Theoretical Approaches and Concepts
Intercultural Communication and You
The best way to experience intercultural communication is to immerse yourself into a culture. While you are in college take advantage of the study abroad programs your school has to offer. Here is a list of websites that offer students information on studying abroad.
It may be difficult to adjust to a new culture but here are some tips from the Huffington Post to make your study abroad trip run smoothly: 13 Mistakes Study Abroad Students MakeA method focused solely on the interests of Africans is referred to as Afrocentricity. The foremost scholar in this field is Molefi Kete Asante and this functions as an interdisciplinary approach to questions of race relations. Instead of assuming a Eurocentric frame as normative for understanding the world and its people, this perspective embraces “African ways of knowing and interpreting the world” (Orbe and Harris 156). Similarly, there are also Asiacentric frameworks for understanding intercultural communication.
Important Concepts for Understanding Intercultural Communication
High and Low Context
Collectivist versus Individualistic
Where Intercultural Communication Occurs
Looking at texts or media artifacts (these are specific television shows, films, books, magazines, musical artists, etc.) is both a fun and important area of study for intercultural communication. Since most people spend much of their free time taking in some form of media, such as going to the movies with friends or watching YouTube, media messages have a great deal of influence and impact over its audience. As you also remember, the media is also the location and source for much of the critical cultural research.
Specifically, what critical theorists tend to look at are the artifacts of popular, or pop culture? At the time this book first came out, bands such as Creed and Wilco; the television programs Friends, West Wing, and Sex and the City; and the films Bowling for Columbine and The Two Towers were all pop culture artifacts. Now, popular bands, television shows, and movies are very different. Popular culture is defined as “those systems or artifacts that most people share and that most people know about” (Brummett 21). So, while you may not listen to or watch the examples listed, chances are that you are at least aware of them and have a basic idea of the plot or content. Popular culture is distinct from high culture, which includes events such as the ballet or opera, visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the L’ouvre, or listening to classical music at the symphony. These activities, unlike the artifacts mentioned earlier all require something to have access. Namely money. Attending the ballet or opera takes considerably more money than purchasing songs on iTunes.
The fact that most of us participate to some degree in consuming popular culture is one reason to study its messages. Another is that it is an area of struggle for representation—specifically about cultural identity issues. Representation refers to the portrayal, depiction, or characterization of particular cultural groups. A related term is that of symbolic annihilation which refers to the fact that “women and minorities are underrepresented in media content and that when they are represented they are marginalized, trivialized, or victimized” (Valdiva 243). By looking at the numbers and characterizations of ethnic minorities in television and film we can see the dominant culture’s attitudes about them. This is because the dominant culture is the group in control of media outlets and represents groups in particular ways.
Let us walk through an analysis of a scene in the 2001 film, Spiderman, to illustrate these concepts. The female character, Mary Jane, is walking home from work one dark and rainy night. She is wearing a raincoat which is soon removed, leaving so her pink shirt and clothes to be drenched and cling to her. (Prior to this scene she has been portrayed as the “girl next door” with little or no sexuality.) Her path home takes her through an alleyway where she is quickly surrounded by a group of violent men. One of the men pulls a knife and there is the threat of rape or other violent attack. She fails when she attempts to fight back. But as is the case with superheroes, Spiderman arrives just in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress. After he saves her, she and Spiderman, who is hanging upside down from a building, share their first kiss.
So, what is going on in this scene? Can you identify examples of representation or symbolic annihilation? There are issues concerning both gender and race in this scene. First, she is portrayed as weak, unable to take care of herself, and in need of a man to save her. This is characteristic of images of women in film. Second, in terms of culture, the “good guys” or “innocent victims” are middle class and the potential attackers are portrayed as stereotypical lower class males. This too represents a stereotyped portrayal of young men in the inner city as criminals or gang members. Finally, and perhaps the most dangerous message in this scene, is the equation of female sexuality, violence, and romance. As her pink shirt clings to her, her breasts are revealed in a sexual manner, next she is almost attacked, and then she is sweetly and romantically kissing Spiderman. Thus, this short scene illustrates how images (we did not even discuss the dialogue) work to unfairly and inaccurately portray groups of people.
By looking to the media, scholars can discover what images of various cultural groups are prevalent in a society and the stories that are told about various cultures. As active citizens, we can make choices about what media images we decide to consume, accept, or reject. As knowledgeable communicators we can critique the images we see rather than accept constructed and artificial media images as normative or “just the way things are.” As you learned in the first section of the book, language, symbols, and images are not neutral, but are subjective interpretations of a person’s or group of people’s interpretation of reality.