Sunday, September 25, 2011

Global travelers, not citizens

Globalization is one of the buzzwords of my generation. We are traveling more than ever. We make friends abroad and stay in touch on Facebook. These experiences teach us about other parts of the world, and then we consider ourselves experts. We are cosmopolitan.

Or so I thought.

I thought so until this summer. On Friday, July 22, Anders Behring Breivik carried out a bombing and a shooting massacre in Norway. The story took over CNN from the morning until late that night. I was working that night, but around 4:00 p.m. I updated my status on Facebook to “thoughts and prayers go out to Norway.” As the day went on I was surprised to see that none of my Facebook friends had done the same. As someone who has studied and worked in journalism, many of my friends keep up with the news.

The next day, July 23, my Facebook news feed filled up with expressions of sadness over English singer Amy Winehouse’s death. This continues to puzzle me. American youth react to the death of a divisive musician but not to the deaths of more than 90 Norwegians. What does this say about cosmopolitanism’s chances?  

I don’t really want to analyze why Amy Winehouse’s death received more attention online. But I do think it speaks to the culture of the nation state. Although Winehouse was English, her music was popular in the states. She resonated with Americans. Norway doesn’t stand out.

My classmate Erica gave a similar example in another class. The date September 11 is not only significant for the attacks on America in 2001. Chileans remember the date for the bloody overthrow of socialist leader Salvador Allende in 1973. Not that that connection was ever made during the American coverage of 9/11.

The Norway and Chile events are two contrasting examples when it comes to the media. The media covered the Norway massacre extensively. Any unawareness can’t be blamed on the New York Times or CNN. But many Americans like myself are ignorant of the Chilean 9/11 precisely because we have had no exposure to it. (Perhaps because the U.S. supported the coup.)

Waisbord talks about how the media have eliminated distance, thereby advancing cosmopolitanism. But he mentions a key problem. Where does a global citizen’s loyalty belong to? Her hometown, her favorite town, her college town? If all of us were global citizens, we wouldn’t have emotional ties to certain places.  As we saw with Norway, media coverage brought us the story but it evoked little emotional response from the American public. The idea that something “hits close to home” remains true. We are a long way from being global citizens.


  1. I think you make a great point with the Norwegian tragedy as an example of a failure in the strength of cosmopolitanism. I agree that we still have a long way to go in developing a true cosmopolitan identity and not solely a national identity with global interests. In fact, it is a great example of something that had really stuck out to me in the Waisbord text when he says that "despite expectations that they (world news organizations) would contribute to broadening cultural horizons and fostering transnational communities, audiences are typically indifferent to the plight of others portrayed in world news… Rather than bringing audiences together, the media increase a sense of distancing from and denial of fellow world citizens." He goes on to say that the media is much better suited to and interested in reporting on national issues and news that will sustain the collective national identity. In this case, unfortunately as you said, Amy Winehouse must have had more relevance in our national culture than Norway.
    Cosmopolitanism seems to be an inconsistent identity structure, probably because it is based loosely on general commonalities rather than the differences that more sharply define groups. I guess the only question is whether or not this will ever change or if cosmopolitanism will just be a secondary group we can be part of when we choose to.

  2. I agree with the previous comment about how it is hard to define what cosmopolitanism truly is, so it is hard to really analyze their behavior.I agree with your thoughts on the attention given to Amy Winehouse over the Norwegian tragedy, but I wonder if Facebook status translate to global understanding.
    Several close friends from Norway and when I found out about the tragedy I immediately called them to check how they were. I did not update my Facebook status to reflect my thoughts on what happened, not because I didn't care, but because I just didn't have the words.I wonder if others reflected on my lack of sensitivity to the tragedy, or if they even knew.Maybe a figure like Winehouse hit home because she was personal but distant.
    I agree with the previous comment that trying to define what a cosmopolitan truly is impossible. therefore it is impossible to obtain.

  3. Z'leste, I agree that cosmopolitanism is loosely defined. I also found the passage you quoted from Waisbord very interesting. I tend to think, though, that the media as commercial entities have a tendency to reflect public opinion (or at least what they expect the public opinion to be). There are other factors and biases at play, but at this point the news business is about making money. The stories they tell and how they tell them are meant to attract as great an audience as possible.

    Ginnie, I didn't mean to suggest that Facebook statuses are the utmost measure of cultural sensitivity or awareness. But it is striking that out of the roughly 500 people I was connected to at the time, not one person had anything to say about Norway. And yet there were so many comments on Amy Winehouse or on Osama Bin Laden's death weeks before. To me that's very unsettling. I think there are several reasons why people our age post to Facebook including having strong feelings about a subject and wanting to generate a conversation. I think even if some of my online friends were moved by the tragedy in Norway, they anticipated that their comments wouldn't generate much interest.

  4. It is interesting post that I could see the American point of view towards the world affairs as a cosmopolitan citizen. Besides the Norway and Chile incidents there are a lot of world affairs that were "unintensionally" ignored by people, even though we need to be awared of them as global citizens. I agree that you have pointed out "Any unawareness can’t be blamed on the New York Times or CNN." Actually, many people do not pay attention that much to the matters that do not care that much. However, still we should consider that role of media between a 'window of the world' or a 'mirror of the world'.

    The masacre shooting in Norway was also broadcasted in the news in Korea using the foreign media source such as CNN or CBS, mostly distributed by American media company. However, it was not payed that much attention either comparing other entertainment issue in Korea. This also prove that not only Americans but also many other nations care much more on the issues that are related to their national cultures than other world affairs.

    For facebook,I remember when there was a Tsunami in Japan, a lot of Koreans express their pities to their Japanese friends using the Facebook or other SNS. Actually, Koreans payed intensively on the Tsunami incident happened to our neighbor country and collected millions of money for Japan. Koreans encourage to each other to help Japan through SNS. In this regards, I think if we have intense relationship with Norway, I think Koreans would pay more attention to their trajedy than our celebrity's death. (Well, here we can see agian how culutral relativity is significant anyhow).

    Well, I really enjoyed your posting! thank you :)