Emerging Media Capitals: Hong Kong

Hong-Kong_skyline

Media capitals… are sites of mediation, locations where complex forces and flows interact. They are neither bounded not self-contained entities… Media capitals are places where things come together and, consequently, where the generation and circulation of new mass culture forms become possible. – Michael Curtin, 2003

‘Media capitals’ refers to cities where multi-directional patterns of flows occur, enabling them to become centres for finance, production and distribution of television programs. These cities are referred to as media capitals as they represent centres of media activity that have specific logics of their own but do not necessarily correspond to the geography, interests or policies of particular nation states (Curtin 2003, p.203). Cities such as Mumbai and Los Angeles are the classic and prominent examples of media capitals as they have established their own statuses as Bollywood and Hollywood. Both these media capitals have flourished because the companies have shown a resolute fixation on the tastes and desires of their audiences (Curtin 2010, p.265). As Curtin (2010, p.265) writes, ‘in order to cater to such tastes, they adopt and adapt cultural influences from near and far, resulting in hybrid styles and aesthetics’. However with the rise of globalisation in the late 20th century, Hong Kong has also emerged as a new media capital as it has developed institutional characteristics which are integral to the accumulation of a media capital.

Hong Kong’s maintenance of a strong and lucrative economic position has enabled it to develop its status as a media capital. The city has prospered ever since the late 20th century, as it acted as a nexus for financial and trade relations between mainland China and the rest of the world (Curtin 2003, p.214). During the last four decades of the 20th century, Hong Kong served as a channel for well over two-thirds of China’s international trade and investment. The city is now a central point which mediates a vast and complex array of material and economic flows. Such activities have enabled the city to attract large migration flows from across the globe. Furthermore, the outbreak of World War II disrupted the cultural activities on mainland China. As a result, cultural institutions fled to Hong Kong. Thus ‘Hong Kong offered sanctuary to members of these creative communities and therefore emerged during the post-war period as the most prolific producer of popular Chinese cinema’ (Curtin 2003, p.215). This demonstrates the way in which flows of migration instigated the spread of culture.

Furthermore, migration also resulted in the rise of young families. As a result, a large composition of young people emerged which helped instigate a youth culture, that was distinct from the mainland Chinese culture. This youth culture ‘exhibited distinctive tastes, values and life experiences’ (Curtin 2003, p.215) which largely altered the cultural flows. Unlike their ancestors who grew up within a more traditional Chinese culture, the younger generation was more experienced with Western popular culture and politics. As a result, during the 1960s, Hollywood movies and American music became popular in Hong Kong.

In the midst of such structural, social, cultural and economic changes arose Hong Kong’s first independent broadcasting channel, Television Broadcasts Limited (TVB) in 1967. unknownThis transformed Hong Kong’s social landscape as a new, rapidly growing and increasingly prosperous local television audience emerged. Local television became the site of public deliberation which resulted in the emergence of a contemporary Hong Kong identity. Furthermore, the immense popularity of the dominant broadcaster enabled the channel to grow which resulted in the development of popular genres such criminal dramas and ‘variety shows‘ which catered to the local audiences. TVB has also transcended the regional landscape as Hong Kong television is now produced and consumed in Taipei, Beijing, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur (Curtin 2003, pp.203-204). This unprecedented initiative is significant as they demonstrate new patterns of television flows whereby Hong Kong’s local content has gone global, thereby allowing the spread of further global cultural flows.

Such initiatives in television have enabled greater cultural flows between Hong Kong and the rest of the world, which in turn, has shaped Asia’s music industry. In the midst of such activity emerged a dominant musical style known as Cantopop (Cantonese pop music). Cantopop involves the fashioning of local musical styles with US, Japanese and Chinese influences into a distinctive pop form featuring contemporary lyrics by local songwriters (Curtin 2003, 217). 

Hong Kong has emerged as a media capital, particularly in television, due to a mix of global, social, economic and historical conditions. As Curtin sums succinctly, ‘Hong Kong’s rapid embrace of television was connected to the fact that it mediated complex relations between East and West, between tradition and modernity, and between immigrant and indigenous populations’ (Curtin 2003, 217). The establishment of TVB both responded to and shaped the social conditioning in Hong Kong. Not only has television influenced Hong Kong’s cultural identity, but it also has exported and shared this cultural identity to overseas Chinese communities. Thus by attracting an audience from a local and global scape, Hong Kong has effectively succeeded in being globally recognised as the capital of Chinese popular culture and as ‘a cosmopolitan centre of East Asia’ (Curtin 2003, p.218).

Reference List

Alan 2008, TWINS — 恋爱大过天 ( KTV ), 11 May, video, YouTube, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9GFl6Rmd9U>.

Curtin, M (2003) ‘Media Capital: Towards the Study of Spatial Flows’ International Journal of Cultural Studies Vol 6: 2, pp. 202 – 228.

Wikipedia 2014, ‘Variety Show’, Wikipedia, viewed 3 September 2014, < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variety_show>

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