Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Public diplomacy and popular culture

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 they’re 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, it’s 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 Franklin’s 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.

Read the whole thing.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Far be it from me to defend Hollywood or our rather depraved culture. But let’s keep something straight: a religion/society wch puts women in burkas, stones them for adultery, beheads unbelievers, blows up innocents and generally wages war until the entire world believes in their Allah, is in no position to judge us. Please, keep in mind that their war is a war until the end and nothing we, Crusaders or Jews, can do to convince them otherwise.

Fair enough. But it seems to me that belief in American decadence encourages our adversaries to think that we’re ripe for the plucking. And if liberty can’t effectively be distinguished from license, you don’t have to be a conservative Muslim to have second thoughts about liberty.

I am saddened to think liberty could ever be contrasted with decadence. But as it has become painfully apparent, the direction of the U.S. is down. I for one agree with the comment 1. If a so-called nation of religious zealots does not like our American culture as brought on through liberty, they should have a quick look at Russian culture as brought on through Communism. True our ways have strayed from the tradional values we used to hold, but a free nation always has the capability to change. One of the most important errors Lenin made in his manifesto was to believe Marx when he said the end result of democracy is Communism. Although this is very true in a very real sense (i.e. our law happy legislature and power grubbing judiciary, as well as our "up on a pedastool executive"). But to delimit liberty so as to call the exporting of it harmful is a mistake. Usually the first vesitges of democracy to leak through a controlling ideology is in the form of commercialism or even materialism (i.e. Wal-Mart/China). If a nation is secure in its own religiosity as the middle east seems to be, then this religiosity should act as a fundamental cornerstone in the background of the democratic process and not the forefront, as we see in Iraq. But that is beside the point. All I am longwindely attempting to convey is that liberty in any sense is far better than its counterpart.

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