[ISEA94] Panel: Paul Brown – The Information Super-highways and Cultural Imperialism: Ownership and Access to the Media

Panel Statement

Panel: Transcultural Approaches

In 1986 I took my first round-the-world trip. I was shocked to discover that current affairs and news television was the same everywhere I went The reason was obvious – all the tv companies were using the same electronic production devices, things like paint systems, caption generators and digital video effects generators. These systems contain a define (though often
overlooked) signature which imposes itself on the content of the work produced. In modernist terms this could be proposed as the “essence” of the medium. Turn down the audio and TV screens in Singapore or Bahrain looked identical to the offerings of NBC, CBS or the BBC. This experience stimulated my thinking about unintended forms of culturalimperialism and domination. I do not doubt the ethics of the designers of electronic graphics systems. It is highly unlikely that they intended to curtail the creativity of indigenous cultural groups. They did, however unwittingly, build their own cultural perspective into the systems they designed. The rapid growth in the use of these systems (along with more traditional production tools and media) has produced a global culturally homogeneous television.
It is as if a world-wide war has been fought and won (by the First World) or lost (by the Third) a few seem aware or perturbed. In fact when I discussed these issues recently one American delegate was indignant. She argued that anything that homogenizes human activity was beneficial (since it should increase harmony) and that my claims for cultural imperialism were negativistic (socialist?) rhetoric. Nevertheless the experience of global TV gives us a modern hightech example of First World domination that ranks, in my opinion, alongside the eurocentric “education” of the Australian Aborigine. This often included the separation of families and the forced adoption of black children by “right minded” white Christian families. These policies failed and the massive harm caused is well documented. Nowadays there are few who defend such atrocities. Why then do so few seemed alarmed by the ubiquity of high technology and its intrinsic value systems and cultural perspectives?

  • Paul Brown is an artist who has been using computers for twenty years. In 1980 he was a cofounder of the UK’s first computer animation company, Digital Pictures, and, in 1986 a founder of their National Centre for Computer Aided Art and Design. In 1988 he moved to Australia and, in 1990 helped establishing the Advanced Computer Graphics Centre in Melbourne. He has published numerous papers about art and technology and his artworks have been exhibited internationally. Since 1992 he has edited FineArt Forum, the art and technology network news service.