British Consumers and the American Dream: A Study of American Media Production and British Consumption Trends Post 9/11.
The overall objective of this study has been to discredit any notion that Europeans, even more so than Americans themselves, buy unreservedly into the American dream. That is not to say that they do not at any cost, but rather, that they do not share in this Americana at the expense of their own culture. However, the results have shown that if anything, British television viewers mostly share a preference for British culture, and have a significantly higher propensity to partake of its offerings over imported American cultural products. As already explained in some detail – this objective was met by breaking down the overall approach into three separate elements that explored US television production and UK viewing trends during 2015.
In the first instance, the statistics obtained from the BARB website were used to establish that British audiences have a resounding preference for television programmes produced in the United Kingdom. Moreover, American television production seems to enjoy limited representation on the most popular British channels. Out of the broadcasters that BARB currently surveys, the BBC was by far the most watched, and drama was significantly the most popular genre for a time-shifted viewership. It has also been established that users (or the time-shifted viewers that this study is primarily concerned with) have a higher propensity to decode the sometimes intricately woven critiques of American culture found in programmes such as The Wire. This would further suggest that such reception might then account for much of what remains insofar as the appropriation of the American dream. As a point of further interest, The Wire was highly acclaimed when shown by the BBC in 2009.
Secondly, a case study of The Wire has unequivocally established the state that the American dream finds itself in, at least as represented in popular culture. The study underlines how the level of attention afforded to foreign policies over domestic issues post 9/11 contributed to diminished funding in cities such as Baltimore, and therefore, to the subsequent rise of unmitigated bureaucracy. Such bureaucracy has been identified as the root cause for a less democratic society, thus also contributing directly to the dilution of the American dream. Bureaucracy was seen to precipitate corruption, further resulting in a disenfranchised middle class – the ‘Missing Middle’ was employed as an indirect critique of the growing class divide. That downwards, instead of upwards mobility was a more probable outcome could not have been more damaging to the American dream. Ultimately, bureaucracy in Baltimore has ensured that hegemonic state control is irrevocably intertwined within the very fabric of society. The American dream that is portrayed in The Wire, and in many cultural products originating from post 9/11 America, is anything but desirable. Returning to the established popularity of the genre and users’ capability to decipher such meaning, it then becomes clear that even when consuming American cultural products, British viewers might in fact be rejecting – rather than appropriating – the American dream.
Finally, a survey conducted specifically as part of this research corroborates both, the interpretation of the Barb figures and that users might identify with the outcome of the case study, by virtue of its quantitative and qualitative elements. The survey concluded that the majority of participants can be deemed users, and that their preferred genre is drama. The majority of viewers prefer British television production to any other, and they also expressed their preference for British culture over American (US) culture generally. In a more direct line of questioning, it was further established that most participants do not consider America worthy as world leaders, and a significant majority suggested that the American dream is not at all worthy of pursuit by the British public. Overall, the survey findings also confirm that British television audiences do not buy unreservedly into the American dream – just as the BARB figures suggested – and that if anything, they reject the American dream outright – as the case study might imply. Essentially, these reaffirmations deem the secondary objective of performing a triangulation of data as having been met, and this research as conclusive.
The first point of recommendation is aimed at perfecting the approach already taken. The notable absence of viewing data for subscription VOD platforms such as Netflix and Amazon is lamentable in that it has the potential to significantly further the already unequivocal results. BARB has recently launched Project Dovetail: a hybrid measurement system that combines data collected as traditionally from the BARB panel, and from metadata tags that are embedded in online content. This constitutes a significant effort on their part to provide the necessary technical infrastructure, and therefore attract such platforms to share in its objectives. It is certain that for the moment at least, viewing figures for online subscription VOD services would not be significant enough to overturn the categorical results obtained in this research – as reported in the Statistical Overview. However, the figures are growing consistently, and it therefore remains an important future consideration.
The remaining points recommend extending this research to other sectors of the media industry, other countries, and other sectors of the economy. A study of the consumption of American culture through different media might add to the knowledge base so far established. Music, radio, and books in particular, are renowned as subjects of great scholarly attention precisely because they are on par with television as regards their inherent ideological transmission. Furthermore, since Dell’Orto’s statement referred to Europe as a whole and not just the UK, then similar lines of inquiry could also be extended to other European countries. France in particular would be worthy of further study, having being so vocal against Americanisation during the 1994 round of GATT negotiations. In order to gain a more generic overview, the analysis of European consumption of Americana should not be limited to the media industry, and could therefore be extended to include other sectors of the economy. The US automobile industry is particularly renowned for introducing its ‘muscle-car’ to the world: import/export figures for this American icon might reveal a new perspective. Tourism could also be indicative of European sentiment towards America. The world of Technology has regularly been highly commoditised and therefore, might similarly be conducive to further our understanding of Europe’s appropriation of the American dream – insofar as iconic American brands in this sector, Apple and Microsoft products alone are worthy of further attention.
One final recommendation would be to pursue the objectives of this study from an even wider perspective, by mapping the globalised movement of capital. Overall figures for world economies are well reported and readily accessible, and might thus prove easier to acquire than those of private companies such as Netflix. These figures could provide further insight on the movement and consumption of Americana at a global level. Since Dell’Orto reports on the political history of Europe’s fascination with the American dream, and this research provides an early insight from a cultural point of view, a final overview from a global economy perspective would then facilitate a similar triangulation to that achieved in this research.
Semester 6 (January – May 2016) : Final Major Project.