Culture-Ideology of Consumerism: Viacom media practices influencing consumerist worldview
Viacom is the world’s 5th largest media company; its enterprise value clocks in at $21.17 billion. It owns major cable channels, such as MTV, BET, Logo, and Nick, as well as film companies like Paramount Pictures. As the media landscape diversifies, Viacom is actually struggling to keep up, on top of recent controversy surrounding the legal battles between Sumner Redstone, majority owner of CBS Corporation and Viacom, and the boards of the two companies. As more people switch to streaming services and find ways to circumvent traditional media and the advertising it carries, does it effectively weaken the industrial cultural capital that Viacom possesses? Or will the media behemoth simply find new ways to colonize our cultures and commodify our experiences? (Case in point, a new MTV initiative called “MTV Always On,” an advertising strategy geared towards keeping young viewers engaged while ads play, detailed in “Viacom is Having a Midlife Crisis”).
Major television and film networks such as Viacom have spread their reach literally across the world. These cable networks have produced shows that spread American ideologies and culture to a global audience. The dominance of media and television specifically by American companies has helped solidify American dominance in other arenas, such as in the political and financial world. A majority of what the world sees is through the lens of American ideology, which plays into the idea of glocalisation. Soon, the local will be everywhere because everyone will have the same exposure to certain experiences and culture. However, similar to the Jihad vs McWorld article, the dominance of American media has caused other places around the world to make a concerted effort to oppose that dominance.Watch movie online The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Al-Jazeera, Telenovelas, and Bollywood are all prime examples of the world pushing back on American media dominance. They are the contra flows to glocalisation and the spread of American ideologies. The success of these types of media networks is the true example of globalization. However, it seems as if each part of the world can only get a global audience around one area of content shown on television. Al-Jazeera, an Arab news network is popular globally for providing a different perspective on events happening in the Middle East and throughout the world. Abu Dhabi TV, which shows multiple dramas and comedies is not as well known or broadcasted globally. Telenovelas, which are Spanish soap operas, are huge world wide, but Spanish news networks don’t have global appeal. Even Bollywood, which is relatively well known, makes up less than .2% of the value of the global film industry.
Indeed, in the “MTV: 360 Industrial Production of Culture,” an MTV executive is quoted as having pitched MTV to advertisers as having the power to literally “monopolize the imagination of a new generation.” (21). The media dominance that Viacom exerts can be related to what theorist Roland Barthes refers to as “myth” — or dominant ideologies that shape what we perceive to be “true” and “natural.” Barthes wrote that myth serves an important function for social control: if dominant ideologies are shown to be “acceptable/true/natural,” they will not be resisted or fought against. He applied this specifically to advertising, arguing that ads enforce the notion that conspicuous consumptions habits will grant us aspirational access to bourgeoise lifestyle groups. In reality, it only serves the dominant groups by reinforcing the ideologies of consumption/capitalism that grant them control. MTV 360 is a multi-platform marketing initiatives, directly aimed as produced the “landscapes and social spaces” that feed pop culture its authority. (4).
The 360 article goes on to explore the way MTV developed its advertising platform by heavily researching their audiences — what they even call “ethnography.” “We go through their music collections,” said Todd Cunningham, Senior VP of Brand Strategy and Planning. “We go to nightclubs with them…We shut the door in their bedrooms and talk to them about issues that they feel are really important to them….what things are really on the hearts and minds of them and their peers….And then we’re allowed to come back and translate that into programming opportunities…” (13). Here, it is illustrated how MTV deliberately gains knowledge of its audience in order to commodify their behaviors, interests, and culture and sell it back to them.
In Disjuncture in the Global Cultural Economy, Arjun Appadurai writes about landscapes that exist at the overlaps of this global idea flow (97). He argues that Mediascapes, the production and global spread of information and “the images of the world created by the media,” are a mixed bag of entertainment/fictional and documentary/news type of information in which it is not always very clear what is real and what is not. Due to this, those less familiar with particular images given by the media, in the form of billboards, newspapers, etc., are prone to creating imagined worlds according to those media-induced images (99). Rather than receiving a true depiction of a young urban American lifestyle on MTV, for example, young global audiences may construct entirely fantastical perceptions of the US, especially if they are from a rural, background. Ideoscapes are another type of landscape, but these are images charged with ideology, usually political in nature and democratic when the source of these images is the US. This raises questions regarding potential implications of global media influence from an American media company such as Viacom, especially within younger audiences.
Many of Viacom’s television stations have a main focus on the age group of 12 – 24, or teens to young adults, with stations such as Nickelodeon, MTV, and VH1. They are catering to an audience that is relatively untouched by television media from outside of the U.S. In Global Media Children, Moran and Chung note that the only competition they have is Japanese animation and cartoons. However, this whole age group market is basically theirs for the molding, thus whatever they broadcast is the main television people in this age group watch (or did watch at one point in time) with virtually every show being translated into multiple different languages, or at the very least with subtitles. Viacom is the vehicle of glocalisation because now every child around the world can share the same experience of watching SpongeBob while growing up.
The pushback to this glocalisation, the Jihad to this McWorlding, the resistance to this empire, is hard to find, however. They localized the global to get the most appeal from audiences around the world, and they can do things like this because the American culture and ideology is already placed in everything else they show on television, so the foundation and mindset to accept anything similar is already in place with the added bonus of a foreign person doing the action. Children around the world have been glocalised by Viacom channels, creating a “myth” (in Barthes sense) of culture and also of consumption.
Viacom is a company that, while large and powerful, depends on expansion for survival. In the saturated, competitive American market more and more consumers are “cutting the cable” and switching to other forms of media consumption. Distributors are also beginning to cut Viacom channels. In countries such as India, with a huge potential market, but much less media consumerist precedent (average of $3 a month in India for cable TV vs. $90 in the US), the future for a prospective cable media market looks dismal. With a gradually diminishing home market, it seems that the only choice Viacom has is to become localized in foreign markets. Eventually, even more people will get to enjoy their own Big Brother and Spongebob experience.
From our textbook:
Disjuncture & Difference in the Global Cultural Economy by Arjun Appadurai (in 5th ed. it is Chapter 11, page 94)