Bringing global media to the local audience
A few years ago, Divya McMillin got to thinking about adaptations of global television formats for local audiences. Highly successful game shows in western media markets were proving just as successful in markets where cultural contexts were quite different. Most interesting to examine were such relationship-oriented shows such as The Newlywed Game of the 1960s and 70s in the United States.
McMillin, a respected scholar in global media studies, wondered how the format was received in patriarchal India, where marriage woes are hardly up for public discussion.
Her fieldwork at the private television station that produced the Indian version "Adarsha Dampathigalu," (The Ideal Couple) revealed a big surprise: the show, although light-hearted in tone, offers a serious examination of marital issues, opening up new avenues for discourse while carefully reaffirming deep structures. Her findings – like much of her work in the last couple of decades – turned conventional thinking about non-western audiences on its head.
McMillin, a professor of global media studies in UW Tacoma’s Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program and director of the Global Honors program, is the recipient of the 2012 Distinguished Research Award, which honors one UW Tacoma professor annually for excellence in their field of study. McMillin is honored as a groundbreaking scholar in the field of international communication.
A native of India, McMillin began her career as a freelance reporter and photographer in Bangalore. She quickly realized that the rapid deadlines and "stop-and-go environment" of journalism weren't for her; she preferred in-depth explorations about media globalization. After earning her Ph.D. in International Communication and Cultural Studies at Indiana University, she joined UW Tacoma as an assistant professor in 1998.
As a graduate student, she discovered that much of the existing research in her field examined global media and television programming from a Euro-centric point of view. Research leaned heavily on the political economy of western media conglomerates with much more needing to be done in areas she considered important: how a community's rituals and practices may have changed as a result of globalization, and the role of television in effecting these changes.
"I look at the cultural context of audiences," she says. "What's their colonial history, what range of local practices are they already engaging in and what effect does television programming – foreign or local – have on what they do? What do they do differently as a result of watching the programming available on television?"
McMillin conducted fieldwork at state-owned and private television networks and interviews in viewers' homes, in sweatshops and call centers, seeking opinions on television programming and how it was changing viewers’ habits. In 2007 she developed her theoretical shifts into her first book, International Media Studies, which is used as a textbook in international media courses around the world. In 2009, her second book, Mediated Identities: Television, Youth, and Globalization, pulled together collaborative fieldwork among young audiences across the world. Experts in the field say McMillin's research has changed the discourse on media globalization.
"I'm happy that I am able to change the field a little bit by pointing to questions that hadn’t been asked before," she says. "Writing the first book took a lot of courage because I was subverting dominant theory. People got it and respected the change."
Currently McMillin is working simultaneously on three papers on media markets in South and East Asia. The adaptations of global formats for local markets provide the basis for her explorations into the cultural transformations these engender. The papers are planned for a special journal issue on lifestyle television, an anthology on television histories, and for the Robert Pockrass Lecture at Pennsylvania State University, respectively.
McMillin says she is "humbled" by the Distinguished Research Award.
"I am very thankful. I respect the other nominees highly," she says. "I feel a renewed energy to keep traveling and looking for field work experiences where I can see global questions playing out in very real ways."