Oct 11, 2009


After reading Iwabuchi's piece on "Japanization" I'm starting to see how the forces at work in the mediasphere have evolved over time. We started with nascent national industries, media as bastions of national culture and identity. Then came globalization with Western-dominated media flows spreading out around the world. This raised concerns about cultural imperialism, positing media as potentially threatening to national culture and identity. In this context then, "glocalization", which Iwabuchi to some extent frames as Japan's answer to America's consumerist dominance, is a clear response to cultural imperialism, aiming to work with national cultures, rather than define them. The glory of glocalization, from a corporate standpoint, is that it still allows companies to pursue global dominance and capitalize on economies of scale in international markets, yet it also maintains consumer interest by not offending nationalist sensibilities.

I wrote earlier about the two-sided nature of glocalization. On the one hand, by softening the foreign origins of a product, it furthers transnational corporate interests, thereby supporting media conglomeration and power in the hands of the few. Media conglomeration becomes less transparent to the ordinary consumer, and its hidden nature, couched in local adaptations, takes on an insidious quality. On the other hand, the fact that media companies are recognizing and catering to consumption patterns unique to each audience, and the realization that globalization does not ipso facto lead to a single global culture seems like something to be lauded. Recognizing that audiences prefer homegrown entertainment that speaks more closely to their own experiences, and then accommodating those preferences within a larger scale media production process should be a win for the consumers.

As you can see, I'm still struggling with whether I think glocalization is a good thing, a moral thing, if you will. Does it empower the consumer, and allow for a more cosmopolitan reading of media texts? Or does it saliently reinforce nationalistic tendencies while covertly supporting a global oligopoly?


  1. I got the sense, as I was reading this essay, that countries around the world are sort of "turning Japanese" -- and not in a creepy Vapors-esque kind of way -- without even realizing it. The idea that really struck me occurs toward the beginning of the essay, when Iwabuchi suggests that there's a major discrepancy between the actual and perceived impact of Japanese cultural products. He does a great job showing that many of Japan's exports, despite their pervasive popularity, aren't inherently tied to cultural images and values. So countries around the world are absorbing their technology and their products without allowing them to influence their perception of what it means to be "Japanese." But later in the essay he takes it a step further, showing that Japanese media companies have actually promoted American cultural hegemony by investing in and helping to distribute Hollywood films. So, sharing your ambivalence about glocalization, I'm curious about how the rise of transnational corporations is going to play out in the future. When the lines between media owners and consumers are increasingly blurred within and across state borders, who controls the message?

  2. But the question about 'glocalization' is how often are those products actually somehow unique to the cultures they are targeting? Are they created by local companies with truly local stories using the talents of skilled local writers, artists, actors, producers etc. or are they merely slightly tweaked version of Western media? How much of their content is truly from the point of view of the culture watching and how much are Western notions of that society?

    Glocalization can take two forms and depending upon how they answer these questions we can gain a better understanding of where glocalization exists on the spectrum