Pirates of the Internet

You’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean. You know what pirates are like. They are unscrupulous yet charming n’ere-do-wells who sail around the Caribbean in search of treasure. They drink lots of rum and kill people and occasionally look like Johnny Depp. This is the stereotypical idea of a pirate –and yet the dawn of the 21st century has brought a new scourge to global society’s shores: audio-visual piracy.

Johnny Depp and privateers aside, piracy has historically been acknowledged as a bad thing for society and there are no benefits associated with it. This is certainly still true in some respects, but Tristan Mattelart’s “Audio-visual Piracy: towards a study of the underground networks of cultural globalization” offers some surprising evidence for pro-piracy arguments. He asserts that audio-visual piracy may act as a facilitator of cultural globalization. “The networks of the informal economy through which pirated goods are distributed are an integral, although often neglected, part of the transnational media system, and therefore far from immune to the relationships of domination on which this system is based,” he writes. Later on, he relates that “…it is true that piracy not only plays an important role in providing the population access to products and services which it would otherwise be deprived of’ but has also given rise, in Pakistan as in other countries, to quite a significant sector of economic activity.”

I am firmly opposed to audio-visual piracy, but I am interested in the impacts of audio-visual piracy on cultural globalization and vice versa. It seems that in some cases, the spread of audio-visual piracy is aided by the fact that viewers have no other way to see the content. This looks like a marketing failure on the part of the Western film industry and brings up interesting ethical questions.

By Kira


Thoughts About Global Governance

For me, the term “global governance” conjures up impressive images of the United Nations and world leaders. I don’t immediately think of communication – or perhaps I should use past tense and say that I didn’t always think of communication instead, because after reviewing this week’s set of readings, I understand that global governance and the media are closely intertwined.
It makes sense, really, that the rise of global media is evolving alongside global governance. As we learned in our chapters about communication theory, communication is integral to our daily activities and lives. It’s difficult to separate the two notions as separate concepts.

Fortunately, Siochru and Girard have identified some of the more significant communication impacts on the global governance arena. In particular, the relationship between the two entities has been affected by privatization, technological change/convergence, concentration of ownership and control, and globalization of media markets and industries.

Media globalization isn’t necessarily a recent concept. It has roots in the mid-19th century, when Havas, Reuters, and Wolff essentially carved up the world media market. Yet the size and immediacy of news today has shaped the media’s influence and impact on global governance.

By Kira

Cultural Transactions

Once upon a time ago, cultural transactions were mainly limited to warfare and religion. Today, thanks to the forces of modern technology and globalization, our ability to share our culture with others is far less constrained. With a click of a mouse, I can exchange information with friends on the other side of the planet. A teenager in Japan can buy Twilight at her local bookstore and read about the travails of Edward and Bella just as easily as an American teenager. A man living in the United Kingdom can watch the same TV show as a man living in Australia. A woman in Russia can eat at McDonald’s just like a woman in Canada. Globalization has ensured that these kinds of cultural transactions are becoming more and more commonplace.  

Globalization, however, brings new set of problems to the table. “The central problem of today’s global interactions is the tension between cultural homogenization and cultural heterogenization,” Arjun Appadurai noted in “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.”

The recent scandal of IKEA’s Saudi Arabian catalogue demonstrates how cultural transactions can fuel clashes between cultures. IKEA, the furniture empire of Swedish fame, publishes 200 million catalogue copies with 62 different versions.  In the most recent catalogue sent to Saudi Arabia, the corporation removed numerous images of women that were included in other versions of the catalogue. Presumably, the changes were made to keep the publication more in line with cultural values held by the Saudi Arabian government. Women are not allowed to work, study or travel without explicit permission from their husbands or male guardians.


What would the (female) Statue of Liberty look like if we replaced it with IKEA furniture?

We can speculate that the photo adjustments were an effort to ensure that this cultural “transaction” was well received by Saudi Arabians. It seems ironic that a communication gesture intended to placate one culture would instigate uproar from others. The situation illustrates how two cultures can clash, and shows that there isn’t always an easy way to handle tensions formed by globalization. 

By Kira

Diasporic Communities in a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

This week’s readings offered us an interesting selection of thoughts on nations, nationalism, and other institutions. While each piece brought up different sets of points, I was particularly grabbed by Karim’s discussion on the growing power of diasporic communication flows and the subsequent effects on nation-states.

I find it fascinating that the dynamics of these communities have been altered by the power of the Internet and modern technology. A hundred years ago, leaving your homeland meant that you might never see your community again. Today, diaspora have the ability to exchange emails with people on the other side of the world. They can follow news in their community and thanks to transnational media networks, they have increasing access to the diasporic programming and news. Karim notes that the price of these services is a significant barrier to many diaspora, but it seems likely that it will decrease in time. You could argue that modern technology is slowing the process of assimilation.

On a broader note, I was also intrigued by Karim’s meditations on diasporic links to particular geographical location. “Forced or voluntary migrations diminish the physical links of those who leave the homeland,” he writes. “But they take with them the mythical and linguistic allusions to the ancestral territory, which they invoke in nostalgic reminiscences.”

Let’s take Alderraan, for example. Although it is technically – ahem – a fictional planet in Star Wars, I think it illustrates some of Karim’s thoughts on diaspora communities.  After Darth Vader decides to unleash the destructive power of the Death Star on Princess Leia’s home planet, thousands of Alderanians who are off-planet at the time are left without a physical homeland.

Darth Vader and Princess Leia invite you to consider the impacts of diasporic communities on international (or intergalactic) communication

During the aftermath, diasporic communities form on other planets, but Alderranians continue to exchange symbolic goods and services and form what are in essence intergalactic networks.

Before my example veers too far off course, let me tie it back into one of Karim’s points about the use of media networks as a tool for activism. If we can pretend that the Rebel Alliance is a media network for a minute, we could argue that Alderranians were using this particular network to mobilize support for their “homeland cause.” As Karim points out, media networks are sometimes employed to further support for homeland causes of diaspora, such as the Kurds and Tibetans. Homeland politics are a huge topic of interest for certain diaspora groups, particularly those who are the “first generation” in their new country.  Thanks to international communication and modern technology, you can hear about that news almost as soon as it happens.

By Kira

Theoretical Perspectives

Reader, I confess: it took me some time to muster up enthusiasm for this week’s set of readings. I am of the opinion that “theory” is a necessary evil that must be endured in order to get to the ‘good stuff.’

With all that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Carey’s “A Cultural Approach to Communication” was a fairly interesting (not to mention digestible) read. I particularly liked the idea that communication is a “symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed.” While the manipulation of reality may sound a little Inception-esque, I think that Carey is actually trying to illustrate how communication helps us describe reality. Symbols, languages, and other forms of communication are the colors with which we paint our world. When we can’t communicate, we feel cut off and isolated. For example, I once found myself at a party in a foreign country where I couldn’t speak the language. Being unable to participate in the conversation was a source of frustration for me, and gave me a sense of loneliness. Perhaps I wasn’t truly “cut off” from reality, but I was limited in my ability to interact with my surroundings, and that felt numbing.

Later, Carey goes on to say, “For the ordinary person, communication consists merely of a set of daily activities, having conversations, conveying instructions, being entertained, sustaining debate and discussion, acquiring information. The felt quality of our lives is bound up in these activities and bound up with these activities and how they are carried out within communities.” In many ways, this describes the relationship between culture and communication. The two go hand in hand, and you cannot impact one of these notions without influencing the other.

By Kira

Onions, Ogres, and International Communication

Have you ever seen the movie Shrek? You know, that cartoon featuring Mike Myers as an ogre with a heart of gold and Eddie Murphy as Donkey, his obnoxious-yet-loveable sidekick? If you have seen it, then you’ll be familiar with the classic scene in which Shrek uses an onion as a metaphor for the complex nature of the ogre mentality.

“Ogres are like onions,” he tells a skeptical Donkey. “Ogres have layers.”

You know what else has layers (besides parfaits)? The field of international communication!

Shrek and Donkey welcome your thoughts on international communication.

I know it sounds like a bit of a stretch, but stay with me here and it will all make sense. To borrow a quote from Gary Weaver’s The Evolution of International Communication as a Field of Study: A Personal Reflection, “International Communications is truly interdisciplinary, a mixture of many different areas of academic inquiry.” The field has a theoretical layer rooted in academic research, but it also possesses a practical layer that’s applicable everywhere from international negotiations to international news to NGO activities. There’s a layer of international issues, a layer of domestic issues, and then a whole new layer that looks at how these two issues connect. To take another line from Weaver’s reflection, “International communications allows us to authentically combine all these levels of analysis, to ask the big questions, but also to deal with the individual.”

The layers of the field are also reflected in its contradictory beginnings. On one hand, international communication is almost as old as human civilization itself.  Thussu’s “The Historical Context of International Communication and Mattelart’s “The Emergence of Technical Networks” both offer compelling examples of international communication throughout the ages. The ancient empires of Rome, Persia and Greece relied on official postal and dispatch systems, and inventions such as the printing press and the telegraph had considerable impacts on the world.

Given that international communication has effectively been in use for thousands of years, it seems surprising that the field has only recently been recognized as an area of study. American University’s International Communication program is the oldest of its kind in the world. But that’s also what makes it so exciting. As students, we can help chart the future of the field.

Posted by: Kira VK