A historical timeline of 20th century “mass culture”

“In retrospect, the rise of mass culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries looks like the development of national cultural markets. National culture industries producing mass-reproducible forms — films, vinyl records, radio broadcasts, and illustrated magazines with half-tone images — displaced the city as the site not only of live performance and exhibition, but even of book and newspaper publishing. They also enclosed the cultural commons as all sorts of vernacular art forms that had circulated as common property, or part of the public domain, were recorded, copyrighted, and sold as commodities.

Before the 1980s and 1990s, these ‘national media systems were,’ as Robert McChesney has noted, ‘typified by domestically owned radio, television and newspaper industries.’ Despite ‘major import markets for films, TV shows, music and books . . . dominated by US based firms, . . . local commercial interests, sometimes combined with a state-affiliated broadcasting service predominated.’ Nevertheless, the years after World War II saw the beginnings of a global cultural market, often experienced as a tide of ‘Americanization,’ because of the prestige of US films, products, and musics. Against this stood the powerful, if unsuccessful, alternatives posed by the Second and Third Worlds: the attempt to delink the culture of the Communist world from the world cultural market, and the struggle by postcolonial states to orchestrate a new world information order.

In the wake of the age of three worlds, a radical privatization and deregulation of mass communications established a global market in cultural commodities, dominated by a handful of world-spanning corporations, among them Sony, News Corp, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Viacom, and Bertelsman.”

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