Media and the Reinvention of the Nation

Silvio Waisbord. Handbook of Media Studies. Editor: John D H Downing, Denis McQuail, Philip Schlesinger, Ellen Wartella. Sage Publication. 2004.

This chapter discusses approaches to the study of media and nations by reviewing the place of the media in historical accounts of the rise of modern nations and nationalism, the past and present of the “national” media, and the impact of media globalization on nations. Notwithstanding developments that, to some authors, seemingly undermine the centrality of “the national” in political and cultural processes, it is argued that “the national” remains important as a basis for cultural identity in the contemporary world. Neither subnational (local) nor supranational (regional and cosmopolitan) formations and identities offer viable alternative identities to minimize, let alone eliminate, nationalistic feelings. Together with other factors, the media greatly contribute to the persistence of the national in a supposedly postnational era. Media studies can make a valuable contribution to nationalism studies by understanding how the media continue to articulate nationalistic sentiments. Rather than celebrating nationalism as a form of benign patriotism or condemning it for inflaming hatred, it is suggested that nationalism remains ambiguous. The complex and contradictory history of nations shows that nationalism can be equally associated with sentiments of human solidarity as well as with feelings of intolerance and exclusion. This remarkable and often frustrating ideological elasticity makes it difficult to predetermine the future of media patriotism on the basis of nationalism’s past. Nationalism means different things to different people. One nation’s intolerant chauvinism is the flip side of other nations’ patriotic sense of difference and community. Media studies could offer explanations for why nations continue to grip people’s imagination and identities, particularly given other potential choices in a globalized world, and understand what interpretations of the nation are made available for public debate.

Media and the Origins of Nations

Benedict Anderson (1996) has remarked that neither nation nor nationalism occupied a central place in modern social thought. This gap is particularly significant considering that they roughly emerged at the same time and were similarly concerned with finding an answer to the problem of social order in the post-French Revolution era. Nationalists believed that culture, rather than economics or politics, keeps societies together. In response to the problems existing in a world turned upside down by political and socioeconomic revolutions, nationalism provided a cultural solution. It offered nations as the replacement to religion, a new cultural formation to give cohesion, and purpose to individuals and communities in an increasingly secular world. Nations provide a sense of unity and identity and establish differences among similarly culturally based groups. Nations simultaneously aggregate and separate people on the basis of cultural forms such as language, religion, history, and symbols.

How do people come to share the same national culture and identity? If nations are “culturally coordinated” communities, how does the process of cultural coordination happen?

Two basic answers have been given to these questions. One answer states that political centralization was historically crucial in the development of modern nations. Nations resulted from a top-down political process that turned cultural diversity, expressed in the existence of different languages, religions, and traditions, into cultural homogeneity. In this process, states played a key role in eliminating differences and imposing one culture. The second answer rejects the idea that centralization was a necessary precondition of nations and instead suggests that a variety of decentralized factors explains why nations emerged at a specific historical juncture. Nations and nationalism preceded, rather than followed, political centralization. In some cases, nations emerged even when states were absent (such as the cases of stateless nations); in other cases, states were unsuccessful in imposing a common culture to unify a myriad of nations living within its boundaries (see J. A. Hall, 1998).

Both positions assume that a network of social organizations is necessary for cultural coordination. Whether through state-sponsored institutions (schools, military service, national holidays) or private and civic associations, nations resulted from the dissemination of a set of practices, values, and rituals (Brubaker, 1996; Gillis, 1994; Liebes & Curran, 1998; Weber, 1976). The institutional necessity of nation making became more imperative as agricultural, rural societies gradually changed into industrial, large-scale societies during the 19th century. Traditional face-to-face communication was insufficient to coordinate the culture of large numbers of people. Nation building needed institutions to reach a vast population to foster feelings of common belonging. It was then when the mass media gained relevance as part of the institutional apparatus required to spread a common culture.

To understand their contribution to nation making, the media need to be understood as a set of institutions involved in the creation, maintenance, and transformation of cultural membership. National cultures are by-products of the process of social amalgamation and differentiation through which feelings of homogeneity and heterogeneity are developed and maintained. If nations are defined along a continuum of commonness and difference, how do the media contribute to create, solidify, perpetuate, and change feelings of belonging to a specific cultural community? If nation making implies establishing commonness and difference, how do the media establish cultural boundaries? To address these questions, it is useful to review arguments about the origins of nations.

Ernest Gellner’s (1983) pioneering work has become the focal point of debates about the origins of nations. For Gellner, nations and nationalism were part of “the great transformation” (Polanyi, 1957) that Western societies experienced in the transition from agrarian societies to industrial capitalism. The relation between European modern nations and previous forms of collective identification varies in different cases (Gellner & Smith, 1996). Although in some cases, premodern ethnic groups were precursors to nations (Armstrong, 1982; Smith, 1986), some nations were basically invented during the modern era. For Gellner, an elaborate state system was responsible for the spread of a “national” culture to incorporate people into a new socioeconomic order characterized by markets, incipient industrialization, division of labor, and social mobility. Nations were functional to early capitalist development. Capitalism and the creation of domestic markets for labor and goods required the formation of nations.

Gellner’s critics took issue with a number of points in his argument (see J. A. Hall, 1998). Some doubted that nationalism and industrialization shared the same time frame. Nationalism rose in societies that did not fit the classic model of capitalist transformations. Nor did nationalism emerge in all societies that experienced industrialization. In many cases, nation building followed (rather than preceded) industrialism and modernity. If this argument is persuasive, then conditions other than capitalist development were necessary for nations to emerge (Calhoun, 1997).

What was the role of the media in this process? Even though the majority of standard texts on nation and nationalism only paid superficial attention to the media, the origins of modern nations and the mass media were separated by a few decades (see Thompson, 1995). The simultaneous emergence of nations and mass media was not mere coincidence. The rise of mass newspapers in the first decades of the 19th century, particularly with the advent of the penny press in the United States and other cheap dailies in many European countries, is commonly seen as the birth of the mass media. At the same time, different forms of printed literature gained a growing readership in bourgeois circles. The formation of an urban, middle-class public sphere that consumed a variety of printed materials (books, feuilletons, literatura de cordel, and magazines) was central to the formation of nations (Eley, 1996). During most of the 19th century, low literacy and technological factors limited the reach of the print media and, consequently, their nation-building potential.

Rising levels of literacy, coupled with technological developments, changed the conditions. The rise of consumer societies had important consequences for nation making. Advertising and the revolution in print, photography, and design became key instruments in the creation of national consumer markets (Leiss, Kline, & Jhally, 1997; Marchand, 1985). At the turn of the century, the coming of film and radio technologies expanded the media resources for shaping national cultures. Film and radio helped to overcome spatial and literacy obstacles. Literacy was no longer a requirement to become a member of a nation; sounds and images could convey representations of nationhood. Nor was distance an impediment to the formation of national consciousness. Together with advances in transportation, the massification of film and radio brought together an increasing number of people who, without mass communications, “were stuck in highly particularized segments, quite unable to share a sense of destiny with people they had no chance of meeting” (Hall, 1993, p. 3). If nation-building projects entailed the synchronization of politics and culture, as Gellner (1983) argued, the media played a crucial role by bringing together disparate populations under the same cultural roof.

The media as nation builder is one of the main interests of Benedict Anderson’s (1983) influential work. He was not the first scholar interested in theorizing the role of the media in nation building. Karl Deutsch (1966) and Harold Innis (1972) also tried to understand the media-nation nexus, but neither one had the impact of Anderson’s work in recent scholarship. The media are at the center of his much-discussed idea of nations as “imagined communities.” For Anderson, print technologies had crucial importance in the formation of nations, specifically in the case of the formation of postcolonial nations in Latin America in the 1820s. He rejects primordialist arguments according to which “nations are natural, pre-given,” as nationalist ideologues would put it, and functionalist positions à la Gellner that suggest that the rise of nations corresponds to specific stages of capitalist development. Anderson’s position, however, differs from other constructivists for whom the Bildungsprozess primarily resulted from the interests of political and economic elites. Although some historians concluded that national consciousness served the advancement of capitalist interests (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), Anderson was more interested in understanding the ways in which nations were “imagined” rather than attributing the timing of socioeconomic processes to specific class interests.

These differences are expressed in their argument about the role of the media in the origins of nations. Essays in Hobsbawm and Ranger’s (1983) collection suggest that, together with official holidays and rituals, the media served bourgeois interests in bringing about cultural homogenization in the formation of national markets. Anderson (1983) did not question the presumed effectiveness of cultural institutions in creating new customs and identities, but he was more interested in showing that the consumption of print news introduced a novel opportunity for shared, “mediated” experiences among populations situated in distant locales. Print technologies were critical in the emergence of a common public culture, a fundamental condition in the shaping of modern nations. Newspapers were platforms for imagining nations by acting as meeting spaces for articulating national views and synchronizing time and space. Similar to the role of “national” novels (Bhabha, 1990; Carey-Webb, 1998; Larsen, 2001; Sommers, 1991), newspapers outlined the contours of the imagined nation and raised readers’ awareness of common interests.

Despite growing interest in this point in recent years, the literature still lacks conclusive answers about the extent of media contributions to nation making. There have been successful and failed cases but no systematic explanation to understand under what conditions the media cultivated a sense of national membership.

Consider the role of public broadcasting systems in nation building. A number of studies, particularly on several Western European cases, have convincingly demonstrated that public broadcasting was specifically designed to provide a common culture to a diverse and fragmented audience (Curran, 2002; Scannell, 1996; Tracey, 1998). Founders were convinced that nation making was one of the central missions of public broadcasting. Weekly programs reflected the expectation that broadcasting would be an effort at cultural engineering. Personal memoirs and recollections are filled with anecdotes about how public broadcasting originally gave ]audiences their first taste of nationhood. The historical links between nations and public broadcasting seem beyond doubt.

Putting the media in the service of nation building did not always result in cultural unification. Centralized monopoly broadcasting systems were part of larger institutional networks to instill national sentiments, but such experiments were not always successful. The replication of various European models of public broadcasting in Africa and Asia hardly resulted in cultural unification (Reeves, 1993). Centralized media efforts to nurture national feelings were not effective in persuading local populations to abandon their cultures and embrace official national identity. Why did the media apparently contribute to the formation of nations in some cases and not in other cases? We still lack parsimonious arguments to account for the role of the media among other institutions and processes in the making (and unmaking) of national cultures. It would be safe to assume that the media and cultural institutions spread and renew sentiments of national belonging, but we still do not know why the media arguably gave support and sustenance to nation making in some cases but not in others. We have mostly detailed analyses of “successful” media nationalization but lack studies of failed media efforts in nation building.

Media Globalization and the Crisis of “National Media”

The failure to consider the complex relations between media and national cultures is evident in current debates about nations and media globalization. The wave of post-cold war globalization has revitalized the sharp polemic about the consequences of international flows of information on cultural diversity in the world. The debate has been cast in familiar terms: Although critics have expressed anxiety about the cultural threats of globalization on nations, advocates brush aside such fears. To globalophobes, globalization signals the cultural “Americanization” of the world and the disappearance of cultural diversity. Major shifts in media industries caused by privatization and liberalization of media markets, coupled with the spread of information technologies, have weakened political and cultural borders. The vast majority of the world’s nations are virtually defenseless vis-à-vis the onslaught of Hollywood’s content. Commercial media and consumerist interests promote a globally mass-produced, standardized media culture that paves over national differences. Nations are suffocated under the constant pressure of the corporate peddlers of global culture. Because national audiences are subjected to the same media culture, they have few opportunities for representing their own cultural specificity. Under these conditions, the chances for local cultural creation are bleak.

Globalophiles dismiss such concerns and consider that recent economic and technological changes contribute to cultural diversity. A superficial look at the current media order may suggest that U.S. media have the upper hand, but a closer analysis suggests that globalization brings positive consequences. The prospects for cultural expression are brighter. New technologies help to eliminate old barriers. The expansion of global trade opens new opportunities for cultural industries around the world. In fact, Hollywood’s current status as all-powerful global cultural industry may be transitory. The maturation of media industries in several countries and audiences’ preference for domestic content suggest that Hollywood’s undisputed reign could be just a specific phase in the historical development of media industries (Hoskins, McFadyen, & Finn, 1997).

Despite their differences, neither critics nor defenders of media globalization offer a model that adequately captures the linkages between media and nation. Both positions offer a simple explanation to a complicated question: how cultures emerge, persist, and disappear (Elster, 2000). The relationship between media and national/cultural change is not adequately theorized. Globalophobes conclude that media dissemination and exposure lead to cultural change but fall short from offering an explanation for how culture works. There is no persuasive evidence that the media, regardless of other conditions, are able to induce and perpetuate long-term cultural transformations. If anything, available evidence seems to support the opposite: Exposure to global media actually intensifies sentiments of cultural difference. Audience studies have shown the limitations of inferring the impact of media globalization on national cultures from only examining media economics (Liebes & Katz, 1990). Rather than acting as “denationalizing” agents, global media offer opportunities for delineating boundaries, reaffirming identities, and combining cultures.

Globalophiles’ explanation of the relationship between media and cultural change is not more convincing. It assumes that a combination of media technologies and market policies fosters national/cultural diversity (Berger & Huntington, 2002; Cowen, 2002). Too enthusiastic about the promises of new technologies and free markets, they ignore persistent power inequalities in cultural production and consumption. Certainly, technological innovations provide new opportunities for myriad nations to represent themselves. Among other examples, solar and windup radio, satellite communications, and cheaper video equipment provide, particularly to people with no access to electricity and traditional television, new chances for cultural production. These developments have limited reach and do not change political-economic structures responsible for inequalities in media production.

The debate on the impact of globalization on national cultures has reached an impasse largely because neither of the dominant positions seriously considers how nations are formed, maintained, and changed. Each position tends to cull examples that conveniently make its case, finding evidence that “the global media substantially change nations” and that “the global media fail to eliminate national diversity.” For every sign of cultural influence by Western media, there are also examples of national cultures resisting or being untouched by globalization. As long as it is framed as an issue of “effects” of global media on nations, the debate will continue a predictable course.

Therefore, a different set of questions needs to be asked to understand the linkages between media globalization and national cultures: How do the media intervene in the twin movements of inclusion and exclusion that underlie nation making? What is the role of the media among other institutions and processes responsible for shaping, maintaining, and undermining national cultures? What interpretations of “the nation” are disseminated? How should they be explained?

The Crisis of the “National” Media

To delve into these questions, one must examine the situation of the “national” media, an idea that articulated the mission of media industries worldwide during much of the 20th century.

The idea of “national media” needs to be revised (see Hjort & MacKenzie, 2000). Its ideological ambiguity has made it difficult to set apart whether national alludes to the right of cultural self-expression and democracy or the political ambitions of cultural commissars to impose a specific culture at the expense of pluralism. It has been used to achieve democratic and authoritarian goals. Its remarkable ideological flexibility is not surprising, considering that nationalism itself has been a maddeningly elastic concept, able to appropriate and be appropriated by a wide spectrum of political forces and ideologies. It is informed by essentialist and centralist conceptions of the nation that view “internal” cultural diversity as an obstacle to cultural unification and “external” cultures as a threat. The notion of “national media” belongs to a time when the principle of “cultural sovereignty” was upheld as a desirable and feasible goal of cultural policies, including the media, to impose cultural unification and cordon off an autonomous cultural space, free from foreign influences (Waisbord, 1995).

Beside its problematic ideological connotations, the idea of national media also needs to be reconsidered because the conditions of media industries have substantially changed since it was originally conceived. Three developments are responsible for severing the link between national and media and ultimately making national media projects unattainable.

First, the globalization of the media business—namely, the combination of technological innovations and the application of neoliberal policies—has shattered nationalistic hopes of establishing and monitoring cultural sovereignty (see Price, 2002). Although countries still have policies putting limits on foreign participation in domestic industries (investments, programming quotas), the intensification of cross-border capital flows and media trade has undermined traditional notions of “national ownership.” It has become clear that the “national” origin of ownership and financing does not have a direct, predictable relationship with the “national” citizenship of cultural productions. Today, a Japanese corporation owns major Hollywood production studios, French banks cofinance Hollywood films, Hindi Americans bankroll Bollywood productions, and Mexican citizens control substantial media interests in Central America. But whose nationhood is represented by media output? Media products hardly represent anything that distinctively reflects the national origin of owners and funders.

Nor does it seem that a substantial amount of media product articulates the national sentiments of cultural workers. The presence of a globalized labor force in management and creative roles in media industries heightens the persistent difficulty of inferring the cultural/national affiliation of media productions from the citizen status of media personnel. There is no longer, if there ever was, a direct relationship between the citizenship of cultural workers and the national identity of media content. Defining the cultural citizenship of certain media content has become increasingly difficult when a multinational workforce produces, for example, a vast array of Hollywood movies and European coproductions, recordings of rai music in Paris studios or pan-American salsa in New York and Miami, and news in CNN and BBC newsrooms. The national identity of content is hard to pin down and cannot be predicted from the citizenship of cultural workers or the location of production.

Second, such forms of collaboration, coupled with a constant cross-pollination of ideas, have increased the blending of narrative styles, themes, and genres across borders. Two seemingly opposite forces, hybridization and standardization, are the norm in contemporary cultural production. This makes it difficult to attribute national citizenship to media content. Global television programming fits a limited number of genres and formulas. The business of television formats has substantially increased in the past decade, but whether formats are the ultimate example of standardization, actual productions reflect the preferences of national audiences and local contexts (Waisbord, 2001). The 3-minute pop song has been used and modified in thousands of recordings worldwide. Hong Kong, French, Indian, and Argentine filmmakers have added local color and twists to Hollywood’s trademark action movies and thrillers. Some music is still indelibly associated with specific nations (Dominican bachata, Cuban son, Argentine tango), but a huge variety of sounds (Afro pop, Nordic jazz, Mexican rock, Swedish pop-rock, or Brazilian hip-hop) attest to the intensification of musical borrowing across nations (see Born & Hesmondhalgh, 2000).

Attaching national labels to media content is fraught with problems given the multileveled dynamics of contemporary media and cultural production. If the idea of national media is preserved, it better describes the media environment and resources of nations to articulate feelings of cultural belonging, rather than a certain media structure and companies whose products express something culturally unique to specific groups of population. It is a question of media capacity (institutions, technologies, policies, funding, and human resources) to nurture and perpetuate cultural identities and outline boundaries between in-groups and out-groups rather than their crystallization of cultural sovereignty.

Nations and Media Industries

Media production capacity and access are unequally distributed across nations. Broad-brush, optimistic, or pessimistic conclusions about this situation fail to capture the nuances of the current state of global media industries and, consequently, the different opportunities for nation making. Neither the doom-and-gloom picture of Western/American cultural domination nor the upbeat techno-market vision accurately describes the situation (Sinclair offers a useful criticism of these positions in Chapter 3, this volume).

Most film industries around the world currently experience severe difficulties (Moran, 1996; Williams, 2002). The notion of “national” cinema that animated the establishment of film industries in many countries is questionable. It is rooted in a time when film and other media were primarily conceived as nation builders, mainly in opposition to Hollywood’s early domination of world screens. The liberalization of film markets, Hollywood’s uncontested box office power, and the dismantling of protectionist policies have weakened national industries. In past years, even nations that historically had a vibrant film industry have confronted a host of problems to produce a modest number of films that compete with Hollywood for screens and audiences, nationally and internationally. Although many of the difficulties that film industries have experienced are not new, globalization has intensified perennial problems, particularly in distribution and marketing (Miller, Govil, McMurria, & Maxwell, 2002). Notwithstanding the sporadic success of a few non-Hollywood films in international markets, the situation is largely unfavorable for other industries. Moreover, considerations for coproduction and international distribution run contrary to the idea of “national” film, as producers tone down local/national themes and have an eye for content that “travels well” in international markets to attract sponsors, distributors, and audiences.

In contrast, the situation in the global television industry offers important differences. Lower fixed costs and different market conditions account for why many countries produce a substantial number of television hours but have weak (or simply lack) film industries. Television production in large- and medium-sized markets is considerable and generally commands local audience preferences (Sinclair, Jacka, & Cunnigham, 1996). With a few exceptions, domestic production is filled with low-cost productions such as game shows, talk shows, comedy, “reality” shows, and variety shows. In most countries, the production of drama, documentaries, and other more expensive programming is rare. Still, the intense traffic of television productions that originated in dozens of nations does not resemble Hollywood’s undisputed supremacy of film screens and VHS and DVD rentals. Measured in number of hours and revenues, Hollywood continues to lead world production and exports, but given favorable market conditions, a substantial number of countries are still able to produce sufficient television hours to fill weekly schedules and attract domestic audiences.

Compared to film and television, the current state of the global music industry is different. Many sectors of the industry (production, distribution, retail, intellectual property rights) are more concentrated than in the past. The “Big 5” conglomerates currently capture nearly 90% of global sales. As in the film industry, globalization largely benefits big companies by expanding economies of scale, mainly in distribution and marketing (Frith, 2000; Negus, 1999). Business concentration, however, is not synonymous with the production of homogeneous content at the expense of national diversity. The global success of “American” music genres (pop, hip-hop, rock) is often mistakenly associated with the dearth of domestic music. Some analysts have noticed that product diversity has actually increased, rather than decreased, in recent years (Burnett, 1996). Faced with a substantial drop in global sales, coupled with short-lived profits from hits and genres, companies increased the number of releases to capture more fragmented and seemingly more fickle consumers. Produced and distributed by subsidiaries of global firms, local hits typically top charts and airwaves in most countries, particularly in wealthier, large markets.

The conditions in radio industries across the planet are quite different again from the situation in the industries described heretofore. With a few exceptions, radio remains essentially a local medium with a limited amount of foreign content (mostly music). The nation-building role that radio had in many countries (Hayes, 2000) has remained relatively unchanged. News and talk shows, two of radio’s staple genres, are still important spaces for local/national voices. This is particularly evident in poor, rural areas where radio continues to be the primary source of news and information, given cost and lack of access to other technologies.

This brief summary suggests that opportunities for nation building largely vary because access to media production and consumption is different. Technology costs and the specific characteristics of each media industry provide different opportunities for media production. Low “barriers to entry” make access to radio easier than to any other medium or industry. Rapidly decreasing costs of technology have, in principle, facilitated access to print production. Likewise, cheaper equipment has eased access to music and film, video, and television production.

The economics of print and audiovisual industries, however, work against the prospects of significantly leveling the field. Media globalization has exacerbated the historical problems of small and poor nations in acquiring substantial media resources. New technologies have offered novel and still untapped opportunities but not to the point of correcting disparities in media access. Because the current hegemony of market policies favors business priorities, nations situated in markets that offer propitious conditions for capitalist interests (audience size, extensive advertising revenues, favorable media policies) have better chances to produce content. Nations in large and/or wealthier markets have more media resources at their disposal. Media consumption depends on literacy and technology costs. Literacy requirements make it harder for print media to be a primary site for nation building in nations with high illiteracy. No medium matches the accessibility and penetration of radio. Still, the massive increase in the number of television sets in the past decades around the world, coupled with the coming of several technologies for video distribution (cable, satellite, VHS), have consolidated the significance of television as a nation-building technology.

Differences in the availability of media resources do not imply that nations with poor access to media and/or weak media industries are condemned to cultural extinction. Cultural production entails much more than whether a nation has ample or limited media resources, as Gumucio-Dagron makes clear in Chapter 2 (this volume). Those differences are important to recognize, however, to understand the current prospects of media and national cultures in a globalized world. This is the subject of the next section.

The Persistence of the National

Much of the recent discussion on nations and nationalism has dealt with the question of whether “the national” is waning or continues to be relevant. Although some observers argue that “the nation” is on its last legs, others consider it premature to discount its relevance. Several authors claim that nations and nationalism have entered an irreversible decline due to the passing of the conditions that originally made it possible (Greenfeld, 1992; Hobsbawm, 1990). If modernity was the cradle of nations, the end of modernity brings about the passing of the nation. The intensification of the movements of capital disrupts nations and the sense of home community (Harvey, 2000). For many, the death of the nation is not only an analytical conclusion but also a longing based on judging the past and present of the nation and nationalism, which are charged for having inspired some of the worst crimes against humanity of the past two centuries.

Against this position, other studies suggest that the nation maintains political and cultural relevance (Schlesinger, 1991). “The national” remains a primary form through which cultural identity and difference are maintained in the contemporary world. Nations have a future as long as human groups require a basis to establish unity and difference from others, and group identity is based on inclusion and exclusion (S. Hall, 1996). The consolidation of transnational cultures and identities, rather than eliminating individual and social identities, adds new layers to them. As John Hall (1993) writes, “All of us are composed of multiple social identities” (p. 152). There has been an increasing recognition that “concentric circles of belonging and identity” define cultural identities (Morley & Robins, 1995; Smith, 1990).

To have feelings of belonging to a national community does not exclude simultaneous feelings of belonging to local or supranational formations. Whether we call these feelings “patriotism” or “nationalism,” it is doubtful that they are likely to vanish anytime soon or become less important as an identity-conferring basis. Patriotism, often associated with “good” love and pride for one’s country, and nationalism, often associated with “bad” chauvinism rooted in prejudice, racism, and hate (see Calhoun, 1997), remain strong feelings that, for better or worse, ground social and cultural identities. Positive or pejorative connotations aside, patriotism and nationalism do not show signs of having receded as powerful identifiers of cultural belonging.

The persistence of nations and nationalism hinges on several factors. One factor is that globalization has not offered group identities that supersede national identities (Smith, 1990; Stevenson, 1997). It has not nurtured other cultural groupings that, like nations, are stirred by ideologies such as nationalism, a political project to attain self-determination (Hechter, 2000). Global communities of sport and music fans, fashion and art aficionados, academics, and religious believers are devoid of movements that appeal to historical and cultural bonds to achieve political recognition. They are integrated by people with similar cultural interests, but without a political movement claiming cultural distinctiveness and political rights, they are poor competitors to nations. They are “imagined” communities, but of a different nature compared to nations: They neither articulate political demands nor expect exclusive loyalty from their members.

Why would people abandon national identities and embrace other forms of identification? What alternatives exist to nations? What political and media discourses offer plausible substitutes to nations? Regional identities, sustained by media institutions, are unlikely candidates to replace national identities, as Philip Schlesinger (1991) has persuasively argued in the European case. As a form of transnational culture, religions have historically maintained a complex and tense relation of coexistence with nations (Hastings, 1997; Piscatori, 1986). National identities have not been the secular replacement to religions as the basis for cultural identification in the modern world. Religious beliefs have typically articulated and been integrated into official conceptions of the nation.

Consider cosmopolitanism as a possible alternative to national identities. Much has been written recently on the tentative emergence of a “cosmopolitan civil society” (Beck, 2000; Hannerz, 1990; Rotblat, 1997). The affirmation of a global consciousness implies the expansion of sentiments of belonging to a community that appeals to individuals as “citizens of the world.” Cosmopolitanism insists on the need to go beyond the lottery of birth that underlies national identities, so as to strengthen a universalist, humanitarian consciousness. It requires a simultaneous movement of transcending the cultural and political limits of nations and nurturing solidarity and commitment to universal values. Although national cultures divide, a cosmopolitan consciousness integrates by emphasizing commonality over difference.

Two developments have recently reinvigorated cosmopolitan hopes. First, genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda and crimes against ethnic groups in China, India, and Iraq, among other societies, have confirmed the conviction that nationalism unavoidably leads to massive violations of human rights and reinforces hatred and violence (Ignatieff, 2000; Nairn, 1997). Second, the consolidation of cross-national forms of participation around a host of global issues (human rights, environment, labor conditions, sexual and gender issues) has injected new energy into postnational and global solidarity movements (Held, 1995; Keck & Sikkink, 1998; Szerszynski & Toogood, 2000).

The challenge is the following: If nations have been invented (Chaney, 1994; Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), can cosmopolitanism also be invented? If national attachments are abstract but powerful identifiers, why can’t cosmopolitan identity be possible too? If the media contributed to cementing national cultures, why can’t they be placed at the service of cosmopolitanism?

Recent media and technological developments have given more credence to such expectations. Together with developments in transportation, the media have emerged as a potential aid to cosmopolitanism by eliminating distance. The media offer a new global public sphere in which a cosmopolitan culture could be nurtured (J. Cohen, 1996; Hannerz, 1990; Nussbaum, 1996; Szerszynski, Urry, & Myers, 2000; Urry, 2002). In putting audiences in contact with other nations, global media are able to chip away at self-enclosed media cultures and open up new political possibilities.

Despite invigorated hopes, the case of cosmopolitan identity as a candidate to replace or supplement national identities seems dubious. Some authors have indicated that, in contrast to nationalism, cosmopolitanism lacks emotional grip (Calhoun, 1997). It is devoid of common symbols and a shared history on which cultural cohesion could be possible. As an example of global culture, it lacks, as Anthony Smith (1986) puts it, a “vital ingrained sense of historical experience, a sense of temporal continuity and shared memories” (p. 5). Others have observed that, in contrast to national citizenship, cosmopolitanism does not offer social and political entitlements. Citizenship rights continue to be rooted in specific states (Habermas, 1992). Rather than mutually exclusive, cosmopolitanism and national identities seem and need to be reconciled (McCarthy, 1999).

A cosmopolitan culture seems doubtful because the interaction between media and global publics does not seem to meet expectations about the activation of cross-border solidarity. World news organizations, for example, are hardly the catalysts of a cosmopolitan consciousness. The so-called “CNN effect”—television audiences familiar with world news who push for interventions in humanitarian crises—has yet to materialize. Despite expectations that they would contribute to broadening cultural horizons and fostering transnational communities, audiences are typically indifferent to the plight of others portrayed in world news (Tester, 2001), particularly when news reports suffering among populations believed to be geographically and culturally distant. Rather than bringing audiences together, the media increase a sense of distancing from (Boltanski, 1999) and denial of (S. Cohen, 2000) fellow world citizens.

The shortcomings of international news coverage probably offer a partial explanation for why the media fail to meet cosmopolitan expectations. News media tend to offer poor, sporadic, formulaic, and distorted visions of world news and humanitarian issues (Moeller, 1999). Media organizations typically resort to cultural narratives and stories that resonate with home audiences rather than seeking to understand developments and contexts better. However, it does not seem to be mainly a question of the limitations of news frames and journalistic practices: Unlike nations, cosmopolitanism lacks allied media organizations willing to become vehicles for transnational or postnational cultures. Perhaps expectations about the role of the global media in nurturing cosmopolitan sentiments are misplaced. With the exception of global media networks of activists, media institutions largely remain uninterested in aiding cosmopolitan causes and instead are better designed and willing to sustain national identities.

Media and the Persistent Pull of the National

Although global media have yet to fulfill their potential in promoting cosmopolitan identities, media continue to make important contributions to supporting national cultures. The media-nation linkages need to be examined in the realm of everyday life rather than, as media studies have often done, on occasional moments when nations are ostensibly celebrated. The power of the media lies in making national feelings normal on an everyday basis. In providing the backdrop for daily life and fodder for routine conversation, the media help to perpetuate “banal nationalism” (Billig, 1995), that is, the defining context of everyday discourse and interaction. The contributions are threefold: making national cultures routinely available, offering opportunities for collective experiences, and institutionalizing national cultures.

First, the media nurture national sentiments by regularly making available cultural forms identified with the nation. National cultures require members to perceive that they share a “structure of feeling” (in Raymond Williams’s [1977] sense). The media are one institution that provides an enabling environment to articulate a sense of proximity and coordination in national communities. Although the media are insufficient per se to generate cultural identities, the significance of media representations for nation making cannot be underestimated. The relevance of the media lies more in their having a great capacity to offer representations and interpretations of the nation on a daily basis. This is why the extent to which nations have media resources available is important.

Media languages remain one of the central elements that continue to articulate and reinforce a sense of cultural membership (Cormack, 2000). The media are largely responsible for the acceptance of specific languages, accents, and expressions as legitimate components of a national culture. The media also reinforce national belonging by constantly making reference to places, symbols, and memories that anchor national cultures and identities. If nationalism is a discursive formation (see Calhoun, 1997), then media discourses and representations of the nation need to be considered. In devoting attention to historical events, selecting news frames, or producing content to represent national sentiments, the media shape the cultural repertoire used to define nationhood. Although alternative discourses may contest media representations of the nation, the significance of the media in prioritizing and ignoring certain themes and interpretations cannot be minimized.

Journalism’s choices of narrative frameworks and subjects to talk about the nation, for example, are worth considering to understand how nationhood is defined. Journalism regularly resorts to a stock of nationalistic discourses to report news (see Waisbord, 2002). It plays an important role in submitting different versions of the nation for public consideration, giving space to “ethnic” narratives that convey racist and hostile views, or stressing “civic” interpretations that emphasize tolerance, solidarity, and compassion as national values. The press and the media at large do make a great contribution to understanding patriotism as either the perpetrator of intolerance or as defined by a common commitment to democracy.

Second, the media continue to provide opportunities for shared media experiences that are central to nation making. If nations require collective experiences and shared memories, the media offer a suitable environment and resources to nurture national identities. “Media events” (Dayan & Katz, 1992) are examples of those experiences, moments when the daily lives of entire nations come to a full stop to watch or listen to the same event. In shaping a sense of time-space commonality, they coordinate the life of a nation. Millions watching presidential inaugurations, wars, the death of public figures, and other solemn occasions that put the nation on a center stage show cultural coordination at work.

The fragmentation of media audiences may be undermining the nation-building capacity that media events had in the past. They are still gripping collective acts of national communion, but the multiplication of channels makes it less likely that an “entire nation” will attend media events as in the past. When most audiences had a choice of one or two channels, and governments mandated all stations to broadcast simultaneously, media events could pull a nation together. Today, audiences are scattered across several media and channels. Those media events are sporadic, however. If they become ingrained in national memories, it is not only because they convey powerful emotions and are attached to national rites of passage but also because they are rare. In contrast, there are other media events that sustain collective practices and stir national feelings on a regular basis. Media frenzy around national and international sports tournaments, as well as “national” celebrations (Carnival, saint’s day festivities, military and civic parades on national holidays), are occasions for renewing nationalistic feelings. Likewise, nonstop news coverage of topics that absorb public attention also provides moments for pulling a nation to a common center. Media fragmentation and audience segmentation almost vanish when the media devote endless time and space to political scandals, celebrity murders, terrorist acts, and other news. The media may not be the central agora that they used to be when technological options were limited, but they still manage to reel in dispersed audiences and shape common collective experiences.

Third, the media contribute to the sustainability of nations by institutionalizing “national cultures.” Institutional retention is fundamental for cultural continuity (Schudson, 1989). Nations appeal to a sense of stored memories passed from generation to generation. They are based on the idea of a historical continuity between past and present. To accomplish this, nations need institutions that permanently remind members of their commonality. Like educational systems, official calendars, and state rituals, the media store cultural elements that come to define nationhood. Certainly, institutional retention does not guarantee that a cultural element will remain intact or always be identified with the nation. Debates over the pantheon of heroes, historical events, symbols, and language show that national cultures are not “built” once and forever but are subject to change.

What postnational cultures and identities are missing is this institutional retention. Cosmopolitanism lacks institutionalization, as John Tomlinson (1999) argues, partially because global media do a poor job enforcing and maintaining cross-national identities. Global media allow audiences to retrieve common cultures and collectively experience common moments. They are not designed, however, to preserve common symbols and memories to sustain postnational sentiments. What symbols of cosmopolitan identities are constantly flagged by the media? How do global media regularly remind citizens of transnational belonging?

Having access to and participating in common experiences may be important in nurturing awareness of a supranational community. Allegiance requires more than retrievability and collective participation, however. It requires a set of institutions that routinely sustain and remind people about cultural allegiances. Undoubtedly, globalization penetrates and affects the daily lives of billions of people, but without institutions that constantly appeal to global identities, it is unlikely that the latter are permanently shaped. “National” media, in contrast, are still able to coordinate and articulate identities by drawing from a historical reservoir that has resulted from sedimented cultural labor.

In summary, because the media are an essential part of the infrastructure and resources required in the process of cultural formation in large-scale societies (Calhoun, 1997), the fact that media organizations are still attached to nations suggests that, despite the crisis of “national” media, the media still nurture the national.

The Futures of Media Patriotism

Developments “internal” and “external” to the nation have changed the environment that originally gave birth to ideas and policies about media and nation building. “From outside” the nation, globalization presents challenges to the traditional role of the media in nation building through dismantling barriers to cross-border flows of capital and information. The crisis of the “national” media, coupled with constant media spillovers and trade across political boundaries, has rendered it difficult, if not impossible, for nations to erect and patrol media borders to achieve cultural sovereignty. The sputtering emergence of a cosmopolitan consciousness and the burgeoning of nomadic identities (Joseph, 1999) add new dimensions to cultural belonging that are not captured by conventional definitions of national cultures and loyalties. “From inside” the nation, multiculturalism and hybridization have challenged nostalgic visions of nationalism (Poole, 1999; Rex, 1996). Intense migration movements have undermined national visions of “one race, one language, one culture” that shaped modern national identities. The global multiplication of “portable nationalities” (Anderson, 1996) and continuous flows of diasporic media (Sun, 2002) have undermined nation-states’ projects that aimed to achieve a perfect alignment of politics and culture. In making cultural identities multi-layered and contradictory, hybridization disputes reified conceptions of the nation.

Neither globalization nor multiculturalism has delivered a deadly blow to national cultures. The fact that the modern conception of the nation is questionable, both ideologically and practically, cannot lead us to infer the demise of actual nations. Several reasons account for why nations refuse to be left behind (McCrone, 1998; Miller, 1995). One of them is that nations are still equipped with a number of institutions that support and energize national sentiments. The media are one of those institutions that contribute to maintaining feelings of national membership.

Media patriotism adopts “chauvinistic” and “everyday” forms. Chauvinistic media patriotism propagates war-mongering, xenophobic discourses. The media fan the flames of nationalism in wars and other saber-rattling situations, debates over labor migration and economic issues, and the coverage of “moral panics” affecting the nation. The media contribute to heightening anxiety about “the foreign.” Media alert us to “foreign” risks to the nation (from viruses and epidemics to the “Barbarians at the Gates” coverage of migrants and guest workers, from “blood-sucking” foreign investors to cultural invaders) and their demonization of “others” (Hallam & Street, 2000) considered ill-fitted to belong to the nation: All are examples of chauvinistic media patriotism.

More often, however, media patriotism has a quieter, “everyday” existence by bringing together members of the nation around language, symbols, and common experiences. The media still manage to nurture a sense of home, collectivity, and community linked to nationhood (Morley, 2000). The force of this kind of media patriotism lies in its apparent naturalness, in invisibly articulating feelings of national belonging. Although both forms of media patriotism delineate cultural boundaries, there is one important difference: Although chauvinistic patriotism at intervals noisily beats the national drum, everyday patriotism constantly and silently perpetuates national sentiments. Although much has been studied concerning the former, further research is needed to understand how everyday media representations of the nation are interwoven with the daily reproduction and transformation of national cultures and identities.

What remains unanswered is not whether “the nation” has a future but, rather, what kind of future (Beiner, 1999). Even critics of the nation accept that nations are likely to remain for quite some time (Poole, 1999). Media studies can provide valuable insights to elucidate whether nationhood is inevitably associated with horrible crimes and the politics of racial and ethnic marginalization, as cosmopolitans believe (Nussbaum, 1996; Robbins, 1999), or instead with a sense of place, pride, and community through which democratic life is possible, as progressive patriots insist (Barber, 1996; Rorty, 1998). Whether nationalism takes an ethnic or civic expression is ultimately an empirical question that needs to be studied. In this sense, the media can equally act as a source of exclusion and murder in the name of the nation or as an ally of civic patriotism. Both possibilities are similarly viable, particularly in societies where patriotism is a contested, contradictory notion used to justify aggression and compassion, war and democracy.

There is nothing inherent in the functioning of media institutions to presuppose that, like patriotism, the media necessarily connect citizens through fostering sentiments of national superiority or nurturing a sense of home, solidarity, and moral obligation to compatriots and others. Like nations, the media still provide a cultural sense of “something to hold onto” in a world of shifting boundaries, growing uncertainty, and risk. The media can do much to define whether patriotic fears or a commitment to social justice articulate citizenship and a sense of cultural belonging.