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London Calling: The Alpha City

This post was written by Kaitlin Jennrich, a Senior Communication Studies Major at Northwestern University attending the School of Communication’s Global Media & Communications Seminar in London.

The GMCS group has an action-packed Wednesday ahead of us, with a lecture, two site visits, and a group outing to see Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre. During our daily London School of Economics lecture, Dr. Myria Georgiou delves into an overview of London and the media—specifically, how media positions London as a top global city, which in effect construct a reality in which London becomes a top global city.

To begin, she asks us: Why did you want to come to London?

We look at each other. Because Queen Elizabeth lives here? (I am a big fan of The Crown.) Because people with British accents sound incredibly posh, and I hope that in less than a week I may pick one up? Because if I’m very, very lucky, I may stumble upon Diagon Alley and have all my suspicions about the wizarding world of Harry Potter confirmed?

Dr. Georgiou points out that many of our reasons for visiting London are formed by the media: movies like Notting Hill or Love Actually, sensations like Harry Potter, or even any one of the numerous books that take place in London. In fact, one in 10 tourists to the UK or London come because of depictions in movies. She then goes on to describe how cities like London are “media capitals,” or centers of cultural connection and mobility, and this gives these cities an outsized global weight. Often, these “alpha cities” can be more powerful and influential than the countries these cities are in. To illustrate this point, she asks us: Do you know the city of Dubai?

Of course, we all nod earnestly, because we are smart Northwestern students.

Do you know what country Dubai is in?

Unfortunately, most of us guess Saudi Arabia. Helpful hint: Dubai is actually in the United Arab Emirates. But this goes to show you—Dubai is an alpha city, a media capital, and a powerful center of symbolic economic power.

Finally, Dr. Georgiou tells us that certain cities are associated with romance and joy—like London—whereas others are associated with crime, deviance, and poverty—like northern England cities. By choosing to visit London as tourists, we feed into the idea of London as a joyful, romantic place and further affirm this slightly artificial reality. In essence, media in the city and surrounding the city makes the city. It’s a fascinating topic.

After the lecture, we’re off to the Google London offices. We finally make it to one of their four London offices after a thrilling tube ride, in which we tried to keep a group of nearly 20 people moving smoothly through public transportation.

What is there to say about Google? It’s Google! It’s the most recognizable software company in the world! They’ve become as ubiquitous as “Kleenex,” in that when you need to search for something online, you often just shout, “Someone GOOGLE THAT for me!” There’s a whole movie called “The Internship” starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn that is basically just about how wonderful Google is to work at!

Northwestern alum Amy O’Malley shows us around their offices, which I am pleased to announce are just as cool as you might have guessed. We have lunch at their canteen, and then head back to the conference room for a Q&A with some Google employees. They tell us about their career paths, experiences living and working abroad, and advice for applying for jobs at Google.

Next, we head to the ZenithOptimedia offices. ZenithOptimedia is a marketing agency that specializes in ROI and data-driven results, and speaking to its employees offers an interesting agency perspective after two days of talking with people who work for massive companies. They tell us about how in agency work, it’s important to be always learning because your clients will always want to be up-to-date on the latest industry news and trends. One of the best parts of these site visits is learning more about living and working abroad; as a senior, it makes an eventual job in a different country seem possible, which is incredibly exciting.

Finally, we’re off to dinner of burgers, and then to see the Savoy Theatre’s production of Dreamgirls, starring Amber Riley from Glee. The entire theatre gives her a standing ovation at intermission for her rendition of “And I am Telling You.” It’s the perfect ending to an action-packed day, and it’s hard to believe we only have one day left here before we have to head back to the States.