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The concept of the political economy of communication has always been important to the modern dimension of international relations. Some view the political economy of communication as a study area that places the main focus on the mass media and the ownership influences their institutions have on the political system of a society. Others put an emphasis on the flow of transferred information in the econometric frameworks that surround them.
According to Graham (n.d.), the political economy of communication is connected with an understanding of how the process of communication generally occurs within the political and economic formations (p. 3). As a field of study, Harold Innis, a Canadian economist, formed and developed the notion of the political economy of communication in relation to the concept of ‘knowledge monopolies.’ Innis made connections between the concept and the historical instances of particular high-class groups enjoying an exclusive monopoly of possessing access to specific kinds of knowledge (Graham, n.d., p. 3).
PEC and the Internet
The political economy of the media sphere is devoted to embracing and enhancing the notion of democracy. Appearing in the 1930s, political economy has always been linked to the left-wing political forces, a primary reason for its decline in recent decades (Lendman, n.d., para. 30).
McChesney views the political economy of communication (PEC here and forward) that brings the process of communication into the sphere of democracy and capitalism. PEC, on the one hand, explores firms, subsidies, market structures, institutions, and other bodies that become instrumental in defining the systems of communication and media. On the other hand, PEC underlines the importance of policies established by the governments in shaping the systems of media, including the systems focused on profit. In this context, PEC explores the way in which the policies of communication are determined.
Thus, both perspectives of PEC offer a way of understanding how the Internet has been developed, the issues that have appeared along the way, and the endless possibilities that remain to be explored (McChesney, 2013, p. 64).
McChesney makes an example of debates over the notion of the copyright that has emerged with the appearance of the Internet. The debate has been re-occurring between the proponents of fair use and the media corporations that want to possess all rights on the produced material. In this sense, PEC has been guided by the public sphere. The logic of this connection is tightly linked to the importance of the system of media being separated and independent from large corporations that dominate the public relationships.
Within the PEC framework, the notion of intellection technologies is a matter of great importance. Society is defined by the dominant media technologies that often shape the way in which society operates. Despite the fact that the Internet negatively influences the function of a human brain as well as reduces critical thought, creativity, and empathy, it becomes a driving force in the sphere of the digital revolution. New media can lead to the notion of digital capitalism in which technological changes become dominant in the society where global governance becomes an obstacle for capitalism, however, it is necessary (Mosco, 2008, p. 55).
A significant change in public opinion concerning the engagement of citizens in public life has occurred with the help of the Internet. The Internet has become a primary medium for the public opinion that modified the organization of political structure at the same time with making such organizations effective with the use of a lower number of resources (Larcinese, 2008, p. 5).
Disney Comics as Perpetuation of Imperialism
Dorfman’s and Mattelart work on the imperialist ideology in the Disney Comics presents a unique view of the political economy of communication. By means of analyzing Disney Comics of Donald Duck, a popular character in the sphere of media and entertainment, authors make connections with the political organization of the society and the ways it is presented in the comics themselves. Chapter 3 “From the Noble Savage to the Third World” shows the manner in which Disney has forced the inhabitants of colonized lands into the mold. Authors argue that Disney saw the underdeveloped populations similar to misbehaving children that should have “their pants taking down and be given a good spanking” (Dorfman & Mattelart, 1975, p. 48).
The particular caricature of the Native Americans in Disney’s Inka-Blinka reinforces the stereotype of this population through a “channel of distorted self-knowledge” (Dorfman & Mattelart, 1975, p. 54).
With relation to the political economy of communication, Dorfman and Mattelart has created aim to show the imperialist implications and values that have been disguised under the innocent children’s comics. The Disney comics are viewed as a powerful tool for expressing imperialistic features of the American society. The oppositional reading of the comics proposed by Dorfman and Mattelart offers a range of ideological assumptions that can be argued as ones to normalize the public relations within the Western capitalistic framework (Tomlinson, 2002, p. 41).
Furthermore, authors argue that the Disney comics are important merchandising tools of the worldwide empire created by means of perpetuation capitalist propaganda. The parallel between Third World citizens and children proposed by Dorfman and Mattelart is a mean of infantilization that supports the view of these citizens being underdeveloped. Third World citizens are naïve “noble savages” that believe anything said by the dominant populations.
Not being aware of how much their countries’ wealth is actually worth, they are open to letting the Ducks take their resources away in exchange for various gifts and trinkets. Thus, Disney comics reinforce the dependency relationship between the ‘naïve’ Third World citizens and Americans, a relationship that has been responsible for legitimating the Western “imperialist plunder and colonial subjection” (Andrae, 2006, p. 11).
When relating the concepts outlined by Dorfman and Mattelart to the notion of political economy of communication, the main purpose of the chapter, in my opinion, has been to raise consciousness about the issue and stop mistaking the hidden messages of imperialism under the innocent images intended for children. Due to the fact that the comics were read by a million readers every week, the perpetuation of imperialism disguised under the façade of fun and innocence embedded in the minds of the population, opposing the features of fairness and democracy (McClennen, 2010, p. 253).
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Wasko shared a similar viewpoint in her book Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. Despite the fact that her work focuses predominantly on the historical development of the Disney corporation, it underlines the fact that Disney is a “specific popular culture phenomenon” to which millions were exposed to (Wasko, 2013). By masking imperialistic ideas in a childish and innocent manner, Disney was able to influence the views of both children and adults with regard to the political economy of communication that shapes the interactive processes in the sphere of social affairs.
Andrae, T. (2006). Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book: Unmasking the Myth of Modernity. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
Dorfman, A., & Mattelart, A. (1975). How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comics. New York, NY: I.G. Editions.
Graham, P. (n.d.). Political Economy of Communication: A Critique. Web.
Larcinese, V. (2008). McChesney, R. W.: Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media. Web.
Lendman, S. (n.d.). Robert McChesney’s The Political Economy of Media. Web.
McChesney, R. (2013). Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York, NY: New Press.
McClennen, S. (2010). Ariel Dorfman: An Aesthetics of Hope. London, UK: Duke University Press.
Mosco, V. (2008). Current Trends in the Political Economy of Communication. Global Media Journal, 1(1), 45-63.
Tomlinson, J. (2002). Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. London, UK: Continuum.
Wasko, J. (2013). Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. Malden, MA: Polity Press.