The cultural imperialism concept stems from the broader notion of imperialism and hegemony used in various social sciences, mainly in international relations. The concept has been used to explain the inequalities in the balance of power between different nations in the world that are actors on the international stage. Michel Focault reinterprets the notion of power and governmentality to infer that the politics exert an wide range of control techniques on the population. We will come back later to this idea in analyzing the US music industry dynamics and in supporting the thesis. Eventually we can name cultural imperialism as being a „ colonization of concioussness” (Dunch 2002) or a „”binary opposition of the orient vs. the occident, […] unequal in value” in the words of the post-colonialist writer Eward Said. Basically, culture can be used as a soft power in the relation with other countries, often backed-up by economic prosperity. Cultural imperialism is considered to be a versatile concept created to explain the US media influence in the Latin America in the early 1970 (Dunch 2002), also refering to the „global dominance of American entertainment commodities and cultural images”
As stated above, the concept of cultural imperialism was deducted from America’s cultural hegemony over other nations. The question is whether this is also true for the world music industry. So what is the distribution of the world music industry?
From this case study, it becomes clear that, in general, the countries with a large GDP also have a large share in the world music industry. They included 22 countries that cover 98% of the world music industry. The U.S had the biggest share in the music industry, but this is justified by the fact that the U.S. has the biggest GDP number of all countries. So relatively, the global music industry is quite evenly distributed. But when we look at absolute numbers, America’s share in the world music industry is by far the biggest with a total amount of 236.4 million units, while Japan as a runner up had a total of 176.5 million units (IFPI 2010 report). This means that the largest part of music produced and distributed on a global level comes from the U.S. This is in support of the thesis.
Also, most of the critism on the U.S. as a cultural imperalist comes from other Western countries as European countries, Canada and Australia. This criticism is not unfounded as American music dominates these markets with almost 50% of music revenues in these countries (IFPI 2010 report). The next step is to assess the „genuinity” of the cultural imperialism in the music industry to see if there exists a model of a country that exerts such an influence. Hubert Vedrina calls United States of America a hegemonic hyperpower, though coining this term only for describing the military influence. Is this supremacy also claimed by the American music industry? The examples of the hegemony of US in music industries are relevant for this discussion and are covering a extended time span, dating back in the period after the Cold War with the pushing music policies and the „jazz diplomacy” implemented by US (Fosler-Lussier 2001, Rosenberg 2005).
Back to the contemporary world, the attention is focused on Viacom, the corporate parent of MTV. Maybe the ascendancy of MTV stands in its pop-culture prowess (Rosati 2007) and in the ability to take advantage of the technological advancements in their home market. Becoming a powerful global player and investing massively in local businesses operating in music industry, for example Korea (Jin 2007), MTV increased their influence to promote the American musical culture. Though, the question remains: is this music channel an ample factor so that it can generate the hegemonic position of the US like it was back in the Cold War period?
The following words written by Rosati are shedding a light on this question:
“as it is obviously untrue (for the time) that every human is born crying ‘I want my MTV’, the power of these cultural enchanters comes not from its texts or ‘sweet songs’, but from the labour of statisticians, ethnographers, engineers, psychologists and politicians, who collaborate to better target popular attention, monopolise it and exploit it in the circulation of private property. Through the invasive deployment of media machinery, media companies like MTV can better captivate emergent structures of feeling and as such better transform the means of cultural production to intensify the industrial production of culture.”There are enough counterarguments to the imperialism pursued by US in the musical industry. One of them is enclosed in the definition of imperialism. Is the success of the American artists based on state-driven policies or is it just the outcome of an efficient strategy that created competitive advantage on the long term? The facts tip the balance to the latter.