Worlds Apart: nation-branding on the National Geographic Channel

Added: 06-19-2018

Ishita Sinha Roy advances her argument that visual fetishes, or symbolic representational cultural images, are used to create a “nation-brand” similar to those used in creating a commercial product identity. She uses the National Geographic Channel’s reality series, Worlds Apart, as an example by representing “brand-American” as the “family-as-nation,” and promoting the desirability of the American culture, image, and ideologies.

culture media representation neocolonial television representation otherness fetish nation-brand National Geographic Channel Worlds Apart reality show

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
academic 45 minutes ISHITA SINHA ROY
Type Reading Time
academic 45 minutes
Author Date
Ishita Sinha Roy 2018-06-19 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways

  • As a reality television show, Worlds Apart took American audiences, along with the participant families, into host communities with “traditional cultures” in countries of the Global South including: Kenya, Morocco, India, etc.
  • The author portrays Worlds Apart as a form of marketing the American brand at home by showing the “superiority and strength of the American family/nation” when facing the adversity of living in the host’s culture..
  • Also, through this cultural exchange, the author feels that the show demonstrates to the host culture that Americans are really well-meaning and extends the idea that people from other countries can feel comfortable with Americans. She feels this was an important part of (re-)branding America following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.
  • The cultural differences between the hosts and their communities and American participants may actually be less important than the differences in wealth and poverty, and may, however unintentionally, legitimize the distinction between people from wealthy nations versus those living in impoverished communities. 
  • Additionally, by portraying the interactions of the participant families within only their host communities, Roy suggests that viewers get the skewed impression that this community represents the lifestyles of a country or region as a whole. 


In this article, Ishita Sinha Roy examines her contention that the 2003 reality television series, Worlds Apart, from the National Geographic Channel (NGC) can be considered a form of “nation-branding” and a “neocolonial text.” She asserts that intercultural exchanges inform “nation-branding strategies” and that “fetishized visual codes” help set a culture’s or nation’s image. Roy suggests that a “neocolonial hierarchy of nations” was formed after World War II, with power centered in the richer, more industrialized nations such as the USA. Worlds Apart is one of several reality shows allowing American viewers to explore the world from their own homes. This show placed middle-class American families in rural communities of the Global South, and followed the participants (and their host families) for ten days as they moved from “culture shock” to the return home with a “renewed appreciation for family and nation.”

Roy’s thorough analysis of the show points to “how fetish signs are used to ‘fix’ nation-brands.” She suggests, in the sections of this paper, the several types of fetishes he finds in Worlds Apart. She defines the word ‘fetish’ in multiple ways, including the etymological roots, the anthropological meaning, and in Freudian and Marxist terms. In the show, Roy identifies “food, race, woman, and family” as “the fetish signs of the host cultures,” as both restorative and oppositional to the modern American “brand.” The set-up to each show seems designed to highlight the “otherness” of the host community; a few minutes are devoted to a view of the American participants’ usual lifestyle before they are placed in a deliberately “traditional…not overly westernized” host community. Roy suggests that this “dramatic contrast of lifestyles” highlights the disparities and recreates the colonial “tension of ’culture’ vs. civilization’” thus improving the image of the American brand for the viewing audience.


Ishita Sinha Roy is Associate Professor of Communication Arts/Theatre at Allegheny College:

Behind Geographic's Reality Series, Worlds Apart:

  • Resource from: FRAMED the film’s No Action Context First Kit