Media, Global Flows and the Uncanny
Global flows in the form of movements of capital, commodities, information, communication and migrants rank among the most distinctive characteristics of the social and cultural upheavals which we are experiencing at present all over the world, yet such flows are not a completely new phenomenon by far. The so-called Silk Road which emerged in the pre-Christian era and along which goods, merchants and culture travelled between the east and the west is one such example, as are the migrations in central and southern Europe in the 4th and 6th centuries AD. In comparison with the movements of goods and people in the past, modern-day flows now exist concurrently, are picking up speed, have intensified, are much more interdependent and are visible all over the world.
Audiovisual and digital media are involved in these flows in many and varied ways: they can serve as a means of dissemination; they are used as instruments to help organize them and they are one way of increasing their visibility. The structural characteristics of digital media as networked technologies, namely multimediality and interactivity, ensure that the multifunctionality of the media is flourishing as never before. Whether we’re talking about global business dealings, the coordination of politics on the international stage, the organization of global social movements or even projects in music, film and the arts, all of these would be inconceivable without transnational digital media connecting places and regions with each other like a giant subterranean spider’s web. The media’s contribution to events on the global stage is not restricted to technical support alone; it also has cultural implications. Texts and images transported by the media disseminate new lifestyles, values and ideas while ignoring the national borders which still exist on maps. Cultural imports are supplied by the media productions of television companies and internet providers on the one hand and by the images, podcasts, tweets and blogs of network actors on the other.
The global interplay and power
Global cultural flows do not run parallel to one another; rather, they criss-cross each other, out of which a global interplay may arise which forces hybridization on various levels. On a macro level, hybridization means that the cultural properties of one country can become part of the domestic cultural properties of another (Welsch 2012). Traditional Chinese medicine, for example, is increasingly finding its way into western medicine, while, in the other direction, gender discourses developed in one part of the world are being adopted in patriarchal societies in other parts of the world. On an individual level, according to Homi K. Bhabha (2012), hybridization is not simply to be found in the blending of elements from various cultures, for example in the way people organize their lifestyles, but also in the way they take possession of them both strategically and selectively. The concept of hybridization should not suggest that global interplay is free of power. The postcolonial perspective developed in the 1990s in postcolonial studies gives us to understand that we live in a world which was essentially created by the relationships between the colonizers and the colonized, and that these relationships are still in operation today. According to Dirlik (2010), the inequalities between industrialized countries and the countries of the so-called third world bear witness to this influence in the areas of economic development, education and social security. One visible effect of this inequality which is very topical at the moment is the streams of migrants from countries which were not given any opportunities to develop under colonial rule. Migration is only one way in which the marginalized can have their say. The one-way street between the centre and its peripheral regions is becoming increasingly bidirectional.
According to Bhabha, hybridization is associated with the emergence of third spaces, which can be conceived of as discursive spaces which are not delimited. As a possibility condition for the articulation of cultural differences, third spaces evade the familiar polarities of the Self/the Other, the third world/the first world (Babka/Posselt 2012), even though power structures exist. But even when in the position of the underdog, in Bhabha’s eyes, there are possibilities to upend cultural authorities as imposed from the outside. When the focus is on cultural differences, however, it is indispensable to attempt to translate them, unless the aim is to maintain a multicultural parallel existence. Film, literature and art in general have always dedicated themselves to the translation of values, rituals and communication patterns into other cultural contexts. In a society of criss-crossing cultural flows, even people behaving in an everyday manner are required to accomplish cultural translations in the everyday context of global play.
Cultural Translations and the uncanny
In the process of cultural translation, we will also come across matters which cannot be translated, matters which constitute the uncanny, literally the “unhomely” (das Unheimliche) in German. Sigmund Freud (1919) conjectured that behind the uncanny is the familiar (the “homely”/das Heimliche), which is not, however, what is unfamiliar or what is new, but the homely-familiar (das Heimlich-Heimische), which has been repressed only to return in the form of what is supposedly foreign. Everything that is repressed is frightening. If this assertion is true, it could be one of the reasons why global interplay is not essentially harmonious but can be halting and tough, sowing the seeds of conflict wherever it arises, as is all too evident in Europe in view of the current flow of refugees.
Demands placed on the media of the future
In a society which is permeated by criss-crossing cultural flows, the sociopolitical significance of the media will have to be increasingly measured up against the fact whether media productions and actors – whether in television companies or in the virtual space of online platforms and blogs – allow space for cultural differences, without hierarchizing, and whether they launch attempts to translate which are able to connect with translational processes beyond those spaces in the media.
Babka, Anna/Posselt, Gerald (2012): Vorwort, in: Babka, Anna/Posselt, Gerald (eds.), Homi K.Bhabha, Über kulturelle Hybridität, Wien, p.7-16.
Bhabha, Homi K.(2012): Über kulturelle Hybridität: Tradition und Übersetzung, in: Babka, Anna/Posselt, Gerald (eds.), Homi Bhabha K., Über kulturelle Hybridität, Wien, p. 17-58
Dirlik, Arif (2010): Globale Moderne: Die Moderne im Zeitalter des globalen Kapitalismus weiterdenken, in: Boatca, Manuela/Spohn, Wilfried (eds.), Globale, multiple und postkoloniale Moderne, München, p.31-52
Freud, Sigmund (1919): Das Unheimliche, in: Freud, Sigmund (Ed.), Psychologische Schriften, Bd.IV, Frankfurt/Main
Welsch, Wolfgang (2012): Was ist eigentlich Transkulturalität, in: Kimmich Dorothee/Schahadat, Schamma (eds.), Kulturen in Bewegung, Bielefeld,p.25-45
Christina Schachtner is professor of media studies at the Alpen-Adria-University of Klagenfurt/Austria. Main focus of research: digital publics, transculturality, social movements in the net; lecture tours in India and China; head of the research project ‘Communicative Publics in Cyberspace’. Most recent publication: Das narrative Subjekt: Erzählen im Zeitalter des Internets (The Narrative Subject: Telling Stories in the Age of the Internet), Transcript.
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