What are the differences between dominant flows and contra-flows? Why are contra-flows important? How do they affect us here in Australia?
Media has traditionally been dominated by America and Europe due to economic, technological and political power, and rapid advancements in communications. When my parents grew up, they would watch television shows like the Brady Bunch and Happy Days, listen to music like the Beach Boys and Bay City Rollers, and want to be like Sandy from Grease and fall in love with Danny. Whilst I still enjoy the occasional Grease song, growing up and consuming media in the 21st Century was drastically different because of the endless options the Internet provides. I can read Japanese anime, listen to Korean Pop, watch strange Norwegian films, extravagant Bollywood films as well as enjoy a classic Hollywood film like the Notebook.
This change over time not only represents how globalisation has dramatically altered our media consumption but also the differences between Dominant Media Flows and Contra-Media Flows. Dominant media flows are generally associated with worldwide popularity like Disney, MTV and Google (Thussu, Table 1.1, pp. 12, 2006). However the ‘one-way flow of US programming to the periphery of the world system are being reassessed in light of increasing multi-directional flows of media imagery’ (Curtin, pp. 131, 2003). This change has led to the emergence of contra-media flows which are associated with ‘national corporations, governments and national audiences’ (Thussu, pp. 30, 2006).
Contra-media flows such as Al-Jazeera (Middle Eastern and North African news) and Baidu.com (a Chinese version of Google) have had significant effects on dominant media because consumers want to be able to relate and understand media from a cultural and personal perspective. The emergence of contra-flows are important in today’s interconnected society as they ‘can shape cultural identities, energise dis-empowered groups and help create political coalitions and new transnational private and public spheres (Thussu, pp. 20, 2006).
For example, I lived in London last year and found that I was losing track of Australian politics, events and most importantly… sport. A century ago, it would be practically impossible to keep updated, however, there is the wonderful TNT magazine, specifically made for Australians living in London. They include topics like current trends in Australian politics, who’s favoured to win the State of Origin AND relevant information about events in London such as housing prices, cheap travel options and pub crawls (that’s all Aussies do in London). This contra-flow allowed me to feel engaged in both Australia and the UK and by combining them with dominant media flows (with a little help from my friend the Internet) allows me to stay up to date with current events across the globe.
We are all aware of dominant media flows such as Disney, however, we are not all aware of the little guys (contra-flows) that are making a big impact in our lives and across the globe. I believe that contra-flows will become more important and prominent as the forces of globalisation threaten cultural diversity. It’s a nice feeling knowing wherever we go in the world, we’ll be able to know what’s happening in Home and Away.
Curtin, M. 2003, “Media capital: towards the study of spatial flows”, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 202-228
Thussu, D.K. 2006, Media on the move: global flow and contra-flow, Routledge, New York