Glocalization, Viacom Style

I was reading Anthony Fung’s piece on Viacom’s strategy in China, and I started thinking: What does Chinese content mean for Viacom? The political barriers are not insurmountable, and it is abundantly clear why global media corporations want to enter the Chinese market. But when they do, what do they have to offer?I found this video from the 2006 CCTV MTV Music Awards. The artist, Tata Young, is a highly successful Thai-American singer, actress, and model.

My succinct description of Tata actually doesn’t do her much justice. She’s not just a singer; she’s a brand, a new type of celebrity that fits into the global model of media making. The key is to understand her in the grand scheme of glocalization. What I mean by this is that she is interchangeable. If we replace her with Jennifer Lopez, would anyone tell the difference?

What is glocalization? We know globalization has to accelerated cultural exchanges. Glocalization the interaction of global and local. It produces hybrids by incorporating elements of local culture and global culture into a new mix (Robertson, 1995). The results are not always generic; they can be transgressive and innovative:

That was MC Yan. He is an underground hero in Hong Kong, and one of his claims to fame is the fact that he was one of the first graffiti artists to tag the Great Wall of China. He also tagged Hong Kong’s City Hall, using laser technology. He is, however, a man of contrasts.  In 2004, he teamed up with Clot Inc to create a new shoe for Nike. The result was the Nike Air Max 1 NL Premium, a shoe that “pays homage to Chinese culture, the spirit of modern Hong Kong and the Air Max evolution” (Yu-Ming, 2006). What a perfect combination of subculture and global business! It reminds me of what Dick Hebdige had to say about mods. Eventually, transgression gets absorbed into the mainstream. The result can be a shoe.

Try as you may, no successful artist lives their life entirely on the fringes, and glocalization creates new opportunities. Seems to me, though, that you either end up with  the commercialization of transgressive youth culture, like MC Yan’s case, or with generic pop celebrities like Tata Young. She can become the face and the voice for just about anything.

MC Yan, on the other hand, can lend street cred even to Viacom. No, you probably won’t see him get an award from CCTV-MTV, but you will find him on MTV Iggy, Viacom’s latest foray into youth culture. If you miss the good ‘ol days, in which MTV wasn’t full of pseudo celebrities like The Situation and Snookie, Viacom has got you covered. For example, here is a clip where Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan & Kajol explain Islam, and the true meaning of Jihad.

So what happens when Viacom comes to China? First of all, Viacom and the Chinese government have settled into a comfortable partnership. Viacom gets access to the market, and it gets to play cultural gatekeeper. The Chinese government, on the other hand, retains its influence, by establishing  acceptable limits for popular culture, and it gets a seat at the global table. The result is  “a kind of apolitical popular culture concomitant of capitalist consumption” that does not threaten prevailing ideology (Fung, 2006, p. 79).

As I was reading Fung’s article, I could not help but feel his sense of disappointment. He writes that “the state allows these foreign corporations to operate because they produce a predictable and acceptable popular Chinese culture” (p. 82). Did he expect Viacom to behave differently? I mean, I can’t even remember the last time I felt that MTV was being transgressive. He writes about the ability of the state to “flexibly accommodate global capital”, but gives Viacom too much credit. He ambivalently concludes that “either the state counters the global capital, or the liberating force democratizes the state.” I don’t think this is an either/or scenario. This is strategic thinking on Viacom’s part, and if the company was behaving differently in China, I would be more willing to concede the point. They are not; they are a global company that is hungry for content that they can market though their multiple outlets. Viacom is reaching as wide an audience as it possibly can, and some of us can still feel a little rebellious when we listen to MC Yan.



  • Fung, A. (2006). Think globally, act locally: China’s rendezvous with MTV. Global Media and Communication, 2(1), 71-88