The Ties that Still Bind: Media and National Cultures in Latin America

Silvio R. Waisbord (Rutgers University)

Abstract: This paper explores the interaction of the global and the national, beginning with an analysis of the decrease in attention to the impact of global media on Latin American cultures in contemporary political and academic debates. It attributes this decrease to the convergence of three developments: the failure of past experiences with state ownership and control of mass media, optimism about the state of audiovisual industries and cultures, and the rise of a new intellectual sensibility that considers national cultures antithetical to cultural diversity. It then contrasts this view of the national with the resilience of the nation-state and national cultures. In this dual context, it considers national audiovisual policies as instruments to foster political pluralism and cultural diversity.

Résumé: Cet article explore l'interaction entre le global et le national, en commençant par l'analyse d'un déclin d'attention portée dans les débats politiques et académiques contemporains sur comment les médias globaux influencent les cultures latino-américaines. L'article attribue ce déclin à la convergence de trois développements : les échecs subis par l'état dans son rôle de propriétaire et gestionnaire des médias, un sentiment d'optimisme à l'égard des industries et des cultures audiovisuelles, et la montée d'une nouvelle sensibilité intellectuelle qui considère les cultures nationales comme étant antithétiques à la diversité culturelle. L'article met ensuite en contraste cette perspective du national avec la persistance de l'état-nation et de cultures nationales. Dans ce contexte double, il considère les politiques nationales sur l'audiovisuel comme instruments pour encourager le pluralisme politique et la diversité culturelle.

In the 1970s, Latin America was at the forefront of debates about the challenges that global flows of communication pose to national cultures. The then-dominant paradigm in media studies produced some of the most often cited works in the tradition of "cultural imperialism." Intellectuals were key voices in the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) round tables that informed the proposals for national communication policies. Governments passed legislation to regulate or eliminate commercialism, to expropriate privately owned media, to subsidize local production, and to restrict the import of Western products. The underlying rationale was that the future of national cultures was at stake and that only state intervention could avoid the cultural colonization of Latin American societies (see Cornejo Polar, 1989).

These days, however, media globalization does not awaken similar fears. The presence of global flows of information neither fuels anxieties about the future of national cultures and identities nor stimulates calls for immediate action. Present-day governments have fully embraced the politics of media privatization, left the control of media industries to market considerations and decisions, and shrugged off old regulatory policies (Waisbord, 1998). Existing protectionist measures are rarely monitored or enforced. Unlike earlier times, there are no strong regional initiatives to support audiovisual industries and encourage programming exchanges. Neither NAFTA nor MERCOSUR, the trade agreements implemented in the region in the 1990s, have been greatly concerned with media and cultural issues. Nor have they markedly affected the ongoing process of media regionalization. NAFTA basically allowed limited foreign participation in cable television in Mexico, eliminated restrictions on media ownership on the U.S.-Mexico border, and made provisions about copyright enforcement (Mahan, 1995; McAnany & Wilkinson, 1996). MERCOSUR, the agreement of economic integration between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, paid only passing attention to media matters and excluded media industries from liberalization. Although it establishes regulations about advertising and contains some provisions for cultural exchanges dealing with "the arts," these issues have not been at the centre of the discussions. It has yet to deal with controversial issues that directly affect the regional expansion of media companies (regulations, intellectual property rights) and the relations between public and private interests in cultural trade (Alvarez, 1994; Galperin, 1997). In summary, neither treaty has substantially changed the transnationalization of audiovisual markets in the region which follows the course already charted by foreign and domestic companies. Moreover, the inability and /or unwillingness of negotiating parties to place media matters in a more central position is remarkable. The quietness of trade agreements on such questions is in striking contrast with the ongoing hubbub in the media industries. The feverish rush of Latin America- and U.S.-based companies to cable and satellite television coupled with regulatory transformations (privatization, liberalization of media markets to telecommunication companies) and technological convergence are rapidly changing the media landscape in the region.

In a continent historically worried about unbalanced international flows of information, why have fears and anxieties about the cultural impact of global media ebbed? Why do proposals for state stewardship of cultural industries and the protection of national identity no longer grip the imagination and dominate the political agenda? Are they still necessary? This paper sets out to tackle these questions. The first section aims to explain why concerns about the impact of global media on Latin American cultures are less present in contemporary political and academic debates than in the past. Briefly, this shift is the consequence of the convergence of three developments: the failure of past experiences with state ownership and control of mass media, the optimism about the state of audiovisual industries (and cultures) in light of the dominant presence of a handful of regional media companies, and the rise of a new intellectual sensibility that considers national cultures antithetical to cultural diversity and on the verge of extinction in postnational, postmodern times. There is no question that these insights have positively contributed to studies of media and cultures in Latin America by expanding the analytical boundaries and questioning assumptions about how culture works. The danger is to take the prowess of a few audiovisual conglomerates as an unequivocal sign of cultural pluralism or to assume that the vitality of postnational identities indicates the inexorable eclipse of national cultures. The second section examines the political resilience of the nation-state and the continuous hold of national cultures and suggests that these issues cannot be evaded or merely discounted as leftovers of modernity. In turn, the persistence of "the national question" begs the question of how to rethink audiovisual policies, not as measures to protect "cultures in danger" (as cultural imperialism critics would have it) or to strengthen domestic champions vis-à-vis foreign companies, but as instruments to foster political pluralism and cultural diversity. This question is explored in the final section.

What happened to old fears?

The ebbing of concerns about global media flows is partially a reflection of the history of the cultural industries in Latin America. In many ways, media globalization is old news. Even before privatization and deregulation became policies du jour, Latin Americans had to reckon with the globalization of media industries and content from the beginning. The dominant commercial structure of broadcasting and open-door policies in other industries offered a favourable environment for an early southward expansion of U.S. media companies. The conception that broadcasting media should have a fundamental role in nation-making and thus should be controlled by state or public bodies never attained a central presence in media policies. Commercial principles, instead, remained the backbone of media operations. This applies even to the periods when governments tried to harness the ascendancy of U.S. and local private interests and strengthen domestic content by keeping media ownership under state control or taking over privately owned media. Those policies were linked with the high tide of nationalistic and anti-imperialist movements in the postwar decades, movements virtually wiped out by the shelving of national-populist and insurrectionary movements. The experiments in state-controlled broadcasting of the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, failed to curb the traffic of foreign content and capital and to set new grounds for the organization of media systems (Waisbord, 1995). Moreover, the difficulty in separating the authoritarian character and goals of the administrations that carried out protectionist policies still haunts the debate of state and national identity. These experiments are still powerful references for any debate to discuss the implementation of public policy to regulate media globalization or to protect local media industries. Their shortcomings and failures have turned public intervention into something to be avoided, equivalent with government-owned media that dutifully follow official lines, provide spoils for political cronies, and exclude cultural pluralism and dissent.

The present state of Latin American television has also dampened early fears about the erosion of national cultures in a globalized era. Back in the 1960s and 1970s when dependency theorists viewed television as a pipeline for foreign lifestyles, U.S. programs largely outnumbered local shows across the region. In more recent decades, however, this pattern has shifted. Several studies have indicated that domestic production has been steadily growing and, in most countries, dominates prime-time schedules (Marques de Melo, 1995; Straubhaar, 1991). Local and regional shows regularly command popular preferences. Latin America is not different from what has been observed elsewhere: build local programming and audiences will come and choose domestic /regional over Hollywood productions. Similarly, local and regional music, movies, magazines, and books often top popular preferences. Radio continues to be essentially a local medium and the main source of information for large segments of the population, especially in rural areas. Mexican researcher Enrique Sanchez Ruiz (1994) writes, "local telenovelas, comedy shows, and feature films usually have the highest ratings, and in those countries with low domestic productions, programs from other Latin American countries are the favourites" (p. 75).

These developments have informed optimistic conclusions about the current state of cultural industries. Brazilian scholar Jose Marques de Melo (1995) observes,

[Television places our cultural identities in an important place] on the global stage, and inspires confidence in our national population, inducing [Brazilians] to discover themselves as diverse and powerful, capable of forging their own roads for development of their society, mixing traditional and modern elements, reason and passion, preservation and pride. (p. 327)

In a similar tone, Neil Larsen (1995) points out that "the establishment ... of local film, television and music industries proves, if nothing else, how far Latin America has come from [Cuban writer Jose] Marti's nightmare vision of a complete and abject cultural dependency" (p. 122).

Two caveats are in order, however. First, generalizations about "the growth of television productions" run the risk of ignoring the three-tiered structure of contemporary Latin American television (Roncagliolo, 1995). Companies can be classified as major producers and regional and global exporters of televisual productions located in the largest countries (Brazil and Mexico), minor producers and exporters based in medium-sized countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela), and small companies in small countries (Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and in Central America) that produce little programming and basically feed on regional and U.S. programming. The growth of television production has not happened evenly across the region but originally in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela and, lately, in the second tier. It is in these countries where the proportion of national programming is higher than U.S. shows which are relegated mostly to fringe times and used as fillers. This distribution applies to over-the-air television; programming schedules of cable and satellite television, though understudied and not completely defined yet, seem to tilt the balance in favour of international programming.

Second, the consolidation of domestic and regional production does not apply to all television genres or film industries. Children's programming continues to be dominated by U.S. and Japanese fare despite the fact that legislation in many countries contains provisions for a minimum of educational and national productions. The scarcity of local and regional movies in cinemas and television screens reflects the chronic problems of the film industries in the region. The annual number of productions has dropped considerably during recent decades (Getino, 1996). Without exception, the state has historically been crucial for the vitality of the film industries, basically through the provision of subsidies and cheaper loans and the instrumentation of arrangements for international co-production and distribution. The economic crisis of recent decades coupled with the partial or total elimination of state funds for cultural activities have dealt a major blow to film production, leaving it to the isolated and sporadic efforts of filmmakers and producers.

A shift in intellectual debates

Lastly, a new intellectual sensibility also accounts for why media globalization awakens less fear about the fate of national cultures, namely, the declining fortunes of dependency theory and nationalistic ideologies that exercised a notable influence in debates two decades ago (see Schlesinger & Morris, 1997). The ascendancy of positions that emphasize the heterogeneous character of the cultural process is extremely relevant given the prominent role that intellectuals historically played in the interpretation and articulation of national identities in modern Latin America (Rowe & Schelling, 1991). The search to define the essence of the national haunted the works of the foremost writers in the region. Questions such as "What is the nation?" and "What is the national project?" have prominently and consistently appeared in political debates and fiction writing during the independence struggles against the Spanish empire in the 1810s and 1820s, the period of nation-state building in the late nineteenth century, and the first decades of this century when immigration, industrialization, democratization, and urbanization brought about changes that challenged previous ideals of national identity (Sommer, 1991). In the 1960s and 1970s, academic and political debates continued earlier reflections about the impact of colonization and imperialism on national cultures and the cultural constitution of "the people," incorporating insights from Antonio Gramsci's theorization about the national-popular, structural analysis of media content, and the Frankfurt School's critique of commercial media.

In recent times, the convergence of deconstructionism, postmodernity, and cultural studies has deeply questioned central principles that inspired the "cultural imperialism" analysis of globalization. The paradigm of "cultural imperialism" has been criticized for offering a narrow approach to cultural analysis, namely, a focus on the mass media at the expense of non-mediated spaces (fairs, markets, streets, neighbourhoods) where culture is dynamically shaped and reshaped; for failing to analyze the making of meaning in the interaction between media texts and audiences; and for holding a functionalist view that restricted culture to ideological apparatus for social reproduction (Martin-Barbero, 1993). In regard to the question of national culture, contemporary analyses have challenged "cultural imperialism" studies on three counts: a dual conceptualization of culture, the assumption that national cultures are intrinsically progressive, and the vitality of the nation-state project at the end of the millennium.

First, past analyses hinged on a binary model of culture ("national" vs. "foreign," "traditional" vs. "modern") that informed the defense (and often romanticization) of national cultures, the suppression of multiplicity, the assumption of fixed and primordial identities, and the neglect of the processual character of culture (Schwarz, 1996). There has been a strong push in recent debates to rethink national cultures outside the parameters of cultural imperialism (Brunner, 1996). Hybridity (not purity) and permanent transformations and influences (not insularity) have historically been dominant features of Latin American cultures. The combination of pre-capitalist and capitalist elements, the indigenous and the foreign, the local and the global, the urban and the rural, and the folklore enshrined in museums and the products of the cultural industries have been constant features of regional cultures (Franco, 1997; García Canclini, 1990; Mintz, 1989; Yudice, 1992). Hybridization is not a new development, a product of the crisis of modernity, but an historically distinctive feature of Latin American cultures. Difference and heterogeneity, the dominant characteristics of the region's cultural make-up, emerged early on as a consequence of the presence of a mosaic of pre-Columbian ethnic and racial indigenous groups and the inequalities that resulted from the incorporation of Latin America into the global economic and political order. These uneven developments have hatched a series of disjunctures, making Latin American cultures never modern, never postmodern, but always in-between.

These studies have also questioned previous critiques of globalization on another front: the fetishization of national cultures as essentially progressive, desirable, and necessary (Martin-Barbero, 1995a). The conception of the nation-state as the realization of one single culture was ostensibly reactionary, ignoring the distinctive cultural heterogeneity of Latin American nations. Whereas the state was viewed as the saviour able to resurrect original cultures buried by modernity and to forge cultural unity, current intellectual sensibilities suspiciously sees it as the embodiment of the worst aspects of modernity: ethnocentrism, totality, homogenization, and authoritarianism.

Finally, the idea that the nation-state project is ultimately impossible also sets apart current studies from the "cultural imperialism" paradigm. As the argument goes, the fraying of national cultures and the postnational character of contemporary global cultures signal the end of the modern state (Yudice, Franco, & Flores, 1992). Amaryll Chanady (1994) writes,

Whereas nation building can be seen as a project of modernity in its desire for self-affirmation, self-understanding, and construction of a workable paradigm, the radical postmodern delegitimization of paradigms erodes the basis of the imagined community. It is not only postmodern questionings, however, that challenge the conception of the nation, but also certain postcolonial voices. (p. xi)

The passing of modernity brings about the weakening of the nation-state, one of modernity's archetypal products. Cultural fragmentation, represented in diasporas and "in-between" people (tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles), defines the postmodern world, contradicting the ambition of nation-states to produce a perfect alignment between culture and geographical territory (Mignolo, 1995). Multiple and ambiguous identities throw into question the modern ideal of "one national culture" cemented by the nation-state.

The post-national turn

The conclusion that nation-states have stood against pluralism coupled with the scepticism about the survival of national cultures explain why most contemporary studies on Latin American cultures pay, at best, superficial attention to nation-states. After all, what is the point of studying an object presumably lying on its deathbed? The nation-state is not just cast as a villain but it is implicitly abandoned as an object of study, thrown out with the "cultural imperialism" and "modernity" bathwaters. Not that it received a great deal of attention in the past: for much of its unwavering defense, the paradigm of cultural imperialism undertheorized the nation-state and virtually ignored the role of the media in the construction of national identities (Waisbord, 1995).

My intention is not to defend the nation-state as the repository of the true and uncontaminated national spirit nor to resuscitate it as the knight that would heroically defend Latin American cultures from the dragon of globalization. I want to take issue, instead, with the tendency in contemporary Latin American studies to leave aside the question of the resilience of national cultures.

Without a doubt, recognizing the fragmentation of identities and the existence of borderless cultures is fundamental to grasp adequately the situation of millions displaced by the economic crisis of recent decades: persistent poverty and growing social inequalities, civil wars that ravaged entire countries, and political repression. These developments have intensified the movements of people and cultures across the continent, redrawing the boundaries of Latin American cultures and pushing further the process of hybridization. Migrant workers who continually cross the political borders between the United States and Mexico, Puerto Rico, or the Dominican Republic straddle national cultures and live in cultural hybrids. The meccas for migrants from all countries and social strata, Miami and New York City, perhaps come close to being pan-Latin American cities, hatching a regional cultural smorgasbord.

The mistake is to turn these "in-between cultures" (Bhabha, 1996) into the prototypical subjects of fin-de-siècle Latin America, forgetting the persistence of "the national" and spatially rooted populations who willingly decide to stay or are stuck within local and national borders. The question "Where are the boundaries of Latin America?" (Latin American Subaltern Studies Group, 1995, p. 153) rightly directs our attention to the transformation of cultural borders. It is problematic, however, to affirm that "a new configuration of places ... is engendering a new geo-cultural politics of location in place of national or territorial identity politics" (Mignolo, 1995, p. 174). Attention to displaced cultures can paper over national identities, ignoring that, as David Morley (1996) writes, "we are not all nomadic, fragmented subjectives, living in the same postmodern universe" (p. 329). The twin conclusions that cultural borders have been erased and that national identities are on the wane brush off very complex and contemporary questions: How and why do national ties continue to shape people's identities and cultural loyalties? Or, to borrow Philip Schlesinger's (1997, p. 387) observation in the European context, how to account for the "continual seductive pull of the national"?

The stubbornness of the national

It is not necessary to invoke the "return of nationalism" to dispel the notion that national identities have been washed away by the postmodern tsunami. The idea of "return" implies that something was extinct or, at least, in a state of decline and has been resuscitated. Perhaps the death certificates written for national identities were premature. They have not come back because they were never actually gone. Moreover, it is hard to find movements for national affirmation and /or separatism in contemporary Latin America as in post-Cold War Europe. The ongoing nationalist hurricane has spared the region. Is the absence of breakaway movements an indication of the moderate success of processes of nation-building from different ethnic and immigrant groups? Benedict Anderson (1994) observes, "during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century the so-called countries of immigration -- the Americas...had a remarkable capacity to naturalize and nationalize their millions of immigrants" (p. 324). Nation-states had, at least, minimally constructed common imaginary and symbolic elements for the definition of national identity.

In the mind of late nineteenth-century elites, the construction of the nation-state was the passport to enter modernity. It required the pulling together, under the banners of progress and Western culture, of a menagerie of cultures encircled by the boundaries of the state. Throughout the region, the process was not entirely different from the path observed in the making of European nation-states. Towards the end of the century, the establishment of geographical boundaries (after the expulsion of colonial powers, civil wars, and border conflicts with neighbouring countries) was followed by efforts to merge diverse cultures into a single national community. For cultural and political elites, the "invention of tradition" (Hobsbawn & Ranger, 1983), patterned after the enlightenment ideal of "educated and advanced" nations, would incorporate Latin American countries into modernity. This process experienced an important turn with the coming of national-populist movements to power in the interwar period. These regimes pushed to redefine the character of national identities through the incorporation of different cultural elements that contradicted the elitist ideal. The splendid work of Renato Ortiz (1985) shows how the Estado Novo in the 1930s invented traditions and symbolic elements that define contemporary Brazilian identity. Neither carnival, nor futebol (soccer/ football), nor samba characterized Brazilianness in the 1910s and 1920s: carnival was associated with Venetian festivities, soccer/ football was an elitist sport, and samba was seen as a marginal, Negro dance. These practices become indistinguishable from national identity only due to the efforts and needs of the populist regime of Getulio Vargas.

Nation-building, however, was unable to extirpate the survival of pre-modern identities or eradicate ambiguous and multiple identities. Many nation-states continue to be defined as pais de paises [literally, "country of countries"] for they comprise a mosaic of ethnic groups, strong regional identities, and indigenous languages (Crain, 1990; Martin-Barbero, 1995b; Wright, 1990). The cultural multiplicity residing in Latin American nation-states, however, has not taken the form of political movements that challenge political boundaries. Instead, indigenous minorities, for example, have often articulated demands for social and citizenship rights, to use T. H. Marshall's classic taxonomy (Gabriel, 1996; Kearny, 1996; Stavenhagen, 1992). Indigenous groups in countries such as Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, and Venezuela continue to struggle to gain political autonomy and recognition of identities that, far from being untouched by modernity, are located at the crossroads of multiple cultural flows. Asked about the meaning of identity, the testimony of an Akawaio offers a view of the complexity and ambiguity of the term and the forms of self-definition.

Identity is given by the language but here we also speak several languages: English, Akawaio, Patamona, Pernon, and Spanish. That is, we are Venezuelans, of course, but we are sure that we're different from the creole. I'm Akawaio and Venezuelan. But there is Guyanese Akawaio and Venezuelan Akawaio. Nationality is imposed by the country, Venezuela or Guyana. Some for their own reasons feel Guyanan or Venezuelan. I feel Venezuelan. [Asked about if he knows the Venezuelan national anthem] I learned it at school. But I also know the national anthem of Guyana. It's sung in Aramaere and in Caican in the Wenamo River. I know it but it doesn't tell me anything. [Asked if the Venezuelan anthem tells him anything]. Well, I like that part that says "and the poor in his hut asked for freedom." I like it because to say poor is to say Indian. (Velasquez, 1993, p. 95)

The persistence of nation-making, then, needs to be understood by considering two dimensions: the effective shaping of common symbolic references and the plural meanings and definitions of national identities. Nestor García Canclini (1992) writes, "the nations and the ethnias still exist. The key question is not the risk of being swept away by globalization, but how to understand the reconstitution of ethnic, regional and national identities in process of intercultural hybridity" (p. 31). We have to examine how states and cultural industries bring out and renew national identities. States are not completely empty-handed to recreate national solidarities. Nation-states have historically relied on educational canons, rituals, national holidays, wars, and official broadcasts to cement and perpetuate identities. More importantly, the making of nations is not something frozen in the past but it is continually reenacted and renewed.

Today's governments may preach the gospel of market globalization but still reach for national appeals and time-proven strategies to define the limits between "us" and "them." The discursive practices of inclusion and exclusion and shoring up identity on invented or real differences are not historical curiosities. Consider how the jingoistic and xenophobic media coverage during the Ecuador-Peru war in 1995, tightly controlled by the Fujimori and Duran Ballen governments, brought old animosities between both countries to the surface (Adrianzen, 1995; Valenzuela, 1995), or the continuous remaking of cultural boundaries through geopolitical rivalries that harken back to the nineteenth century and expressions of racism and xenophobia against migrants from neighbouring countries.

Similarly, the U.S., as the referent that to generations of writers was "the external Other" against which Latin American identity was defined, has not completely vanished even in times when the region seems to have wholeheartedly embraced "American" hegemony in the hemisphere. The cultural construction of "the drug problem," for example, still sets cultures apart. MTV cancelled a video featuring a popular Peruvian rock artist singing about the meanings and uses of coca leaves in indigenous cultures. A visibly uncomfortable Al Gore promptly removed a coca-leaf necklace that had been placed around his neck after he arrived at the airport in La Paz, Bolivia. A Bolivian radio criticized the U.S. vice-president for offending national culture. Similarly, recent controversies about drug trafficking in the region and U.S. policies showed the persistence of anti-Yankee sentiments. Cornered by allegations that the Cali cartel donated monies to his 1994 election campaign and under U.S. pressure to approve the extradition of drug barons, Colombian President Ernesto Samper framed the situation as a clash between "Colombianness" and "gringo intervention." He resorted to traditional images of foreign intervention in domestic affairs as responsible for the accusations and appealed to national unity to confront the situation. The Interior Minister later followed up by calling the U.S. ambassador a "sick gringo" and the mayor of Bogotá categorically affirmed "the gringos have got us by the balls." After the U.S. decertified Colombia in the "war against drugs" amid lingering suspicions that drug monies financed campaigns, polls registered a remarkable increase in anti-Americanism. Similar anxieties rose in Mexico during the NAFTA and decertification debates and when President Clinton arrived in Mexico City on Cinco de Mayo to kick off his first Latin American tour in 1997.

Are these signs of the return of an anti-imperialist tide? Hardly. The United States invokes myriad responses, not just the image of a colonizing power: the paragon of economic and technological development, the possibility of employment and a better future, the violence represented by Hollywood movies, an individualistic and heartless society, a shopping paradise, and so on. Ambivalence towards the United States is not new but a persistent feature in Latin America's perceptions of its northern neighbour. Even Ariel, the end-of-the-century essay written by Uruguayan Jose Enrique Rodó (1922) that has been extremely influential in shaping the distinction between a spiritual Latin America and a materialistic North America, harboured ambiguous sentiments. The free, industrious, efficient North America was also shallow, dispassionate, and ignorant. What images does the United States conjure and how do these perceptions contribute to the articulation of national identities are questions that deserve to be analyzed country by country as the historical relation with "the gringo" widely varies across the region. The persistence of "Americanness" as "the Other" in the articulation of national identities is likely to have different connotations in countries where the U.S. is a daily and a major point of reference in connection with the "drug problem," immigration policies, political and military intervention, or economic issues. "Americanness" has multiple and changing interactions with different national imageries.

It is also necessary to examine how the mass media articulate sentiments of national belonging and difference. For some analysts, radio and film played a decisive role in the incorporation of popular classes into the nation-state after the 1930s. For media scholar Jesus Martin-Barbero (1993-94), this process does not occur during times of globalization and fragmentation: globalization unsettles national identities and the media reduces the presence of the national. If we look at television, it is not obvious that it weakens local cultures or blends and necessarily recreates national identities through the incorporation of a variety of cultural flows. Entertainment programming are central spaces for imagining and debating national identities. The growth of domestic productions has opened new possibilities for television to be in a closer and constant dialogue with the cultural imaginary and political realities of Latin American societies. Telenovelas typically reach out and are influenced by news events. The highly popular Los de Arriba y los de Abajo explored typical problems of residents of a low-income neighbourhood (unemployment, house eviction) in the context of political scandals in contemporary Peru. In Mexico, the fledging network TV Azteca has been able to shave Televisa's absolute command of the ratings by producing telenovelas dealing with hot topics such as political corruption, drug trafficking, and, as in the highly successful Al Norte del Corazon, the experiences of migrants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. For years, Brazilian telenovelas have incorporated real issues into fictional plots. Escalada introduced divorce in 1975 (two years before the Divorce Law was passed); Corpo Santo dealt with AIDS in 1987; constitutional reform was debated in Roda de Fogo in 1987 (the reform was approved in 1988); a peasant-turned-politician ran for the presidency in O Salvador da Patria in 1989 (the same year Lula, a factory worker, nearly won the presidential race); and a city mayor was impeached in Fera Ferida in 1993 (months after former President Collor de Mello was expelled from office). Radcliffe & Westwood's (1996) argument about the Colombian hit Cafe adequately summarizes the conclusions reached by a number of studies about the intersection between television and national identity: "Telenovelas offer narrative and characters that are shared by millions and that are references in other media forms. This form of intertextuality further reinforces the sense of a national story and identity, a sort of living history of the nation in which everyone, via television, can take part" (p. 89).

In a similar tone, a growing body of literature suggests that broadcast sports, most notably regional and global soccer tournaments, are moments for the construction and renovation of national identities (Archetti, 1994; Mason, 1995). Televised competitions draw millions into a patriotic frenzy. They are collective experiences that pull individuals out of private into public spaces where shared cultural bonds are recognized and maintained. As nation-making "media events" (Dayan & Katz, 1992), they suspend, at least momentarily, internal dissent and forcefully peg personal and collective histories to particular instances and places where the national is lived and played out. Especially in countries with limited television production, broadcast sports are one of the few moments for making tangible "imagined communities" and for retelling histories of national pride and continuity.

Although entertainment programming has received increasing attention in relation to these questions, the multiple connections between news broadcasts and nation-making still remain unexamined. If print news contributed to engendering national communities in nineteenth-century Latin America, as Benedict Anderson has argued, do broadcast news have similar functions on the verge of the twenty-first century? Plenty of anecdotal evidence suggests that broadcast news also construct and renovate sentiments of national belonging by highlighting moments, issues, and values that identify and separate political communities (Waisbord, 1998). Newscasts fill radio and television schedules and are widely popular across social strata. In societies where only a minority buys and reads newspapers, broadcast news is the primary source of information (especially during not-so-unusual situations of political crisis) and, for masses of illiterates, the only available means for coming in contact with near and distant events.

My intention is to call attention to how entertainment and news often strike deep chords in the national imagination, not to present television as a democratic mirror of national cultures in Latin America. Television's palette is typically monochromatic. Programs perpetuate proven formula and stereotypes to paint racial, gender, and sexual identities; commercial and political pressures restrict content and narrative frames; station executives generally resort to cheaply produced and highly profitable formats; and sensationalism and the exploitation of individuals are often passed as true explorations of human feelings and the plight of destitute citizens. To stress these shortcomings does not assume that media content automatically injects ideas into audiences and /or uniformizes national cultures. As audience studies reiterate, media representations are not necessarily interpreted in identical ways but appeal differently to diverse publics and contain multiple levels of readings. My concern is rather different: to indicate that by ignoring and demeaning diverse cultural identities cordoned within the geographical boundaries of nation-states, television repertoires restrict the potential ways in which national identities can be constructed and re-enacted. When it opts for quick and easy formula; obsesses about the lives of white, wealthy, metropolitan elites; and makes powerless majorities invisible, television narrows the menu for imagining Latin American nations and limits opportunities for exploring cultural commonalities and differences.

Multiple identities

Globalization might actually prod nation-states to respond rather than weaken and spell the crisis of national identities. The idea that challenges to nation-state identity make nation-states react is found in a number of studies (Ferguson, 1995; García Canclini, 1995). In her study of Puerto Rican culture and identity, Nancy Morris (1995) writes:

The perception that symbols of identity are under challenge has engendered counterpressure, fortifying the threatened symbols of Puerto Rican identity. Throughout this century, whenever Puerto Ricans have perceived a threat to symbols of their identity, they have responded by demonstrating an increased commitment to those symbols. Arguably, this defensive response to the fear of cultural displacement has had the effect of strengthening a sense of collective identity. (p. 152)

Nation-states and domestic cultural industries might actually rekindle national identities in an era of global technologies, economies, and consumer culture. Raymond Williams (1983) pointed out this seeming contradiction in his example of a couple deeply immersed in a global economy yet imbued with patriotic enthusiasm after watching a television program glorifying the British victory in the Malvinas / Falklands war. This is a contradiction only if we assume a modern conception of nationality for which attachments to different communities are mutually exclusive and identities are well defined and uniformly organized. One cannot be loyal to foreign interests and purchase consumer goods while feeling part of one's homeland (Smith, 1994). In today's networked world, however, this conception of an organic and reified identity only exists in the minds of ultra-nationalist ideologues and militants. In Latin America, there is no apparent contradiction for teenagers who wear NBA caps and Nike T-shirts and cheer for the national soccer teams and compatriot baseball players playing in the U.S. leagues; for upper classes who drive imported cars and get dreamy-eyed when listening to the national anthem; for middle classes who splurge on Miami shopping sprees and boast about the cultural uniqueness of their respective countries; for rifle-toting Salvadoran guerrillas who wear a Coca-Cola T-shirt and fight for the Frente Farabundo Marti (Achugar, 1994); or for bands who sing in Aymara about "the return to the roots" accompanied by electric guitars and rock arrangements (Calderón, 1993).

An alternative to a model of exclusive identities is to understand, as Stuart Hall (1992) convincingly argues, that all of us are composed of multiple identities (see also Burke, 1992). National, regional, and local ascriptions co-exist in contradictory ways but are not mutually exclusive. To pose the existence of homogeneous national identities that at some historical moment wiped out all others inside nation-states is to caricaturize how cultural dynamics work and how peoples construct and redefine their identities. Populations simultaneously feel attached to different communities. Mexicanness has not trumped strong regional identities. Cosmopolitan Peruvians fervently rallied behind the Fujimori administration to recapture a lone military outpost in the Amazonian jungle. Mixing a diversity of musical styles, Argentine rock music has often shown a strong political bite that resonates with the political and social conditions of young audiences.

The persistence of national identities needs to be considered by analyzing how citizenship is created and recreated in local situations in the context of the everyday uses and production of culture (Giddens, 1991). Identity formation is intrinsically linked to participation in local and national spaces. Cultural belonging, in this case feelings of nationhood, is inextricably linked to nationally grounded citizenship. For the vast majority, global citizenship remains a remote possibility, a myth of globalization (Ferguson, 1992). We lack an effective model of transnational citizenship that captures people's imagination and offers means to join in processes of will-formation and participation. But again, it is not a matter of replacing one by another but of asking how citizenship can be articulated at different levels. The possibility of generating or rebuilding public life in societies castigated by chronic authoritarianism, official violence, poverty, and despair and strengthening basic civic liberties remains essentially attached to the nation-state. The nation-state might no longer be "the container of experience" in globalized times yet it is still a power centre (Garnham, 1993), concentrating resources and controlling levers that make a difference in people's lives. The globalization of the media opens the opportunity to participate vicariously in a mediated transnational public sphere but citizenship essentially remains rooted in nation-states. On this point, Jürgen Habermas' (1992) observation is relevant: "Given that the role of citizens has hitherto only been institutionalized at the level of nation-states, citizens have no effective means of debating European decision and influencing the decision-making process" (p. 9). This insight is even more applicable in the Latin American context where the process of economic integration, even in its beginnings, has hit a number of snags while projects of political and cultural integration have been sitting on the back burner. Allegiances to the cultural community of the nation-state, however arbitrary and artificial those boundaries may be, are likely to persist as long as citizens believe that their political stakes and futures are vested in the nation-state. It is too soon to call its demise as a cultural imaginary when the nation-state is the primary locus that institutionalizes a host of political and social rights.

Are audiovisual policies necessary?

The chances to affect the organization of media systems and the workings of media institutions, from how they report the news to how they portray cultural identities, are also related to national policies and processes of participation and decision-making in nationally bounded territories. Grass-roots media continue to "provide a vehicle for marginalized sectors of society ... to participate in public debate" (McFayden, 1993, p. 35). Communication scholar Rafael Roncagliolo (1995) notes, "these represent the local impulse, bottom-up, which is emerging alongside the global media" (p. 342). National governments continue to play a fundamental role in restructuring audiovisual markets and the current consolidation of the logic of the marketplace in media systems. The privatization of broadcasting in the region is inseparable from expectations and alliances of global and domestic media conglomerates and political powers. The future of media policies essentially hinges on the resolution of political conflicts and the strategies of domestic actors. These considerations help to understand tactical agreements between politicians and media groups: the former hope to cultivate lap-dog coverage in times of mediated politics and the latter aim to muscle out competitors in the ongoing process of conglomerization. The recent crackdown on community radios and "illegal" stations in Argentina, for example, cannot be understood apart from trenchant criticisms made by associations of private media entrepreneurs and the uneasiness of government officials with discordant voices. These cases illustrate that media policies continue to be shaped by the interests of both governments and domestic firms that decisively influence the make-up of media environments and exclude alternatives to market systems (Pasquali, 1994).

Do ambiguous and hybrid identities make audiovisual policies unnecessary? It is not a matter of leaving identity-making and resistance to social movements (Escobar & Alvarez, 1992), rescuing the emancipatory potential of postmodern aesthetics (Richard, 1993), or betting all chips on official policies (Esteinou Madrid, 1992). The question of audiovisual policies cannot be sidestepped, left undiscussed, or simply associated with the shortcomings of the experiments of the 1960s and 1970s. Nor can the growing prowess of media companies be ignored. Can state policies be rehabilitated to strengthen local and national cultures? Is it possible to disentangle the idea of the public from the state? Can Latin Americans, as García Canclini (1997) suggests, adopt European Community-like initiatives to confront Hollywood influence and articulate a regional audiovisual space? Truly, the record of past experiments accounts for widespread disenchantment with state intervention and the shift in democratic expectations. The current prospects for cultural democratization typically emphasize the role of social movements to rework and resist domination and homogenization. Can legislation also be mobilized to counter the challenges of globalization?

Some recent examples suggest that policies can make a difference for cultural industries and alternatives to market-oriented media. This should not be confused, as in the past, with cultural protection. As Horace Newcomb (1996) suggests, policies protect cultural industries, not cultures. Without exceptions in the region, state support for film industries historically played an indispensable role in widening the range of voices and opening avenues for cultural expression. In Argentina, the 1995 Cinema Law that allocated public funds to movie production single-handedly revived a moribund film industry. Public funding for São Paulo-based TV Cultura in Brazil has made an important difference as the channel offers an alternative to the unbound commercialism of the major networks. Television Nacional de Chile, re-organized as a public, self-financed company during the Alwyn administration in 1992, shows that it is possible to walk a fine line between public and commercial television and feature programming that the market shuns.

Dusting off old statist solutions or endowing the state with virtuous powers as cultural manager do not seem adequate strategies. Actually the opposite is suggested: the deepening of citizenship in new democracies requires the re-evaluation of top-down models and the institutionalization of forms where marginalized populations can actively participate in will-formation and decisions. The return of the local as articulated in municipal, indigenous, and peasant movements to decentralize politics and oppose state arbitrariness suggest that the national does not disappear in global times. It is necessary to rethink the state in conjunction with a revisited conception of culture that recognizes the plural and syncretic character of Latin American societies. Even in times of cultural fragmentation and postnationalities, the nation-state continues to be a fundamental locus of power and cultural referent for rooted and uprooted citizens, for those who live at the centre and for the millions who live at the margins.


A previous version was presented at the panel "Communication and the Politics of Identity: National and Global Perspectives" at the conference of the International Communication Association, Montreal, QC, May 1997. I am grateful to Nancy Morris for valuable suggestions.


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