservoirs of corporate capital. And they are doing just that.

Once assertive and insisting on national sovereignty, governments on all conti-nents—Brazil, India, Mexico— headed by their dominant classes are enlisting the support of Western banks and the flow of Western-Japanese capital. One-time stalwarts of independence have demonstrated their new accommodationist outlook by engaging in sweeping denationalizations and privatizations. Some still believe that these vast regions soon will be the vanguard of a new revolutionary upsurge (Amin, 1990). Perhaps, if the time frame is long enough, this will prove true. But in the meantime, their integration into the world market economy moves ahead. As part of their integration, the people are exposed to the drumbeat of corporate consumerism, no matter how limited the ordinary individu-al's spending power. The consumerist virus is an inseparable element in the rising global volume of marketing messages. This virus will impair the ability of leaders, still unborn, to act for the national community's social benefit. A new hope for overcoming the deepening economic and social disparities around the world is seen in what is called the trend to globalization. This development, according to Featherstone (1990), one of its proponents, "emphasizes the autonomy of the globalization process, which should be seen not as the outcome of inter-state processes, but to operate in relative independence of conventionally designated societal and social-cultural processes." Contributing to this movement are "the increase in the number of international agencies and institutions, the increasing global forms of communication, the acceptance of unified global time, the develop- ment of standard notions of citizenship, rights and conception of humankind" (p. 6). It is emphasized that "the focus on the globe is to suggest that a new level of conceptualization is necessary." This new conceptualization can be comprehended in what it wants to dispose of: the center-periphery model of analysis and the very notion of intense social conflict. "From the vantage point of the late twentieth century it seems that the era of revolution is now finally over" (p. 4). In short, globalization is defined to exclude domination, cultural control (soft or hard), and social revolution. The growth of the global institutions enumerated above is supposed to make these relationships and processes irrelevant, if not obsolete.


It is indisputable that extranational cultural and political relationships have expanded spectacularly in recent decades. But what has been the engine of this growth? Is it a multifaceted outpouring of impulses toward a still-distant but slowly emerging world order? Do the forms and structures, however embryonic, indicate a looming era of universality?

It would be comforting to believe this. It would also be profoundly delusionary. The genuine character of the globalization drive can be appreciated by examining  


the fate of United Nations structures in the last fifteen years and the apparent reversal of their prospects since the Iraq-Kuwait imbroglio. Until the fall of 1990, the experiences of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and, especially, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—the entity estab-lished to encourage education, science, and culture on a world scale—tell a uniform story. Each of these organizations, as well as the United Nations itself, has been harshly attacked by the U.S. government and the American media. Each has been financially disabled for pursuing goals unacceptable to powerful American interests, i.e., the media, right-wing anti-abortion and anti-environmental groups, and the military-industrial complex. In mid-1990, the United States owed $750 million to the U.N. overall, exclusive of unpaid dues to WHO and FAO (The New York Times, September 13, 1990, p. A-10). Such massive withholding of funds has crippled major health, agricultural, and educational programs worldwide. UNESCO has been a special target of Washing-ton's anger because it served as a forum—nothing more—to express the complaints of 125 nations against the prevailing international information order. The United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984 and has remained outside that organization since (Preston, Herman & Schiller, 1989). Now, however, a new era seems to be opening up. It was inaugurated with U.N. support (thus far) for the U.S.- initiated embargo of Iraq and the American military deployment in Saudi Arabia. A newfound appreciation of the international organiza-tion has emerged in Washington and across the American media. Does this suggest a better-late-than-never response to global organization and international cooperation? More realistically, what the new spirit reveals is the current U.S.—U.S.S.R. accommodation, achieved on the collapse of the Soviet economy and consequent Soviet eagerness to acquiesce in whatever initiatives its former adversary may propose—embargoes, aid termination to Angola and Cuba, unification of Germany and its adherence to NATO.

Equally important in this era of seemingly widespread international agreement is the indebtedness and paralyzing weakness of the Third World and its resultant inability to express any serious opposition to current developments. This species of "internationalism", based on either the weakness or the opportunism of most of the participants, can hardly be viewed as a movement toward global equilibrium and social peace. The actual sources of what is being called globalization are not to be found in a newly achieved harmony of interests in the international arena. To the contrary, the infrastructure of what is hopefully seen as the first scaffolding of universalism iE supplied by the transnational corporate business order, actively engaged on al continents, in all forms of economic and cultural organization, production, anc distribution. Many of the actual international structures that monitor these activi ties are staffed and managed or advised by personnel on leave from the majo] (mostlyAmerican) companies in the system (D. Schiller, 1985). This worldwide system now enlists American,Japanese, German, Korean, Brazil ian, English, and other nationally based but globally engaged corporations. Thesz private giant economic enterprises pursue— sometimes competitively, sometime


cooperatively—historical capitalist objectives of profit making and capital accumu-lation in continuously changing market and geopolitical conditions. The actual practices of individual companies vary from one national setting to another, and there is no general coordination of the system at large. (This does not mean that there is an absence of uncoordinated ensemble action. Capital flight, for example, demonstrates how many groups and companies, acting independently when there is a perceived threat to their interests, can cripple the economy from which the capital flows). Still, with different specific interests and objectives, and often rival aims, harmonization of the global business system is out of the question. Yet thegeneralized interest of some thousands of super-companies is not that different. In their quest for both markets and consumers, they adopt fairly similar practices and institutional processes— technological, economic, political, and cultural. They are at one in maintaining the existing global hierarchy of power, though individual positions in that hierarchy constantly change. They utilize the communication and telecommunication systems, locally and globally, to direct their complex and geographically dispersed operations. They have pressed for and obtained privatiza-tion of communication facilities in one national locale after another, enabling them to have the greatest possible flexibility of decision making and allowing them a maximum of social unaccountability. They fill the media circuits with their market-ing messages. Their combined efforts in the places they exercise the greatest influence have produced the consumer society, of which the United States stands as model. Although the super-companies are owned for the most part by national groups of investors and are based in specific national settings, national concerns are not necessarily primary in the calculations and decisions of these enterprises. As the chief executive of Fiat, Italy's largest industrial corporation, pointed out: "Reason-ing

in nationalist terms does not make sense anymore" (Greenhouse, 1990, p. C-l 1). This seems to be the case for

at least some of the transnational corporate companies. How this works itself out in the world-at-large is still unclear, and not all transnationals behave identically. Still, the question of national sovereignty has become quite murky in the intersection of national interest and the profit-driven activities of these economic colossuses.

Insofar as the visible slippage of the U.S. economy in the global hierarchy of advantage is concerned, American companies' constant search for low-cost sites of production has contributed considerably to this condition. Yet there is one sector in which American dominance remains, if not intact, at least very considerable: the media- cultural arena.


American films, TV programs, music, news, entertainment, theme parks, and shopping malls set the standard for worldwide export and imitation. How long this dominance can endure alongside a receding economic primacy is uncertain. Al-ready, many U.S. media enterprises have been acquired byJapanese (film and TV), German (publishing and music distribution), British (advertising), and other     22 MEDIA-CULTURAL POWER MARCH 199 1 competing groups. Yet even when this occurs, the new owners, at least for the time being, usually are intent on keeping American creative and managerial media people in executive positions. ;1 American cultural domination remains forceful in a rapidly changing interna-tional power scene. It is also undergoing transformation. This occurs by acquisition and, more importantly, by its practices being adopted by the rest of the transna-tional corporate system. What is emerging, therefore, is a world where alongside the American output of cultural product are the practically identical items mar-keted by competing national and transnational groups. For some time, critics of media-imperialism theory have offered, as evidence of the doctrine's fatal flaw, the emergence of new centers of media production. Brazil, in particular, is hailed as a strikingly successful example of this development. Its achievement in television production and export is supposed to demolish the notion of a single center of cultural domination (Rogers & Antola, 1985; Straubhaar, 1989; Tracy, 1988). In reality, according to the work of Brazilian researcher Omar Souki Oliveira (1990), Brazilian TV now broadcasts a minimum of U.S. programming. The biggest audiences watch and prefer Brazilian shows, which are widely exported abroad. Globo, the main Brazilian private TV network, currently exports shows to 128 countries. "Its productions outnumber those of any other station [sic] in the world." Oliveira writes that one American researcher (Straubhaar, 1989) has concluded that Brazilian television programs have been "Brazilianized almost beyond (Ameri-can) recognition." Other U.S. researchers (Rogers & Antola, 1985) see

Brazil's exports as "reverse media imperialism." A third observer (Tracey, 1988) writes that "in Brazil one sees a television devoted to national culture." In Oliveira's reading of the same evidence, Brazilian programming is "the creolization of U.S. cultural products. It is the spiced up Third World copy of Western values, norms, patterns of behavior and models of social relations." He states that "the overwhelming majority of Brazilian soaps have the same purpose as their

U.S. counterparts, i.e., to sell products"—and, it should be emphasized, to sell goods made by the same transnational corporations who advertise in Brazil as well as in the United States. The "local" sponsors are Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, General Motors, Levi's, etc. "In most Brazilian soaps," Oliveira finds, "the American lifestyle portrayed by Hollywood production reappears with a 'brazilianized face.' Now we don't see wealthy Anglos any more, but rich white Brazilians enjoying standards of living that would make any middle class American envious." Oliveira concludes: "Glamorous as they [TV series] are—even outshining Hollywood—their role within Brazilian society isn't different from that of U.S. imports. Unfortunately, the refinements applied to the genre were not to enhance diversity, but domination." Domination is precisely what cultural imperialism is all about. With that domina-tion comes the definitional power, Nye's "soft power," that sets the boundaries for national discourse. Meanwhile, despite the developments already noted, the global preeminence of American cultural product is being not only maintained but extended to new locales. U.S. media incursions into Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union are 23 CSMC SCHILLER assuming the dimension of a full-scale takeover, albeit shared with German and British media conglomerates. American-owned and -styled theme parks, with their comprehensive ideological assumptions literally built into the landscape and architecture, are being staked out across Europe and Japan. "Euro-Disneyland will open its first park at Marne la Vallee in 1992, with a second possible in 1996. Anheuser-Busch [the second-largest theme park owner after Disney] has launched a theme park development in Spain, and other U.S. corporations are exploring projects elsewhere in Europe" (Sloan, 1990, p. D-3). It must be emphasized that the corporate takeover of (popular) culture for marketing and ideological control is not a patented American practice, limited exclusively to U.S. companies. It is, however, carried to its fullest development in the United States. Cultural-recreational activity is now the very active site for spreading the transnational corporate message, especially in professional sports, where American practice again provides the basic model. In the United States, practically no sports activity remains outside the interest and sponsorship of the big national advertisers. The irresistible lure of big sponsor-ship money has become the lubricant for a sport's national development. Accord-ingly, sports events and games have become multi-billion-dollar businesses, under-written by the major corporations who stake out huge TV audiences. The hunt for sports events that can be made available to advertisers now includes university and, in increasing instances, high-school games. Assuming the mantle of moral concern, The New York Times editorialized: "College athletic departments have abandoned any pretense of representing cap and gown and now they roam the country in naked pursuit of hundreds of millions of television dollars" (Bright lights, big college money, 1990, p. A-22). Unsurprisingly, the practice has become internationalized. A report from Italy describes the frenzied pursuit,

by the largest Italian corporations, to own soccer and basketball franchises. "A growing trend in Italy . . . [is] the wholesale takeover of a sport by the captains of industry in search of new terrain from which to promote a corporate product or image" (Agnew,1990, p. 14). The new patrons of Italian sports include the agro- chemicals giant Montedison, which also owns the widely read Rome daily M Mesaggero; the Agnelli family, owners of the giant Fiat company, who also own the successfulJuventa soccer club; and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian TV and film mogul, who owns the AC Milan soccer club and other teams. Recent developments in East Germany illustrate the extent to which sports have become a venue of corporate image promotion and an aggressive marketing instrument. Business Week ("Look Out" Wimbleton, 1990) reports that the women's Grand Prix tennis tournament scheduled for the final week of September [1990] is moving from Mahwah, NewJersey to Leipzig, East Germany.... the tournament [is] the first successful effort to lure big corporate sponsors into a major tourney behind the old Iron Curtain.... a number of heavyweight sponsors ... include Volkswagen, Isostar, Sudmilch, Kraft-General Foods and American Airlines. Major sports are now transmitted by satellite to global audiences. The commer-cial messages accompanying the broadcast, ringing the stadia, and often worn on


the uniforms of the athletes constitute a concerted assault of corporate marketing values on global consciousness.


The envelopment of professional and amateur sports for transnational corporate marketing objectives and ideological pacification is a good point at which to return to another one of the arguments contradicting the cultural imperialist concept. This is the belief in the existence of an "active audience," a view supported by a

good number of Anglo-U.S. communications researchers. According to this view, the audience is supposed to make its own meaning of the messages and images that the media disseminate, thereby playing a relatively autonomous role that is often interpreted as resistance to these messages and meanings (see Budd, Entman, & Steinman, 1990; H. Schiller, 1989) . Active-audience theorizing has been largely preoccupied with the analysis of individual cultural products—a program or a TV series, a movie, or a genre of fiction. The theory follows closely in the tradition of "effects" research, though not necessarily coming to the same conclusions. Leaving specific studies aside, it can be argued that one overarching condition invalidates, or at least severely circumscribes, the very idea of an active audience, to say nothing of one resisting a flow of messages. This is the current state—impossible to miss—of Western cultural enterprise. How can one propose to extract one TV show, film, book, or even a group, from the now nearly seamless media-cultural environment, and examine it (them) for specific effects? This is not to say there are no generalized effects—but these are not what the reception theorists seem to be concerned with. , Cultural/media production today has long left the cottage industry stage. Huge conglomerates like Time- Warner, with nearly $20 billion in assets, sit astride publishing, TV production, filmmaking, and music recording, as well as book publishing and public classroom education. Theme park construction and owner- ship, shopping malls, and urban architectural design also are the domain of the same or related interests. In this totalizing cultural space, who is able to specify the individual source of an idea, value, perspective, or reaction? A person's response, for example, to the TV series Dallas may be the outcome of half-forgotten images from a dozen peripheral encounters in the cultural supermarket. Who is to say what are the specific sites from which individual behavior and emotions now derive? In 1990, even actual war locales become the setting for the marketing message. Business Week ("Publicity?" 1990) announces: "Welcome to the New World Order, Marketing Dept. where companies are using history- making events as occasions to promote their products." The magazine explains: "With U.S. troops digging in

their heels in Saudi Arabia, companies all around the country are vying to supply them with everything from nonalcoholic beer to video cassettes.... if a soldier is going to be photographed sipping a cold drink or playing poker, most marketers agree that he or she might as well be using their product." In this new world of pervasive corporate message making, the dispatch of over 450,000 troops provides an opportu- 25 CSMC SCHILLER nity to cultivate this or that taste for consumption, along with a powerful patriotic backdrop for the company

and the product. How does the audience engage this spectacle of democracy and consumption? There is much to be said for the idea that people don't mindlessly absorb everything that passes before their eyes. Yet much of the current work on audience reception comes uncomfortably close to being apologetics for present-day structures of cultural control.


There is good reason to be skeptical about the resistance of an audience, active or not, to its menu of media offerings. Yet this does not mean that the cultural conglomerates and the social system they embody are without an opposition. It is a resistance, however, that differs enormously from the kind of opposition that is supposed to occur in reinterpreting the message of a TV sitcom. Some may believe in the end of history and others may insist that the era of revolution is finally over and that social (class) conflict is obsolete. The daily newspaper headlines tell a different story (though of course they don't explain it). What is apparent is that aroused people, if not their leaderships, all around the world are protesting their existing living conditions. In the United States itself, still the most influential single unit of the world market economy, numerous oppositional elements force at least minimal acknowl-edgment, and some limited accommodation, from the governing crowd. For exam-ple, the congressional fight over the national budget in the fall of 1990 was essentially a class conflict, however obscured this was in its media coverage. To be sure, the class most directly affected—the working people—was largely absent from the deliberations. But the main question at issue was which class would be compelled to shoulder the burden of America's deepening crisis. This debate, and others underway, reveal the fragile condition of the dominating power in the country. Between 1980 and 1990, the wealthiest I percent saw their incomes rise by 75 percent, while the income of the bottom 20 percent actually declined. The richest 21/2 million Americans' combined income nearly equaled that of the 100 million Americans at the bottom of the pyramid (Meisler, 1990). It is the still growing disparities between the advantaged and the disadvantaged countries, as well as the widening gap inside the advantaged and disadvantaged societies, that constitute the fault line of the still seemingly secure world market economy. To this may be added the ecological disaster in the making, which is the inevitable accompaniment of the market forces that are roaring triumphantly across the continents. A routine headline in the Western media reads: "Indonesia: The Hottest Spot in Asia." Elaborating, Business

Week ("Indonesia: The Hottest Spot," 1990) rhapso-dizes: "With a 7% growth rate, a population of 182 million—the world's fifth largest—and a wealth of natural resources, Indonesia is poised to be the region's new success story." As the twentieth century winds down, success presumably is achieved by adopting the long- standing Western industrialization model, profligate   26 MEDIA-CULTURAL POWER MARCH 1991 t with resource use and wastage, and exploiting the work force to satisfy foreign capital's search for the maximum return. Indonesia, with an average wage of $ 1.25 a day, is an irresistible site. The chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia explains: "Indone-sia will have a cheap labor supply well into the 21 st century.... Nobody else in Asia except China can offer that." Not unexpectedly, "The income gap between affluent business people and the millions of impoverished who eke out a living in the villages andJakarta's teeming slums is widening" (p. 45). The Indonesian "success story," and others like it, are hardly confirmation for the end-of-social-confiict perspective. Much more convincing is the expectation that the next century will be the truly revolutionary era, accomplishing what the twentieth began but could not finish. In any case, communication theory, tied to the assump-tions of political or cultural pluralism, harmonization of interests between the privileged and the deprived, resistance to domination residing in individualized interpretation of TV or film shows, or, overall, the long-term viability of capitalist institutions, is and will be unable to explain the looming social turbulence. Certainly, there are no grounds for complacency about the prospects of the First and Third Worlds (the latter now including the once-Second World states) in the years ahead. Yet Western communication researchers seem intent on holding on to these assumptions. James Curran, surveying the English and continental research scene over the last fifteen years, concludes that a major change has taken place. The most important and significant overall shií`e has been the steady advance of pluralist themes within the radical tradition, in particular, the repudiation of the totalizing, explanatory framework of Marxism, the reconceptualization of the audience as creative and active and the shift from the political to a popular aesthetic.... A sea change has occurred in the field, and this will reshape—for better or worse—the development of media and cultural studies in Europe. (1990, p.157-8). The same tendencies are well advanced, if not dominant, in the United States, though they have not totally swept the field as they seem to have done in England. There is still more than a little life left in those who look

at the material side of the economy in general and the cultural industries in particular. Expressing this perspective is David Harvey, in his comprehensive approach to The Condilion of Postmodernity (1989). Reviewing the same years that Curran surveyed, from the 1970s on, and relying on many of the same basic sources (though not as focused on the field of communication research), Harvey also finds that "there has been a sea-change in cultural as well as in political-economic practices since around 1972" (p. vii). He concludes that these changes, and the rise of postmodernist cultural forms, "when set against the basic rules of capitalist accumulation, appear more as shifts in surface appearance rather than as signs of the emergence of some entirely new post-capitalist or even post-industrial society" (p. vii). Yet these "shifts in surface appearance" have contributed greatly to the capabil-ity of the corporate business

system to maintain, and expand, its global reach. For this reason, the acknowledgment of and the struggle against cultural imperialism are more necessary than ever if the general system of domination is to be overcome.  



Agnew, P. (1990, September 4). Italy's sport madness has a very business like basis. International Herald Tribune, p. 14.

Amin, S. (1990). The future of soeialism. Monthly Review, 42(3), 10-29.

Àng, l. (1985). Watching "Dallas" Soap opera and the melodramatic imagination. London: Methuen.

Bright lights, big college money (1990, September 13) . The New York Times, p. A-22.

Budd, M., Entman, R. M., & Steinman, C. (1990). The affirmative eharacter of U.S. cultural studies. Cntical Studies in Mass Communication, 7, 169-184.

Curran,J. (1990). The new revisionism in mass communication research. EuropeanJournal oJCommunica-tion, 5, 135-164.

Engelhardt, T. (1990). Bottom line dreams and the end of culture. The Progressive, 54(10), 30-35.

Featherstone, M. (Ed.). (1990). Global culture. London: Sage.

The global 500, the world's biggest industrial corporations. (1990,July 30) . Fortune, p. 265.

Greenhouse, S. (1990, October 5) . Alliance is formed by Fiat and French company. The New York Times. p. C-ll.

Guillermoprieto, A. (1990, September 17). Letter from Mexico City. TheNew Yorker, 93-104.

Harvey, D. (1989). Thecondition of postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Indonesia: The hottest spot in Asia. (1990, August 27). Busines.s Week, pp. 44-45.

Klare, M. T. (1990). Policing the gulf—and the world. TheNation, 251(12), 1, 416, 418, 420.

Liebes, T., & Katz, E. (1990). The Export of meaning: Cross-cultural readings of "Dallas." New York: Oxford University Press.

LookoutWimbleton,herecomesLeipzig. (1990,September24). Busines.s Week, p. 54.

Meisler, S. (1990,July 24). Rich-poor gap held widest in 40 years. LosAngeles Times, p. A-l l.

Nordenstreng, K., & Varis, T. (1974). Television traffie—A one-vçay street. Reports and papers on mass communication, No. 70. Paris: UNESCO.

Nye, J. S.,Jr. (1990, Oetober 3). No, the U.S. isn't in deeline. TheNew York Times, p. A-33.

Oliveira, O. S. (1990, October 8-10). Bra2ilian soaps outshine llollywood: Is cultural imperialism fading out? Paper presented at the meetings of the Deutsche Gesellsehaít í`ür Semiotik, Internationaler Kongress, Universität Passau.

Preston,W.,Jr.,Herman,E.,&Schiller,H.(1989).110peeFolly:TheUnitedStatesandUnescoNIY45-1985. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Publicity? Why it never even occurred to us. (199(), September 24). Business Week, p. 46.

Ramirez, A. (1990, September 14). 2 American makers agree to sell Soviets 34 billion cigarcttes. The New York Times, p. A-14.

Rogers, E., & Antola, L. (1985). Telenovelas: A Latin American success story. Journal of Communication, 35(4), 24-35.

Sehiller,D.(1985).Theemergingglobalgrid:Planningfi)rwhat?Media,CultureandSociety.7, 105-125. Sehiller, H. 1. (1989). Culture, Inc.: The corporate takeover of public expression. NevV York: Oxforcl University Press .

Sloan, A. K. (1990, August 22). Europe is ripe for theme parks. Los Angeles Times, p. D-3.

Straubhaar, J. (1989, May 25-29). Change in assymetncal interdependence in culture: The Bra2iliani2ation of television in Bra2il. Paper presented at the International Communication Association, San Francisco.


Toth, R. C. (1990, September 12). With Moscow crippled, U.S. emerges as top power. LosAngeles Times, p. D- 3.

Tracy, M. (1988, March) . Popular culture and the economics of global television. Intermedia, 19-25.

Transcript of President's address to U.N. General Assembly. (1990, October 2). The New York Times, p. A-6.