Currently the presumption that global interaction will inevitably take precedence over all other frameworks for organizing social life dominates discussions of modernity. Most who write on globalization make a distinction between consciousness of the phenomenon and the reality of global systems of economics and, to some extent, politics and culture. Global, or at least transregional, systems are far from new, and the reality of such systems inspires little dispute. Janet Abu-Lughod (1989), Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), and Eric Wolf (1982), among others, have outlined various ways that transregional economic systems of various scales have operated long before the twentieth century. However, consciousness of globalization as a crucial framework for social action is generally thought to be a quite recent phenomenon, and the significance of this phenomenon is a much more contentious issue. Advocates of globalization as an analytic strategy assume that the roots of global consciousness in its contemporary form extend no deeper than the latter half of the twentieth century, or perhaps even to only the past three decades when digital technology became prevalent. Globalization discourse posits a new and unique configuration of these two broad tendencies—the intensification of interconnectedness due to the expansion of world economic systems and the consciousness of that interconnectedness. All analyses of globalization are necessarily vague on the exact relationship between the reality of world systems and the consciousness of these systems, because all analyses are forced to recognize at some level the unevenness of the institutional and technological infrastructures that make possible a relationship between an expanding world system and consciousness of it. Mike Featherstone, for example, qualifies his analysis of globalization processes:
For many of the people in the world the consciousness of the process of globalization, that they inhabit the same place, may be absent, or limited, or occur only spasmodically.…At the same time there are clearly systemic tendencies in social life which derive from the expansive and integrating power of economic processes and the hegemonizing efforts of particular nation-states or blocs. (1996, 70–71)
But, however qualified, globalization discourse also implies an underlying technological determinism: those parts of the world that have not yet been assimilated into the global system will be assimilated at a later date. Resistance is futile. Communications technology and media—phenomena emphasized throughout this book—play a crucial role in creating globalization. The ultimate effects of assimilation to the global system, however, are hotly disputed. Cultural homogenization is by no means assumed. Rather, discussion of globalization revolves around a tension between the apparent homogenizing tendency of globalized modes of production and consumerism (with media again playing a crucial role) and the creation of localized cultural enclaves. Consumerism and its associated media phenomena labeled “global” are usually Western, or at least metropolitan.
As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam put it, the global distribution of power, dominated by Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, “still tends to make the First World countries cultural ‘transmitters’ and to reduce most Third World countries to the status of ‘receivers’” (1996, 147). Shohat and Stam do not emphasize the theme of metropolitan domination of global media. Rather, they focus on the potential for both nonmetropolitan media (in which some industries are actually quantitatively superior to Western production, if not more profitable) and new forms of media to challenge metropolitan hegemony. Their metropole is one in which spectatorial habits in “an increasingly transnational world, characterized by nomadic images, sounds, goods, and peoples,…impacts complexly on national identity, communal belonging, and political affiliation” (Shohat and Stam 1996, 164).
In the same vein, Ted Swedenburg’s “Sa‘ida Sultan/Danna International” addresses an instance of transnational media flow that is nonhierarchical—not from a metropolitan producer to a Third World receiver. Rather, the flow is horizontal between two nonmetropolitan nations, from Israel to Egypt. The impact of Sa‘ida Sultan, a transsexual singer of Yemeni origin who became popular in Cairo through underground cassette tapes, was indeed complex. But Swedenburg’s analysis of Sultan does not suggest media “nomadism” so much as a mélange of sound and image calculated to appeal to a niche market consisting of Israel’s gay subculture and, to a somewhat lesser extent, disaffected Mizrahim who chafe at Israel’s European-dominated social hierarchy. As in many of the contributions in Mass Mediations, Swedenburg finds it useful to discuss a transnational phenomenon through national categories. Egyptian youth were certainly not the niche the singer was trying for. But Sa‘ida Sultan’s border crossing is nonetheless quite locatable: the singer is highly suspect in Egyptian public culture and rather contentious in Israeli society. She serves to mark important borders between and within the two societies; she does not necessarily blur these boundaries in any way.
Katherine E. Zirbel’s “Playing It Both Ways” provides another view of transnational media consumption. Zirbel examines two Egyptian performance communities that relate quite differently to both global and national trends. The Cairene community of Muhammad ‘Ali Street exists largely outside the influence of global culture markets and has experienced both the state’s favor and, more recently, its disfavor. Muhammad ‘Ali Street performers had their day on the national stage but were never of interest in metropolitan venues. The other community is Upper Egyptian, marginal within Egypt, and precisely the sort of phenomenon favored in metropolitan “world beat” music that seeks to present itself as alternative to dominant metropolitan trends. For Shohat and Stam, metropolitan audiences who experience such culture “are reminded of the limits of their own knowledge and indirectly of their own potential status as foreigners” (1996, 165). But Zirbel’s Upper Egyptians’ music was in fact recorded entirely for the benefit of foreigners. Within Egypt this music might not have been recorded at all, though it may well have been (and still is) performed at weddings and on holidays. But the ability of the music to remind metropolitan listeners of their own potential marginality is strictly a mirage. “Westerners describe such music as a quirky kind of disco music that is consistently off kilter” (Zirbel, this volume). For them the music is essentially a brand of exoticism, purchased entirely by reference to their own culture. These Upper Egyptian musicians perform in a niche market every bit as circumscribed and locatable as the gay subculture to which Swedenburg’s Sa‘ida Sultan markets herself. But Sa‘ida Sultan’s market understands her: her image is predicated on a series of sly insider jokes. In the case of these “Gypsy” musicians, as this community is marketed, the effectiveness of the music is predicated on the audience’s inability to understand either it or its place in the “authentic” Egyptian culture they imagine it represents.
Philip Schuyler’s “Joujouka/Jajouka/Zahjoukah” looks at a musical phenomenon similar to that of Zirbel’s “Gypsies.” In Schuyler’s case the “world beat” marketing of a Moroccan ensemble is the primary focus, whereas in Zirbel’s case the phenomenon is relevant to one community of musicians and the main focus is on contrasting the two communities to each other in relation to the state. The Master Musicians of Jajouka hail from a small Arabic-speaking village near Tangier. They are “master musicians” only in the imagination of their Western patrons. Like the Egyptian “Gypsies,” the Jajouka musicians are quite marginal in Moroccan terms. Music of the Jajouka musicians is more plausibly nomadic than that of Zirbel’s Upper Egyptians, at least insofar as “ownership” of the music is slightly ambiguous. The ambiguity arises from disputes between the Jajouka musicians’ principal Moroccan patron and the various Westerners—but particularly Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones—over how to market the music and who gets the profits from their albums. Schuyler’s analysis of the Jajouka phenomenon suggests none of the displacement or subversion implied by Shohat and Stam’s celebration of nonmetropolitan performance in metropolitan venues. The Master Musicians of Jajouka are very much whatever metropolitan audiences want to read into them, including an association with paganism attributed on largely ideological grounds by various Western scholars as a survival from either Berber or Roman culture (Hammoudi 1993, 30–31). Judging by the Jajouka phenomenon as related by Schuyler, “world music” makes the most sense in terms of metropolitan tastes for exoticism. These tastes are interesting in their own right but are hardly new, and their existence hardly depends on a global stage. This is not to say that complex syntheses of musical styles are not intentionally created all the time by musicians (witness Sa‘ida Sultan, or American jazz, or modernist appropriations of imagined primitivism such as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). But the horizons of musical audiences are always both circumscribed and changeable under the right circumstances.