Response to Straubhaar

In his chapter about the intersections of multiple levels of cultural production, Straubhaar argues against a view of globalization as cultural imperialism with a simple unidirectional spread of cultural products coming from the United States and spreading out into the world. Instead, Straubhaar notes the relative agency that various local actors have. Different nation-states consume different cultural products. Different audiences have different responses and Straubhaar notes an overall trend toward preferring localized content (Straubhaar). In his analysis of the production and reception of television around the world, Straubhaar reveals time and again that the world is not composed of one dominant culture (the United States) surrounded by many smaller dependent cultures (the rest of the world). Instead, globalization is multidimensional with multiple centers of production and even more localizations of foreign imports. Many of his arguments regarding the nature of globalization in media still hold true today in spite of the many technological advances that have occurred in the twenty years since his writing. While some of those developments have caused certain aspects of his arguments to become dated, the overall concepts still hold true and this can be seen in many examples one of which is Metastasis, the Colombian remake of the American TV series, Breaking Bad.

Straubhaar argues for a more nuanced understanding of globalization, using the localized content broadcast on national television around the world to highlight the reality that local, regional, and national actors also have agency when it comes to content. Because of this globalization is not simply the imposition of one dominant culture over all others. Rather, globalization is a process of hybridization involving “the synthesis of local cultures with the imported elements of culture brought in by globalization” (Straubhaar 586). Metastasis is an excellent example of this conceptualization of globalization. It is an almost shot-for-shot remake of the extremely popular American series, Breaking Bad. Much of the dialogue and even the camera angles are near exact copies. Yet, for all its similarities, the Colombian producers still made notable changes to adapt it to its new Colombian setting. In her article, Bennett discusses a few of these cultural adaptions. One of the most notable changes was the insertion of tele-novela stylistic elements like dramatic musical scores and more emotional performances which are not found in the American version (Bennett). She also discusses past attempts by Colombian national television to adapt American shows like Grey’s Anataomy and Desperate Housewives, which met with less success than Metastasis because they did not effectively localize the narratives (Bennett). This follows Straubhaar’s assertion that “most audiences are really looking for cultural proximity, to see people and styles they recognize” (Straubhaar 591). Metastasis succeeds where these other Colombian remakes failed because its producers were keenly aware of which elements of the original would not “translate” as well to a Colombian setting.

What makes this case even more interesting is that Netflix has now made Metastasis available to a wider audience by adding it to their site and providing English subtitles (Couch). Thus, it is now Colombia that has become the exporter and the United States which has imported a new cultural product. Audiences around the world — who speak either English or Spanish — can now enjoy both Breaking Bad and Metastasis and engage in a global dialogue about these two examples of Straubhaar’s hybridizing globalization.

We can witness that global dialogue taking place on the Internet and this is where Straubhaar’s argument begins to feel a little dated. He claims that audiences for global content tend to be upper or upper middle class elites. Perhaps this was true twenty years when, as Straubhaar points out, international broadcast channels were expensive and enjoying foreign cultural products depended upon having access, knowledge, and experience of other cultures (Straubhaar 584). Today, through the increasing accessibility of the Internet, audiences do not need to be wealthy in order to experience or understand the world beyond their borders. Video streaming websites like Netflix and illegal downloading make it extremely affordable to view television series from around the world. The Reddit discussion of an article by Couch that compares the two versions episode by episode reveals the way in which the Internet enables a global conversation composed of local agents. People from around the world discuss their reactions and thoughts about the remake. Some mention the possibility of using the remake to learn Spanish. Others point out the specific moments of localization discussed above and debate the merits of those local adaptations of the story (Gimothy). This increased accessibility does not negate Straubhaar’s arguments, however. Instead, it simply reveals a further development of them. Through the Internet, national cultural products have an easier time expanding their global reach. Whether the product is welcomed and consumed nationwide as Metastasis is in the United States or it appeals only to a minority group within a foreign nation, the multiplicity of levels and directions of globalization as well as the potential for hybridization which Straubhaar discusses have only become more pronounced with the new technology available.

The case of Metastasis is an interesting one because it not only presents a clear case of the hybridizing process Straubhaar is discussing by incorporating an extremely faithful remake of the Breaking Bad story and style with highly localized elements specific to Colombia; it also reveals the increasing reality that globalization is not unidirectional. The import of this Breaking Bad remake into the United States with English subtitles to make it accessible to a wider audience shows that it is just as much an importer of global cultural products as it is an exporter. Likewise, Colombia is not the dependent small nation that simply receives global imports. It can also successfully produce content that reaches a global audience. This reality further dismantles the conceptualization of globalization as cultural imperialism and reveals that Straubhaar’s hybridization has become even more pronounced today than it was when he wrote twenty years ago.