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Entertainment Has Diplomatic Consequences

Entertainment Has Diplomatic Consequences

October 24, 2013 10:00 am by: Category: Art Diplomacy, Celebrity Diplomacy, Featured, North America, Public Diplomacy, Read 1 Comment A+ / A-

The U.S. entertainment industry is a global force, so it must present foreign cultures with diplomatic sensitivity.

A recent article on Foreign Policy’s Transitions blog discussed how the newest season of the hit Showtime TV show “Homeland” has been criticized by Venezuelans for portraying their country as poor and backwards. While the Venezuelans certainly have justified concern that their already fragile image in the United States will take another negative hit, it is also important to remember that American television crosses borders. “Homeland” is already broadcasting in Canada, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Germany, Mexico, and India. Not to mentions this little thing called the Internet. In other words, the fictional image of Venezuela presented in “Homeland” will reach impressionable minds across the world. You cannot blame Venezuelans for being upset.

While the U.S. and Europe developed the film industry simultaneously in the early 20th century, World War I allowed the United States to corner the market with a flourishing Hollywood. American culture greatly benefited from this happenstance monopoly. Later, TV became a household medium just as the U.S. became a global power, and the “American dream” was broadcast farther and farther from home. This had an immeasurable positive effect on the American brand. As the years went by though and information became more easily available, the American ubiquity in film and television was held to much higher standards of scrutiny and critique. One could argue that today it is having a net negative impact on the image of the U.S.

Though this may be a few decades too late, it is my opinion that we need to move in the direction of being more culturally sensitive when creating TV shows and movies about other cultures. A fictionalized negative image not only makes the culture in question look bad, but it also makes those cultures view Americans as looking down upon them.

As was recently discussed on the PDcast, when the American military-industrial complex is shown in American movies, it is seen as a form of propaganda. The films “Pacific Rim” and “Transformers,” for example, portray the American military and its allies as undefeatable, even if they are faced with giant aliens or giant robots. This has a negative effect on our perceived culture abroad. Though the U.S. may be victorious in the end, we are seen as a war-mongering peddler of WMDs in the process. Granted, most of the world understands the difference between film and actual government policies, but it can easily be used as fresh meat for the commentators as well. America’s image abroad is already viewed as violent due its real military excursions and vocal gun culture; does it really need the entertainment industry to amplify this further?

We need to change the way we speak about other cultures and present our own culture in the entertainment industry. When discussing another culture or using a foreign location, it is important to be culturally sensitive in the presentation. Because whether we mean for it to or not, there will be an uncontrollable, two-way interpretation of what is put onscreen. As well, when we present ourselves in entertainment, we should not propagandize America as an unstoppable military machine. It only reinforces negative stereotypes. Fiction is a powerful force; it needs to be wielded with responsibility.

Entertainment Has Diplomatic Consequences Reviewed by on . The U.S. entertainment industry is a global force, so it must present foreign cultures with diplomatic sensitivity. [divide] A recent article on Foreign Policy’ The U.S. entertainment industry is a global force, so it must present foreign cultures with diplomatic sensitivity. [divide] A recent article on Foreign Policy’ Rating: 0

About Adam Cyr

Adam Cyr is a graduate student at Syracuse University studying public diplomacy. He is interested in sports diplomacy, development, foreign policy, and generally thinking about how the world works.

Comments (1)

  • Blake Stilwell

    When viewing films abroad, it is important to consider the kind of film you’re watching. No one I’ve ever met abroad will connect an image of the United States based on the plot or premise of a ridiculous action flick.

    Action films are immensely popular overseas for many reasons, the most important is the visual language. You don’t have to be able to read subtitles to understand what’s happening in an action film. This is a big deal for places where the films aren’t or can’t be dubbed or the films are on satellite nets from another country. (For Transformers, you don’t even need to know English to figure out the plot). People just like to see an action-packed good vs. evil story.

    Despite what the English-Language Chinese newspapers say, no one goes to a movie, sees the US Army in it and thinks of the US Military-Industrial Complex. Not even Americans. What people care about is how their own country or culture is depicted in television and film. This is why the Iranians hated the movie 300, Turks hated Lawrence of Arabia and that Chinese paper on the aforementioned podcast had a problem with Transformers.

    But is that propaganda? No. Propaganda implies some kind of purposeful communication designed to sway your thinking. The entertainment industry doesn’t care what other countries think. They just want their money. The international market is roughly half a “blockbuster” film’s gross earnings, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be more sensitive to other cultures. Aaron Sorkin put this point of view best in a panel at the Norman Lear Center, when asked about the depiction of Muslims in American television and film:

    “I think it is important to bear in mind that the number one American
    export is entertainment — movies, television shows. That said, the
    trouble obviously is that most Hollywood stories have always been
    about good guys and bad guys; and you always need a bad guy
    whether it’s the Russians, or before that, the Japanese, or before
    that, the Indians. It’s Islam’s turn right now. ”

    And soon it might be China’s turn. Whatever gets people to buy tickets, which is the only thing our entertainment industry cares about.

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