Dissertation proposal: Globalization of TV formats in media culture
Chinese case study examining local adaptation of foreign TV formats and hegemonic contestations: dissertation proposal
This dissertation investigates the globalization of TV formats by looking at their growth, global appeal and why they have become so appealing to many cultures. In doing this, the dissertation will look at the current popularity of the popular TV music show ‘Voice of China’, adapted from an original Dutch music show ‘The Voice of Holland’ made popular by an US version ‘The Voice US’. While much of the debate for the mass appeal of such TV programs have their arguments based in globalization theories of cultural homogenization and US hegemony, this paper seeks to argue that in the case of China, the situation is rather different. It seeks to support theories of cultural hybridization as evidence shows that most media is made sense of on a national cultural level so arguments of homogenization are rather baseless. But instead, such globalized mediascapes like TV formats might instead be offering an authoritarian state like China, which still controls the encoding process, the chance to promote its own hegemony and national identity in local manner.
Using semiotic and textual analysis of literature, the paper scrutinizes how the symbolic power of popular globalized TV formats is used and ‘manipulated’ by the Chinese state to encode its own version of modernity. This will be assisted by minimal primary research using an ethnographic study.
Curtin (2007) notes that there are many forces that are shaping the Chinese media landscape in different settings such as commercial film, and TV production. While the political state in China has always been the dominant driving force behind all aspects of media representation and communication message to the masses, there is a reconfiguration of major players that also beginning to influence Chinese film and TV production. As China opens up to the so called “global village” it also opens up to global economic, social and political ideologies and forces that ultimately have to be put into consideration. Such ideologies as Flew (2007) argues are the hegemonic systems in capitalist countries that have used the media to establish a leadership in the cultural sphere. So the key point to note is that media is often a contested discipline because it has mass impact on contemporary society and so in cultural and political economy studies, media is often analysed as a way to understand hegemony. Hegemony as used in these studies is the operation of one class upon another so as to shape and produce consent. And in cultural studies, hegemony is infused with ideology which is further central to understanding all aspects of society and its social relations (Ibid).
This is why modern media and mass communication is such a fertile ground for analysing how hegemonic institutions such as the economy and state, shape the media. This is often done by encoding/decoding media messages. Encoding media messages refers to the production process of using institutional and technical infrastructures that leads to the production of media such as newspapers or TV programs. The control and use of such production processes is then used to encode media text with certain hegemonic meanings that reaches out to an audience. However, any such encoded meaning in the media text needs to be meaningful and relevant to audience expectations of what they wish to consume. As such, audiences resort to decoding or ‘reading’ such media text or content in ways that are meaningful to them as well as bring pleasure upon consumption (Flew 2007)
In the globalization of media era though, this production process which is also oversees the encoding of media text, often now operates outside of nation states in terms of its production as well as financing, distribution and reception (Flew 2007). But while the nation state may not be as dominant in the encoding process in some geographies, that doesn’t mean that global hegemonic media ideologies are taking over as theories of cultural homogenization, cultural imperialism, cultural debasement, or Americanization might argue (Sklair 2002; Chomsky 1999). This is because there remains a strong ‘localizing and indigenizing’ tendency to practices of cultural consumption which acts as a brake on ideas of globalized and hegemonic mass popular culture (Flew 2007). This is what Appadurai (1990) refers to as cultural hybridization replacing cultural domination, where forces that are trying to impose cultural homogeneity are kept at bay by forces that are striving for cultural heterogeneity.
Cultural hybridization in this instance refers to the tension between globalizing media forces trying to promote homogenization and local forces that are striving for heterogeneity. Popular culture has the symbolic power to influence the masses and because of this, it is often the site of contestation between global homogenization forces and those that want to retain heterogeneity. Flew (2007) argues that such contestations also carry with them the rewards of hegemony for the winner. This dissertation hence seeks to understand how Chinese consumers of popular foreign TV formats such as ‘Voice of China’ decode the encoded media text such programs carry. This is because China is actually in a unique position compared to ‘free world’ capitalist economies due to the dominant fact that the communist party is very hands on in controlling many aspects of Chinese political, economic and social life.
- To understand how popular TV formats have encoded messages and
- To understand how local Chinese consumers decode any such media text, that is, whether what is being decoded is leading to cultural hybridization or whether the state apparatus may have hijacked these symbolic popular TV formats and used them for hegemonic construction. This is because the Chinese state is still very dominant in the encoding process of popular culture, or pretty much most of the media (Zhang 2012).
According to Moran (2008; 2009) describes TV formats as sets of program invariables that systematize TV program variations into episode content that is repeatable as a medium. Today, reality TV programs and popular entertainment formats such as “The Voice China”, “Take Me Out” are very popular in China. In one aspect, one can say this is the face of media globalization as Chinese people get to perform as well as watch media adaptations of foreign media formats especially US media culture. This in essence is globalization of cultural products. Much of the academic discourse on globalization and communication revolves around the role of communication media in global amalgamation, and also the exclusion of the nation state and subsequent rise of the corporation. Others such as Castells (1999) for example emphasize negative impact of the digital divide in this globalization of communication technology. The political economy aspect of media is also emphasized by the likes of Sklair (2002) and Chomsky (1999) underlining globalization of communication as Americanization/westernization, a somewhat hegemonic apparatus of dominant US interests.
VOICE OF CHINA
In 2012, China started producing its own adapted version of TV singing hit contest ‘The Voice or ‘The Voice of China’ as it is locally known. The origins of this singing contest can be traced to Holland which first aired a TV format known as ‘Voice of Holland’ with a rather unique twist. Rather than have competing musicians vying for positive judgement under the full glare of the judging panel as in the case of similar singing contests like ‘American Idol’, the show required judges to face the opposite side of singing contestants creating blind auditions. The format was soon adopted by NBC America which created a spin off known as ‘The Voice US’ and aired in 2011. On airing in the US, the American version of the show became the highest rated series premiere on a major network since the debut of ‘Undercover Boss’ in 2010 and it became NBC’s highest rated show since 2009 (Rice 2011). In 2012, Britain also made its own local adaptation known as ‘The Voice UK’ airing on the BBC One (Daily Mail 2012)
In July 2012, China made its own adaptation of the now popular music TV format airing on Zhejiang Television, and the show became so successful it now leads audience ratings for its time slot. Its success has also pushed up its commercial value forcing major brands like Herbal tea brand Jia Duobao to spend 60 million Renminbi (approx. £6million) to become the official sponsor, and as a result advertisement prices have more than doubled to 360,000 yuan for 15 seconds (Yu Li 2012). The "The Voice of China" has continued to top nationwide ratings and rankings since it was first aired on Zhejiang Satellite TV, and now attract 4.5 percent of China’s TV audience, up from 2.7 percent when first aired. The show’s success has been explained away by some of the judges as being based on integrity, trust and fairness based on the blind audition format. As one of the judges and coaches of The Voice of China, Na Ying, says, "Judging the voice, and not the appearance" makes the show stand out from the numerous other reality shows in China”. Another judge and coach, Liu Huan, further vouches for the show’s popularity declaring that everyone “should work hard together to enrich Chinese music and the audience can enjoy different genres of music. That's what we're aiming for." (Ibid)
The show’s producer Tian Ming also argues that much of the show’s success is down to the sense of honesty it has, its roster of talented voices and good coaches, as well as big investment and production. Tian Ming goes to argue the rationale for the adaptation of this popular western TV show was to express the spirit of Chinese confidence and self-improvement of its people through a format of entertainment. The show’s producers also hoped to touch the audience’s hearts, which they have managed to achieve hence the high ratings. On the production part, the show, like many TV format adaptations in China acts as a platform giving Chinese producers the opportunity to learn and continually improve, in ways that it is hoped will pave the way for China to come up with its own successful home-grown show format (Yu Li 2012).
Power contestations and hegemony in “Voice China” and other local TV formats
Power contestations in local mediascapes is nothing new and such, this is being played out in local TV format adaptations such as ‘The Voice China’ and others like the Chinese version of ‘Ugly Betty’ known as ‘Ugly Wudi’ (Zhang 2012).
I will do a semiotic visual analysis of TV formats in China (as receiver) in comparison to the US (as sender) as this will enable me to decode the ideologies that might be implicitly come with such local adaptations.Further, I will do an ethnographic analysis of how young Chinese students respond to foreign adaptations of Chinese TV formats such as “Voice of China” and whether they perceive them to be foreign or Chinese and the cultural alignment they may feel with such TV formats. It may be that Chinese followers of such popular programs like TAKE ME OUT” feel a kinship to it. If they do feel kinship, it would be interesting to know whether this kinship is because it’s foreign and exotic or because it’s now their own, not foreign anymore. The key is to understand if the message, values and identity of such foreign TV formats may be eroding Chinese students of what it means to be Chinese and how much of this is due to the influence of such popular TV formats.
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