Local Culture in Global Media: Excavating Colonial and Material Discourses in National Geographic

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Abstract

This case study of National Geographic's August 1999 “millennium” issue interrogates the representational politics of the magazine's narratives on globalization. The essay's textual analysis, which is based in the insights of semiotic, feminist, and Marxist critiques of consumer culture, accounts for multiple media texts and historical contexts that filter the magazine's imagery. Drawing from postcolonial theories of gender, Orientalism, and nationalism, the analysis explores the disturbing ambivalence that permeates the Geographic's stories on global culture. Critiquing discourses of gender, the author shows that the magazine's interpretation of global culture is suffused with representations of femininity, masculinity, and race that subtly echo the Othering modalities of Euroamerican colonial discourses. This article undermines the Geographic's articulation of global culture, which addresses Asians only as modern consumers of global commodities, by questioning the invisibility of colonial history, labor, and global production in its narrative. The conclusion argues that the insights of postcolonial theories enable critics of globalization to challenge the subtle hegemony of modern neocolonial discursive regimes.

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