Cultural Commodities and Regionalization in East Asia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Regional formation ideas and theories have existed before and throughout the twentieth century. (1) However, it was only after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of its bipolarized world system that ideas of regional formation came to be espoused in many parts of the world (Mansfield and Milner 1999). The rise of regionalism in world politics has undergone further reappraisal in an area of globalization, both as a response and a challenge (Mittelman 1996; Hettne et al. 1999). Manifestations of this phenomenon are pronounced in the progress that the European Union has achieved, as well as in other ongoing regional formation attempts, such as in North America (NAFTA), South America (Mercosur), Africa (AU), Asia (ASEAN, EAEC), and the Asia-Pacific (APEC).

Throughout most of the twentieth century Asia was a relatively divided continent. In terms of regional formation, the term "Asia" itself was not much more than a matter of nomenclature, which merely indicated the continent's geographic location. Previous attempts to promote solidarity among Asians did take place, (2) but those seemed to have been futile or stagnant, at best. However, in the last two decades areas within Asia are increasingly being "pushed" towards each other. A new international manoeuvring away from the American and Soviet Union dominated Cold War era politics, together with the ever-evolving political and economic integrating forces, provided the right incentives for this region's governments and markets to come closer together. In addition, ideas and ambitious possibilities regarding the emergence of some sort of "Asian region" and sub-regions in Asia have been repeatedly mentioned and discussed. (3) During the period following the financial crisis of 1997-98, the necessity of cooperating in order to maintain political-economic stability was further realized. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, "Asia" and sub-regions within Asia have become more closely integrated within the last half century than ever before. This continues despite an obvious lack of formal regional institutionalization and an emphasis on the informal, negotiated, and inclusive approach in regional policy. (4) Regions in Asia might even now possess a few common, regionally shared characteristics.

In the field of culture, East Asia of the last two decades has experienced a renaissance rooted in the growth of its economies and booming consumerism, and manifested in massive new cultural innovation, production, dissemination, and consumption. In East Asia, as in other parts of the world, American popular culture continues to loom over the markets, reaching those who are able to pay the price. Local and regional cultural confluences have, however, developed and intensified, substantially decentralizing the world's cultural structure and refuting the notion that East Asia's cultural scene should be contagiously American. In this process of development, entrepreneurs, companies, and promoters in East Asia have collaborated to form alliances that endorse the emergence of a regional market for culture, facilitate transnational bypasses to connect individuals and communities, and provide cultural content to the imagery of a region.

The aim of this study is to examine cultural aspects of regionalization in Asia. The paper focuses on the confluences of popular culture in East Asia in the period surrounding the last two decades, analysing both the possibilities and the limits of regional formation that derives from the transnational commodification of culture. It argues that the confluences of popular culture and the activities of the newly emerging transnational media alliances propagate regionalization by facilitating a collaborative and integrative market for culture, and by providing platforms to enable the possible emergence of commonalities of identities and conceptions.

The first part of the paper briefly discusses and critiques the theories of regionalization and regional formation. …