THE world used to be divided into distinct locales that were
sensitive to the traditions of the past. But Western popular
culture and communication technology have changed that forever.
The power of rock and roll, for example, has altered the way
young people relate to culture, society, and each other - and gives
anyone in reach of a satellite link the ability to share in this
Western foreign-policy specialists pay little attention to the
influence of popular culture on the lives of the next generation in
countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, India,
Pakistan. Nor are they gauging the impact of popular culture on the
future stability of these regions.
But this same evidence is causing jitters for political leaders
from the Philippines to Bahrain. Throughout the developing world
there is no misunderstanding the pulsating media message of
individualism, consumerism, and creative freedom.
I witnessed this phenomenon last summer in Southeast Asia.
Everywhere attention was focused on Rupert Murdoch's purchase of 64
percent of HutchVision Ltd., the parent company of the Asian
satellite giant, STAR TV.
At first I did not understand why the $525 million transaction
interested anyone other than Mr. Murdoch himself and Richard Li
Tzar-Kai Li, the 26-year-old enfant terrible of Hong Kong's
business world and the founder of STAR TV.
But when I checked into my hotel in downtown Hanoi, I had a
chance to see for myself just what it was that Murdoch was willing
to pay through the nose for.
While watching the brand-new Toshiba color TV in my room, I
discovered that the programming beamed to Vietnam and all of Asia
via STAR TV featured a glimpse of life so wild and so Western that
it deserves to be dubbed, "in-your-face capitalism."
STAR TV, or "Satellite Television Asian Region," produces its
own version of the American-made Music Television (MTV), designed
to appeal to audiences made up largely of Asian youth with an
appetite for Western popular culture. With its 24-hour-a-day
programming, reaching 38 countries and an estimated 45 million
viewers, Asian MTV is as powerful an influence on young people as
any political or economic dogma - and leaders in these
traditionally conservative countries are cocking their ears to try
to figure out what has gotten hold of the younger generation.
During the three weeks I spent in Vietnam, I watched Asian MTV
every chance I got. I realized the policy analysts and forecasters
who rely on mainstream economic and political variables to
determine the trends and forces shaping international affairs are
deaf to the message reaching millions of young people every day.
Asian MTV's around-the-clock rock features programming styled
after its American counterpart. For classics fans, there are
segments devoted to the music of Jimi Hendrix or The Who or a
profile of the eclectic singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. "MTV
Unplugged" for the month of August featured a look at the music of
two of this year's hottest bands, 10,000 Maniacs and Arrested
Development. An MTV "Rockumentary" showcased the Australian hard-
rock band AC/DC.
What most grabbed my attention were the hour-long "MTV's Most
Wanted," (hosted by super savvy, Chinese Valley Girl, "Nonie")
and a follow-on call-in show, "Dial MTV," broadcast daily from
IN both programs, video jockey (VJ) Nonie holds the viewing
audience with hip lingo, breezily flipping back and forth between
American slang and Mandarin. During the course of "MTV's Most
Wanted," she counts down the Top 10 music videos of the week
(mostly Western). …