Archive for December, 2011

12/08/2011

International Reporting: A commodity, not a moral obligation

The Hafez article, “International Reporting: No Further than Columbus”, was spot on in discussing the media’s impact on international conflict and foreign policy. Although this author delegates journalists the important role of “intermediaries in the process of globalization” and “the central pillar of the global public sphere”, the reality of who the media serves and how it influences audience members towards the opposite of a multicultural world, is quite distressing. According to Hafez, when all is said and done, “the mass media are not in the least oriented towards a world system, but in fact concentrate upon national markets, whose interests and stereotypes they largely reproduce”(25).

BINGO. This may not seem that novel to Americans who have traveled or lived abroad for an extended period of time and had the chance to consume news from foreign media sources. But for the majority of Americans who have not traveled outside of the U.S and have a limited lens to understand the complex cultures, societies and histories that weave that fabric of these nations, mass media in the U.S. does nothing but reaffirm all of the stereotypes and nationalistic notions that perpetuate our ethnocentric system. For example, I’ll always remember an American friend of mine who did little traveling outside the U.S and was very patriotic. She was convinced that she knew well the issues of the Middle East, particularly with regard to the treatment of Muslim women. Her sources? Fox News (international reporting, of course) and a personal experience with a conservative Muslim couple living in the U.S.

We watched a scene from the Sex and the City movie that was produced in very poor taste. It was shot in Morocco and then de-contextualized when producers sold the scenes off as Abu Dhabi, portraying this Hollywood creation of a nation as an ultra conservative country, where women are repressed and forced to where traditional garments under the rule of men. Despite this decontextualization, regional homogenization and obvious lack of cultural understanding of the movie producers, my friend was eating the movie up. When Samantha dropped a condom in front of a group of veiled Muslim women and pridefully displayed her inhibition-less sexuality, my friend laughed and cheered for the liberal, “American woman”. I myself, am a liberal woman, to say the least. But even so, I cringed at the cultural insensitivity of the movie.

The difference between my friend and I? I have lived and worked abroad for four years, both in Islamic and non-Islamic dominated nations. I have many friends who are Muslim and explain to me the factors that play into their choice to be of the Islamic faith. Moreover, having had spent time in the Middle East (3 months), I’ve been exposed to regional Arab cultures and have an idea of what is acceptable as a foreigner and behaviors that are just plain rude and disrespectful when traveling abroad. I’m not writing all of this to be arrogant and say I know everything about Islam, because I don’t–I’m just as ignorant as the rest. But I do have a cultural and social lens from which I can view these other nations, understanding the intricacies of their diverse cultures without buying into the stereotypes that are exhibited by the media.

I saw that the Sex and the City movie did relatively well, considering it’s poor taste. So I decided to research why on earth the movie was shot in Morocco and not Abu Dhabi itself? The bottom line? Shooting the movie in Morocco and selling it off for Abu Dhabi was less expensive (ie more lucrative) for movie producers. In the end, this serves Hafez’s point well that contextualizing international broadcasting is “insufficiently profitable”. It takes a whole lot of time, money and effort to truly contextualize and get to know the culture, language and society of a nation without incorporating ones’ own interpretations and biases into the framework broadcasted to viewers. Accordingly, it doesn’t seem morally right that Hollywood movie producers can make a profit by spreading their own skewed ethnocentric views and stereotypes of other nations. Who should regulate such behavior?

12/07/2011

Educating and Entertaining

Well I’d first like to start with my reaction to the Lauren B. Frank Study.   I thought this study was fascinating as well as a nifty bit of synergy to read about an actual  study (I am taking a class in Research Methods this semester).  It was a wise decision by Ms. Frank to take a triangular approach to her research by using both quantitative and qualitative methods.  She goes on explain the various health communication theories that form the basis of her study.

The study shows that entertainment can be  effectively used to educate people about important topics like HIV/AIDS.   I don’t know if it was design that the presentation about “Theatre of the Oppressed,” another example the potential art/entertainment to served a purpose beyond the obvious, happened on the same day we were assigned these readings.

The ability of entertainment to communicate important ideas about subjects like peace and health is exemplary of the  fact that the field of communication has many different faces.   It can be a heath communication campaign or it can be a series of tweets.  It could be a theater group promoting social justice or it can be an Afghan singer displaying her talents on a TV singing competition.  The field of communication is vast, exciting, and I look forward to studying it more.

12/05/2011

The glories of Soft Power

To me Joseph Nye’s article on Soft Power and public diplomacy was great.  It was clear, and concise and helped to refine how I see public diplomacy.  Which is a little disheartening since I did just do a long paper on it.  However I think that he does a wonderful job of describing what the difference is between soft power and public diplomacy.

“Good public diplomacy has to go beyond propaganda. Nor is public diplomacy
merely public relations campaigns. Conveying information and selling a
positive image is part of it, but public diplomacy also involves building long-term
relationships that create an enabling environment for government policies.”

I think this quote does an excellent job of summing up public diplomacy.  He also discusses how public diplomacy and policy must match up.  I think this is what the U.S. often does wrong.  It sends mixed messages to people, and as a result frustration with this turns to distrust.  In any relationship when you are constantly getting mixed signals, things don’t usually end very well.

I often find myself wondering, who actually comes up with this stuff?  Who is it that plans public diplomacy?  Do they think about how messages are read in other contexts and cultures?  It sometimes seems to me like people who are actually knowledgeable about a foreign place, and culture aren’t ever consulted when making these decisions.  If that is the case why aren’t they?  It seems so logical, that if you’re going to do a public diplomacy in the philippines you would get the input of not just a researcher, but someone with experience there.  Maybe this is how it’s done, I just find it hard to believe that so many messages aren’ t being read right, if they are.

12/02/2011

Public Diplomacy Gives the Silent Treatment

Public Diplomacy (PD) is tired of being put in a box. She is the misunderstood stepsister of International Relations that once hated her black sheepishness and is now coming into her own. Instead of fitting into a neatly presentable package, PD is a convoluted mess that only self-loathing theorists try to love. Her quirks and non-traditional characteristics are becoming more accepted in academia, but only the academics holding her tightly know that they know only an inkling of what makes her tick.

They know the trigger points: “What is public diplomacy?” Ha. Wrong question. And in response to that question, PD will simply play the silent game because she is complicated and offended at your attempt to define her in a single sentence. At times, all she’s trying to get at is a little influence. At other times, she’s helping build brands. And other times, she’s just glad to facilitate a little human connection at the international level.

Misunderstood. Underestimated.

The best way to know PD is to observe her in dimensions. The more obvious ones we’ve known for years—her military and economic strategies; her weekly lunch-ins at the Embassy in Islamabad. But she has a softer side. She’s in the coding and gaming tech initiatives at the Department of State—winning over the hearts and minds of the people, one coder at a time. She’s in the international education and research-exchange programs paid by the DOD, sending little ambassadors one scholarship at a time overseas. She’s in the Facebook pages and the development organizations and the phones and computers given away to start the conversation between the US and other nations.

So stop assuming you can use her with no consequences. PD is not just a silver bullet to solve your problems. And she certainly doesn’t appreciate being misused so your ego can be satisfied. If you want to know some essence of PD, focus on her softer side, but ultimately you’re going to have to analyze her like any other concept and find ways to open your mind to her presence in new ways.

12/01/2011

You shouldn’t be a public diplomat!

In contrast with traditional diplomacy, the overtures of public diplomacy are aimed at the citizens of a country rather than it’s government.   This is a short and narrow definition in of public diplomacy, but in actuality, public diplomacy is practiced in ways one normally wouldn’t expect.  That’s why our wide-ranging discussion about public diplomacy was so interesting this week – I think we collectively had a challenge in deciding who and who wasn’t a public diplomat.

In the presentation my group gave last week, we posited that international exchange programs like the Peace Corp and Fullbright constitute public diplomacy.   Some might disagree.  On the on hand, participants in these programs are in contact with foreigners and their presence abroad is funded by the U.S. Government.  On the other hand, these participants are not government officials, so does that disqualify them from being public diplomats?  I kind of felt like a public diplomat when I studied abroad in London many years ago – it was not too long after President Bush started the Iraq War so we were advised to be sensitive and avoid getting caught displaying any “Ugly American”-type behaviors.

In the Joseph Nye piece on public diplomacy, “the development of lasting relationships with key individuals,” is the third dimension of public diplomacy.  It is also the part of public diplomacy I am most familiar with given my current job.  I work at Meridian International Center (www.meridian.org) in  the Professional Exchanges Division, and the professional exchanges in question are funded by the State Department.  In fact, most of what Meridian does is underwritten by the State Department, including my paycheck, so  it’s important that the US doesn’t give up on public diplomacy any time soon.  Here’s a litte video:

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, hahaha!  I just wanted to share an examples of some of the organzations in DC currently engaged in public diplomacy.  I also wanted to share a little info on Meridian because it’s a slight twist on how we normally think about public.  Meridian is an example of how a public-private partnership.

12/01/2011

Jersey Shore, reflecting Public Diplomacy?

I could not believe my eyes (not ears) when Professor Hayden mentioned that Jersey Shore could be considered as a form of Public Diplomacy. Whether he was joking or not, I decided to investigate to see how much impact Jersey Shore has around the world.

According to Entertainment Weekly (http://insidetv.ew.com/2011/01/07/jersey-shore-ratings-record/), as of Jan 9, 2011, 8.4 million of viewers watch Jersey Shore. The ratings had increased by 63 percent from Season 2 to Season 4. This show started in December 2009, and it still continues today. Jersey Shore is a TV reality show with 8 roommates, all Italian to be specific, and the show consists a variety of dilemmas, problems, situations (not Mike the Situation, although he does cause some situations), and of course, the mother of it all- drama. Apparently, in my opinion, people like drama. People would choose to see Snooki punch a guy’s face rather than watching story about a lost dog that has finally been found. People would want to see Mike, the Situation, bash his head into a concrete wall in Italy, rather than reading a story about how a local bar in Frederick, Maryland made so much profit from college students that came home for Thanksgiving break within 4 hours.There it is, DRAMA, and Jersey has it.

Perhaps, if the show remained in the United States, I probably would not have considered Jersey Shore as a view of Public Diplomacy. But, because MTV expanded its’ network to Italy, Jersey Shore’s season 4 was filmed in Italy (which, in my opinion, was a horrible idea). After reading this article on the Wall Street Journal, Meichtry states”One of the town’s chic eateries has posted a “No Grazie, Jersey Shore” sign outside its door, instructing cast members to stay away. The cultural superintendent has barred the entire cast from being filmed in the city’s hallowed museums.” This shows me that people in Florence, Italy did not even want Jersey Shore to come in the first place. What does that reflect about America in a way? Of course, MTV is not going to stop just because some people do not want them to come. MTV, possibly having the American’s usual arrogant attitude, went ahead and did their filming of Jersey Shore regardless of how the locals felt. To me, that is offensive. And unfortunately, it does serve as a form of Public Diplomacy in a way. We send ambassadors overseas to represent us. Obviously, the cast of Jersey Shore was our ambassador for quite a while, and probably by now, the Italians probably think that Americans are filled with lunatics who love alcohol and sex and DRAMA. What’s more is that the people in Florence, Italy did not want Jersey Shore coming over to “re-define” the Italian way of life: “The clash of cultures is rooted in opposing views of what it means to be “Italian.” (2011). Yikes…

More information about Jersey Shore and Italy can be found through this link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304563104576353810943734854.html

I recall my friends in London and Ireland posting their Facebook statuses: “Jersey Shore is coming to visit? Oh no!” Well of course, I could not agree more. I could sit back and laugh at them, but then I realize Jersey Shore is representing us. I might as well post up on my status saying “OH NO!” as well! I could go on with the negative perspectives on Jersey Shore and how they can reflect Public Diplomacy in so many wrong ways, but I am trying to find a few positive ways of how they are representing us… the problem is that I can’t. Can you?

Well, as the Italians in Italy might say, Gli americani sono pazzi 🙂 (Americans are crazy people).