Martha Bayles has a very interesting piece on public diplomacy and American cultural exports. Is it any wonder that more than a few Muslims abroad think of Americans as immoral if what theyre exposed to is reruns of Sex in the City and videos of Britney Spears? Bayles whether government outlets like Radio Sawa and Radio Farda need to be counterbalancing the overwhelming presence of Hollywood and the recording industry, rather than serving as yet another vehicle for it:
American popular culture is no longer a beacon of freedom to huddled masses in closed societies. Instead, its a glut on the market and, absent any countervailing cultural diplomacy, our de facto ambassador to the world. The solution to this problem is far from clear. Censorship is not the answer, because even if it were technologically possible to censor our cultural exports, it would not be politic. The United States must affirm the crucial importance of free speech in a world that has serious doubts about it, and the best way to do this is to show that freedom is self-correcting -- that Americans have not only liberty but also a civilization worthy of liberty.
From Franklins days, U.S. cultural diplomacy has had both an elite and a popular dimension. Needless to say, it has rarely been easy to achieve a perfect balance between the two. What we could do is try harder to convey what the USIA mandate used to call "a full and fair picture of the United States." But to succeed even a little, our new efforts must counter the negative self-portrait we are now exporting. Along with worrying about what popular culture is teaching our children about life, we need also to worry about what it is teaching the world about America.