‘Have you watched Elite on Netflix? You have to watch it with subtitles, so actually, watch it, but it’s amazing.’

A statement such as this would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago. For decades, critics of globalisation feared the creation of a ‘global village’ — a world in which regional and national cultures would cease to exist, overcome by the dominance of a singular global society. To some extent, this has happened; companies such as Netflix and Spotify dominate pop culture, providing masses of consumers worldwide with Western-produced media. However, recent years have seen a shift away from this, with a boom in internationally created films and music.

Here we’ll examine the extent of this reverse cultural imperialism, its influences, how younger generations are shaping the trend towards greater cultural diversity, and the consequences of this for global markets and government-controlled media. 

The ‘Trend’

Reverse cultural imperialism has manifested in two diverse but connected ways. First is the development of regionally produced media within countries that have historically imported Western media. Data from Spotify in countries with increasingly strong local industries such as India, Indonesia and South Korea shows that the share of English language tracks in the top 100 fell from 52 per cent to 31 per cent in the past five years. In Spain and Latin America, this figure has dropped from 25 per cent to 14 per cent, as artists move further toward singing in Spanish as opposed to English — driven by local and international demand.

Simultaneously, Western countries are importing more internationally produced media, whether through companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime or otherwise. In the last two years, the United States’ total imports have decreased by 25 per cent whilst imports of ‘audio-visual services’ have risen by six times the amount in 2020.

There is no doubt that transnational media companies still dominate the sector, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, new demands from consumers are not only encouraging national cultural industry growth but also forcing these companies to diversify their offerings. This runs counter to the vision of a ‘global monoculture that is sterile, dull, and artificial’ as stated by June Johnson, the author of Global Issues, Local Arguments.

The Young

Younger generations are the primary mass consumers of media. Essentially, it is us driving these trends. There is no better example of reverse Western media dominance than the explosion of Korean-produced media. Beginning in 2018 with the rise of ‘Gangnam Style’ and continuing most recently with Netflix’s most-watched show of 2021 ‘Squid Game,’ young people across the world have fallen in love with Korean-based dramas, films and songs. In countries such as the UK, Canada and America where foreign language learning has been dwindling for decades, the uptake of Korean by students has been monumental. Across colleges in the United States, the number of students enrolling in Korean language courses has increased by 78 per cent since 2009.

A more immediate effect is seen in the uptake of Korean Duolingo courses in the two weeks following the release of Squid Game; 76 per cent in the UK and 40 per cent in America. That today’s young people feel so engaged in Korean media that they are inclined to learn the language, is a truly powerful change. It suggests the birth of a global culture in which students choose to speak languages other than English out of cultural inspiration — as opposed to compulsory courses at secondary school. This has been picked up by Korean nationals and Victor Cha, Senior Vice President at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, who praises the ‘homegrown, grassroots generation-specific love.’

The rise in international cultural awareness is inherently beneficial. Even if media produced in one country is not interpreted in the way it was intended when watched by viewers elsewhere, having a global recognition of diverse cultures is a crucial step towards a more intelligent and grounded world society.


There are multiple reasons why these trends have taken off. One is economic growth. As countries prosper, rising incomes are being spent not on Netflix subscriptions, but on local musicians, allowing regional music markets to flourish. This is then assisted by the flexibility of the media market — one with virtually unlimited shelf space — allowing content to be accessed anywhere and a diverse consumption of media.

This has interesting implications for national politics. On the one hand, increased national media production can lead to greater knowledge, allowing certain countries to become more decentralised and democratised. As people gain greater autonomy and access, governments have less control over  media consumption within their borders which can help reduce the risk of electoral fraud or voter manipulation. There is also the benefit of gaining a greater appreciation of national culture, particularly in non-European or Western nations. When Spider-Man 3 was released in 2007, it made headlines for being the first Hollywood film to be released in regional languages (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bhojpuri) on the same day as its English premiere.

China is perhaps one of the most extreme examples where the government likes to keep a firm hold over its citizens. Websites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Netflix are all blocked. However, it is estimated that at least 8 per cent of Chinese internet users download software programs allowing them to visit prohibited websites. Most of these users are young and risk potential imprisonment for their actions. Still, despite the restrictions and threat of jail time, Chinese consumers continue to access global media and export their own trends. For instance, the TikTok trend of ‘Quiet Quittingoriginated in China, with a youth movement against the government’s ‘996’ workday propaganda (9 am till 6 pm, 6 days a week).

Of course, like all new movements, they come with a mixed bag of consequences. Whilst younger generations of Chinese seem to embrace a more globalised China, others take national cultural appreciation to extremes. Throughout the Covid pandemic, many authors were trolled on social media for failing to highlight the Chinese government’s success in containing the virus and accused of supporting ‘anti-China forces.’

Prevalent and Positive?

Despite the rise of reverse cultural imperialism, much of the media market is still dominated by Western outlets. However, the good news is that there is resistance driven by internal and external forces. An expansion of youth cultural awareness and the media’s ability to present itself as a ‘soft power’ for strengthening democracy are strong positives. Saying this, the challenge is to hold off extreme nationalism from arising in countries that are susceptible to this.

As a devout ‘Swiftie,’ I believe that everyone should listen to her new album Midnights, but even I would never want to live in a world where she consistently monopolises the music charts across the globe.

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