Impact assessment of western films on teenagers and the question of cultural promotion in african society

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Bello Semiu


This study examines the impact of western films on teenagers as it affects the promotion of cultural heritage in African society. Much after the independence across African continent, one of the major preoccupations African leaders had to contend with is the restoration of African cultures in their pristine forms which were arguably polluted or collapsed by the colonial masters during their reign. No doubt, teenagers and youth generally, are vital segment of the society who could be instrumental promoting African cultures. But unfortunately, the mentality and lifestyle of the teenagers in African societies have been grossly affected by exposure to western films to such an extent that rather than promoting African cultures, they have become hardened acolytes and promoters of western cultures. The study therefore examines this situation with particular reference to Nigeria adopting both qualitative and quantitative research methods and at the end find out that western films exert great impact on the teenagers in Nigerian society thereby creating cultural gap to the native cultures. The study then concludes by prescribing way forward towards the restoration and promotion of African cultures as it affects teenagers with particular reference to Nigerian society.

Considerations about the effects of films can be traced back to the 1920s. At that time, the earliest coordinated social scientific research or investigation into the impact of these effects began in the Western countries. It was intended at studying the harmful impacts of films on societies. The development of this medium as a common mass entertainment and information source during the 1950s encountered similar concerns about potential harms, especially in connection with young audiences (Gunter, 1994). Nowadays, many concerns have been raised about the kinds of values and attitudes that may be inculcated by exposure to certain kinds of media contents, especially enculturation and violence in movies (Kubey and Larson, 2005).

The most important concern in the debate about violent film has been whether or not it promotes aggressive behavior among viewers most especially the young ones (Evra 1990). Researchers have also shown that heavy exposure to screen violence can cause problems in other domains of social behavior. For example, it can make people become both fearful of the world around them and accepting violence in the real life as displayed by others (Ibid). Violence is one of the global concerns today in all segments of the world. Antisocial behavior in human beings is accepted to be associated to a number of physiological, psychological, domestic and cultural aspects.

The learning environments which a child is exposed to are also assumed to contribute to the increase of aggressive behaviors and attitudes as well as his inclinations to customs, values and norms of the society (Berkowitz, 2001).

The media, as one of the specific learning condition is believed to be a potential contributor to the growth of antisocial attitudes and behavior in children and teenagers (Ibid). While social scientists work on determining the major causation of violence, such as social environments, cultural factors, family instruction, and group membership parents, teachers, politicians and school administrators continue to blame the media for increased cultural alienation and attitudinal change among adolescents (Fraser and Staub, 1996).
For instance, school principals, mothers, and young people were surveyed for their perceptions of factors influencing home cultures among youth. The results showed that violent messages in rap music and violence in the movies are perceived as the factor among others, influencing the formative process of the teenagers (Kandakai, Price and Telljohann, 1999). Also and importantly, the question of cultural promotion in the developing world has been hampered by blind acceptance and practice of western cultures by the young ones. Findings however show that film as a medium of mass communication is one the major contributors. Nowadays, the teenagers in Nigeria and Africa as a whole watch western films with impunity or without caution. This shapes their thoughts, attitudes, associations, behaviors and general ways of life.


The study answered these pertinent questions in order to fulfill the overall goal.

  1. Do western films shape the attitudes, behaviors and general lifestyles of the teenagers in Nigeria?

  2. Do Nigerian teenagers accept and practice western cultures exposed to through western films at the expense of Nigerian cultures?

  3. At what degree do Nigerian teenagers resist foreign or western cultures exposed to through western films?


The emergence of globalization concept in the period between the latter half of the 19th Century and the initial years of the 20th Century (1850-1914) with its widespread entrenchment in most of the countries of the world with varied degrees and dimensions also learn credence to this study. Of course, films and mass media in general are not bye-products of globalization but the fact is, it gives another coloration and occasioned a paradigm shift in the media world in terms of conceptualization process and the general practice. Globalization also impacts greatly on the socio-economy, political, educational and cultural life of many countries of the world.

Emphasizing this position, Bello (2010) submits

globalization principally and philosophically aims at globalizing the world in all thinkable ramifications-cultural, economic, political, educational etc. Importantly however, homogenization of cultural relations worldwide has been a key factor in the process of globalizing and this undoubtedly, has improved the lots of humanity since its birth but each nation of the world has had to face a great deal of challenges most especially the developing countries.

Also, “unfortunately, the case of African countries and other third world nations of the world are quite nagging. The cultural fabrics of these countries have suffered a seemingly irreparable damage in the face of globalization. The mass media and the so-called new media - radio, television, computer, newspaper, magazines, books, bill-boards, cinema, recordings, films, internets etc, have all by content and production eroded the cultural values of Africans. The operations of Nigerian mass media are patterned on the western model which invariably erodes our cultures. ..” (Ibid)

Defined as “the process of intensification of economic, political, social and cultural relations across international boundaries, globalization principally aims at the transcendental homogenization of political and socio-economic theory across the globe, it is equally aimed at making global being present worldwide at the world stage or global arena. It deals with the increasing breakdown of trade barriers and the increasing integration of world market” (Fafowora, 1998,p.5). Better still, globalization is also seen “as an evolution which is systematically restructuring interactive phase among nations by breaking down barriers in the arena of culture, commerce, communication and several other fields of endeavors” (Ohuabunwa, 1995, p. 20).

Muyale (1998) rightly observes the overwhelming effects of globalization thus, “the effect of globalization has had on culture is immense and diverse. It has affected people’s cultural behaviors in different ways. People have had to change their living ways”, (Muyale 1998, 1). Barber (1992) and Parker (2005) also emphasize that a number of people who view globalization from the Universalist perspective criticize the growing erosion of traditional values aided by rapid development of information technology and transnational corporations (Cited by Mamman & Liu 2008, p.12).

Mamman & Liu however note that at its extreme, proponents of this school appear to suggest that globalization is another form of cultural imperialism. In this context, it can be asserted that films are general instruments of globalized society expanding and sustaining the scope of cultural dominance and imperialism of the western world.

Importantly, researchers have empirically proved that most films appeal to the emotions of its viewers and ultimately affect their worldview. Because of the developing emotions of adolescents as a result of the onset of puberty, films can have a huge effect. In a study of retention rate of film details between different age groups, Rosen (1979) found that “both children and adults remember best material that has a high emotional appeal, that is easily understood, and that is concerned with the movie’s plot.” The material that adolescents will emotionally relate to differs not only from adults and children, but also from teenagers to teenagers.
Teenagers are most likely to become emotionally invested and interested in the situations that pertain to their changing views of the world and growing status in society. These issues include identity formation, high school graduation, and college, moving away from home, driving, and parental relationships. The level of emotional involvement teenagers in general feel with the film’s content can affect aspects of his or her psychosocial development. In Nigerian society, the situation is quite alarming in that, teenagers’ attitudes, thoughts and general behaviors are considerably influenced by western films and worsestill, Nollywood films which are mostly anchored on western models consolidate western films thereby promoting western values in Nigerian society.
This is not to say that films are completely negative. Films show teenagers interactions and experiences which they may have encountered or will encounter later in their development. While the wrong films can give the teenagers wrong ideas, watching movies does benefit an adolescent’s cognitive development.
Movies play an important role in teenager’s lives, and open up windows on a better world, at least on a world that questions the status quo. Films provide teenagers an opportunity to experience different parts of the world they may never be able to experience in their own lives. A teenager living in a small town may have little or no interactions with different ethnicities, but through films, they are able to view a different part of the world. Also, by viewing foreign situations in a film, teenagers are able to apply these situations to their own lives using their evolving formal operational thought.
Despite these values, it is depressing to hear the conversation of today's typical teenagers. Yet the offensive behavior encouraged by the media is not confined to speech. For the sake of supposed humor, the media frequently show children acting naughty. Staged or cartoon-mediated disobedience, bullying, yelling, whining, rowdiness, hyperactivity—all set an example for children in the viewing audience. It could then be postulated that the more a teenager watches such films, the more likely he will bully his peers, attend to the norms and values of the land with jeopardy and unconcerned mind. Worst of all are the many scenes showing teenagers out of control, in a tantrum. Unfortunately, a tantrum is contagious.
Teenagers learn civility; indeed, they learn kindness, consideration, and all the other virtues essential to good social relationships through interaction with loving adults and through adult-supervised films. TV-viewing, by focusing a teenager's attention upon an impersonal screen, drastically reduces his interaction with other real people. One of the indictments that recent research has brought against TV-viewing is that it produces teenagers who are handicapped by poor social skills.
From the beginning, movies have labored mightily to convince viewers that they need to make themselves more attractive and align with dominant cultures as presented by the media. It has offered up a ceaseless stream of advertisement for hair care products, shaving blades and creams, body soaps, deodorants, and a host of other products designed to enhance the feel, the smell, or the look of the human body. All these are sharp attack on the cultural values of the Nigerian society and this is consequently manifested by the general way of life of the Nigerian teenagers.

In the last one decade and a half, the feelings and attitudes of the youth in general to conform to western cultures is on the increase on daily basis.

Exposure to media contents and more recently, the advent of the internet and its widespread use among Nigerian teenagers among other factors have progressively increased the tide. In the effort to attract viewers and sell products, this media constantly offer a gallery of the world's most beautiful people. A modern man sees more world-class female beauty in a single day than his forefathers saw in a lifetime. As a result of the media's relentless campaign to promote body consciousness, teenagers today are more obsessed with beauty as defined by the western media than ever before which contrarily oppose to the paradigm of African beauty.
However, it might appear that this study is inversely giving a knock to the idea presented many years ago by European-American thinkers who did not believe Africans are capable of producing their own meaning when encountering foreign ideas which is a platform for Euro-American thinkers to “preserve” African cultures in their so-called “pristine” state in order to render Africans apolitical and unable to resist imperialism. The position of this study is contrary from the ideal perspective but importantly, the reality in Nigerian society in relations to teenagers’ exposure to western films and the level at which they cultivate and practice foreign cultures imbibed from these films is so alarming with various cumulative negative effects so much that the situation has continued to attract the attention of the academia which has led to many research studies.
For instance in a study titled “Exposure of Children and Teenagers to Internet Pornography in South Western Nigeria: Concerns, Trends and Implications; Longe et al (2001) submit that sexuality trends among teenagers and children in Nigeria was culturally alien to Nigerian society in the past. The authors further point out that among other factors; exposure and enculturation through importation of various western films and foreign cultures have been widely responsible for the ugly situation.
Longe et al (op cit) cited Ojo and Fasuba (2005) to give a clear picture of the situation

Adolescent’s sexuality behavior in Nigeria and sub-Sahara Africa is seriously going through transformation from what it used to be in the past. They attributed this to the effect of modernization caused by industrialization, education, exposure and enculturation through importation of various western films and foreign cultures which were alien to the Nigerian cultures in particular and Africa as a whole. The major deterrents against these vices were previously cultural orientation and religious beliefs. Unfortunately, the internet more than any other agent of social change has contributed in no small measure to the removal of guilt, fear and shame associated with unconventional sexual activities
In a similar study, “Attitudes of Nigerian Secondary School Adolescents Towards Sexual Practices: Implications for Counseling Practices” conducted by Egbochuku and Ekanem (2008), the authors identified various anticultural issues and behavioral problems the Nigerian Society has to grapple with. Such problems according to the study include truancy, disobedience, vandalism, assault, insult, stealing, violent demonstration, drug offences, examination malpractices and secret cult activities. The authors lament that:

There appears to be a consensus among Nigerian researchers and observers that many traditional values are changing rapidly and for the worse. One area of life in which the decline of cultural values is obvious is in the area of sexuality. It is lamentable in Nigeria, culture no longer has a grip on the youth as our society seems to be plagued with decayed moral codes and values and so the sense of right and wrong is eroded… Apart from the blame apportioned to parents for their negligence, scholars are of the opinion that adolescents are naturally open to the normal sex drive while this drive is increased by the impact of permissive western cultures transmitted through the sexual stimuli conveyed by the mass media

The study further proves that the adolescents are aware of and familiar with the various environmental stimuli that came to them through films and pictures and exposure to pornography and western films account for 65.1% which stands as a major variable exerting a large measure of influence in the attitude of adolescents in general (Egbochuku & Ekanem, 2008). Therefore, the contemporary theory of consumption in Africa which speaks of hybridity and resistance to foreign cultures is yet to be rooted and appreciated in Nigeria.

The general lifestyle of these teenagers is considerably modeled on that of foreign cultures. Their dressing, behavior, music and entertainment choice and worldview in general are all pointers to this position. As defined by Smith (2010), hybridity which emphasizes the impossibilities of returning to any notions of essential national or cultural identity after the colonial encounter, particularly in the present context of social, economic and cultural globalization is yet to see the light of the day in Nigerian society, even the media industry is not left out.

The point is that, the Nigerian media are dominated by foreign contents. Hybridity and resistance theory is only championed to an appreciable extent in Nigeria by the academia to raise the level of awareness and for possible adoption in later years.

Also, it is important to make reference to the theory of encoding and decoding postulated by Stuart Hall. Since the late 1940s, traditional mass communication theorists and researchers conceptualized the process of communication in terms of circuit: production, distribution and consumption. In other words, they have represented communication as a linear process: sender-message and receiver. But Hall (1974) had a contrary argument to this model as he declared “I propose to rethink this model, offering readers a much more dynamic model, with a focus on television”(Hall, 1974, p.51).

Therefore, Hall rejected the transmission model of communication and the idea of fixed messages arguing that media messages are always open and polysemic (i.e. have multiple meanings) and their interpretation or so-called “decoding” is influenced by the… context and the culture of the receivers” (Cited by McQuail 2000, p.56).

Also, Hall (1974) that different receivers will not interpret a message as “sent” or “as expected” and moreover…meanings and messages are not simply transmitted, they are always produced first by the encoder from the raw material of everyday life, and second; by the audience in relation to its location and other discourses. Each moment is “determinative”, operating in its own conditions of production”

As much as the ideals of Hall’s proposition in encoding and decoding theory or model of communication is appreciated worldwide, it could be contended that, depending on the dynamics of the situations and societies; the propositions of the theory may not be always true at all times and in all circumstances. For instance, aside this study, other studies earlier cited have proved that Nigerian teenagers are largely influenced by foreign cultures exposed to in the foreign films at the expense of the local cultures. Teenagers are not so empowered to have culturally “decoded” messages from western films with their cultural filter. The Nigerian media and Entertainment industries fail to help matter in this regard as they project more of foreign contents without consideration to younger generation and adequate attention to local contents.


This study is anchored on the basis of cultivation theory and cultural imperialism. Cultivation theory is a social theory otherwise known as cultivation analysis which was developed on the basis of examining the long-term effects of television on American audiences of all ages. Developed by George Gerbner and Larry Gross of the University of Pennsylvania, cultivation theory derived from several large-scale research projects as part of an overall research project titled “Cultural Indicators”. The purpose of the Cultural Indicators Project was to identify and track the “cultivated” effects of television on viewers.

They were concerned with the effects of television programming (particularly violent programming) on the attitudes and behavior of the American public” (Miller, 2005, p.281) Establishing the basic tenets of cultivation theory, Gerbner et al (1986) argued that “while religion and education had previously been greater influences on social trends and mores, now “television” is the source of the most broadly shared images and messages in history.

Television cultivates from infancy the very predispositions and preferences that used to be acquired from other primary sources … the repetitive pattern of television’s mass produced messages and images forms the mainstream of a symbolic environment” (Gerbner et al, 1989, pp.17-18). Still, Gerbner et al posit that:

Cultivation theory in its most basic form, then, suggests that exposure to television, over time, subtly “cultivates” viewers perceptions of reality. This cultivation can have an impact even on light viewers of television, because the impact on heavy viewers has an impact on our entire culture. Television is a medium of the socialization of most people into standardized roles and behaviors. Its function is in a word, enculturation” (Ibid, p. 175)

Interestingly, Gerbner, Goss, Morgan & Signorielh (1980), further note that “television is unique in the history of media, it does not require literacy, mobility or great expense and it brings a uniform set of images into every home. Because it is ubiquitous, nonselective and diverse in subject matter, it has become a central force in shaping modern culture. New generations have been raised with television as the primary storyteller in their lives and it helps shape and accounts for “the cultivation of shared conceptions of reality among otherwise diverse publics”.

With this essential background, suffice it to unequivocally establish that exposure to television by Nigerian teenagers with special reference to western films is a lee way to enculturation into western values. Simple is the reason, it is observed in Nigeria and some parts of Africa that media contents are largely dominated by foreign fares and the so-called local contents are produced based on western patterns or models. Therefore, it succinctly proves based on the basic thrust of cultivation theory that there is high tendency for Nigerian teenagers to get absorbed or immersed into foreign cultures due to the excessive exposure to western films.

Also, cultural imperialism theory of Herb Schiller (1973) is of great significance to this study. As postulated by Schiller (1973), cultural imperialism theory states that western nations dominate the media around the world which in return has a powerful effect on the third world cultures by imposing on them western values and therefore destroying their native cultures. However, based on the ontological assumption of the theory, it is postulated that humans do not have the free will to choose how they feel, act, think and live. They react to what they see on television because there is nothing to compare it to besides their own lives, and usually portrayed as less than what it should be.

Meanwhile, the epistemological assumption of this theory holds that there is one truth and no matter what, that truth is never going to change. As long as Third World countries continue to air western civilization’s programs, then the third world countries will always believe should act, feel, think and live as western civilizations act, feel, think and live. As noted by Alexandra (2003), “cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting a more powerful culture over a least known or desirable culture.

It is usually the case that the former belongs to a large, economically or militarily powerful nations and the latter belongs to a smaller, less powerful one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. A metaphor of colonization is employed: the cultural product of the first world “invade” the third world and “conquer” local culture”.

Giving a historical perspective of the theory, Tomlinson (1991), Rauschenberger (2003) & Hamm (2005) observe that:

Speculation of cultural imperialism emerged in the post World War 11 under various names including neo-colonialism, soft imperialism and economic imperialism. Over the years, it has gained numerous other labels such as media imperialism, structural imperialism, cultural dependency and synchronization, electronic colonialism, ideological imperialism and communication imperialism. Such theories describing cultural imperialism emerged in the 1960s and gained prominence by the 1970s. Such research encouraged the establishment of international organizations such as UNESCO, designed to research and monitor global information flows.

Cited by White (2000), Schiller (1976) captures the central propositions of cultural imperialism in his classic definition. Cultural imperialism is the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern system, and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even to promote the values and structures of the dominant centre of the system (Schiller 1976).

It must be emphasized that “the spread of American consumer culture goes beyond popular consumption, raising questions and concerns of the US dominance in the cultural sphere, what effect such cultural commodities are having on the values of societies, and in turn, on the realm of politics. The term cultural commodities “refer to products of the print and audio-visual industries including movies, television, publishing, radio and music. The products are vehicles for the transmission of values, lifestyles and ideologies that many see as corrosive to the recipient culture” (Rauschenberger 2003, p.2). Consequently, exposure to foreign cultures by Nigerian teenagers through western films would inadvertently affect their attitudes, thoughts, belief system, lifestyles, cultural affiliation and general worldview.


The study adopted a survey method with the use of questionnaire as research instrument. The questionnaire was designed putting into consideration the focus of the study as well as the research questions. The study focused Lagos State of Nigeria where all ethnic groups in the country are adequately represented and most importantly, the most notorious, the commercial nerve centre of the country and where all forms of “modernization or civilization” are rooted; in order to find out whether western films affect Nigerian teenagers by giving preference to the western cultures at the expense of the native cultures.

Consequently, 200 secondary school students within the age bracket of 13-19 were selected. Out of the 200 copies of questionnaire, 192 were returned out of which 190 were completed and statistically usable yielding a response rate of 95.0%.


Demographic Information

Basically, the demographic data from the respondents summarize some statistics on gender, age, class and hobbies. Accordingly, the respondents are relatively more of the female folks who constitute 57.9% of the respondents while the male counterpart is 42.1%. The study shows a good mix of age bracket between the students as they were grouped in the age intervals of 10-15 and 16-19 years with the former sharing 47.4% while the latter has 52.6% of the respondents. Of the respondents, 63.2% constitute those in senior class while those in junior class make 36.8%. As such, it may be said that the opinion expressed by the respondents in the questionnaire could well reflect the attitudes and perception of the adolescent age in various secondary schools in Nigeria. Consequent upon this, the hobbies of the respondents were divided along four divides of reading, swimming, watching films and playing games. Those that love watching films constitute the largest proportion with 39.5%, followed by those that have flair for playing games with 31.6% wherein reading came next with 15.8% and swimming appeared last with 13.2%.

Analysis of Research Questions

  1. Do western films shape the attitudes, behaviors and general lifestyles of teenagers in Nigeria?

  2. Do Nigerian teenagers accept and practice western cultures exposed to through western films at the expense of Nigerian cultures?

  3. At what degree do Nigerian teenagers resist foreign or western cultures exposed to through western films?

RQ1: Western films shape your attitudes and general lifestyles



RQ 2: You accept and practice western cultures exposed to through western films at the expense of Nigerian cultures



RQ 3: At what degree do you resist western cultures exposed to through western films



Strongly Agree



Strongly Disagree















Strongly Agree



Strongly Disagree















Highest Degree

Higher Degree

High Degree

Low Degree

Lack Resistance














The table above clearly indicates that western films do shape the attitudes and general lifestyles of Nigerian teenagers with 63.2% (120) of the respondents affirmed this in varied degrees. Also, the study shows that 75.8% (144) practice western values exposed to through western films at the expense of native cultures. It is also indicated by the table that Nigerian teenagers could not resist the contents of foreign films as 84.2% (160) affirmed this in varied degrees.


It has been established by scholars that no society can develop without proper integration of the culture of the land. Culture itself cannot develop the society except it is promoted by all segments and institutions of the society. In this regard, the role of the teenagers or the youth in general cannot be overemphasized. The teenagers are such a vibrant segment of the society who should rather live by the cultural norms of the society in order to promote and sustain the culture of the land. It is however nagging, that exposure to western films by the Nigerian teenagers has affected their attachment and affiliation to the Nigerian cultures and value system in general.

The situation is so disheartening that it needs the most urgent attention in order to salvage the cultural fabric and make the teenagers vanguards of this cause. Therefore, the Nigerian Films and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) must wake up from its slumber and rise to the occasion. Of course, there are laws guiding the broadcast of foreign contents in general, but observation shows that there is no strict enforcement which led to laxity and the present state of affairs in relation to the importation or influx of western films in the country. In addition, National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) needs to play a vital role in this regard.

The excessive broadcast of western or foreign films in most of Nigerian television channels needs to be seriously checkmated with punitive measures on erring stations. Despite the stipulated percentage of local and foreign contents on Nigerian television channels, there have been violations over the years without any form of severity. Therefore, NBC needs to descend heavily on erring television stations as a way of salvaging the cultural fabric of the Nigerian society. It is of interest to note that parents and guardians equally have greater roles to play.

The unfortunate thing is that most of the parents nowadays encourage their wards to watch western or foreign films with little or no value. They should bear in mind that they are not only doing harm to these younger generation, the society at large is going to suffer adversely from it. Parents should curtail and checkmate their children on the type of western films to be watched on the television or through CDs and DVDs. Parents should equally educate their children on any film watched so as to assist bring out lessons from such film for the betterment of the society at large.

Non-Governmental-Organizations (NGOs), churches and mosques also have immense duties to discharge in this regard. These institutions should put up frequent but massive campaign against western films that are anti-cultural to the Nigerian society. If this campaign and other public enlightenment continue, there may be drastic reduction in its importation as well as reduced level of exposure among the teenagers. Especially, the mosques and the churches, their effects in championing this kind of cause cannot be overemphasized. This is because researches have over the years shown that religious institutions have impacted great influence on humanity especially in the 21st Century. It is also important to note that our Nollywood should play an essential role. It needs to encourage the production of localized contents whereby the cultural norms and values of the Nigerian society are emphasized and widely promoted as against what happens in the Nollywood nowadays whereby, their productions are patterned on the western culture the resultant effect of which is cultural distortion and erosion among Nigerian teenagers.


______________________________________________________________________________ Bello Semiu a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Crescent University Abeokuta, Ogun State with special interest in journalism studies, public relations, health and development communications. Bello has several publications to his credit in many learned journals and attended conferences at local and international levels.


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