Author Archive


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.


Al-Jazeera Makes People Less Dogmatic

I have to admit that I have never watched Al-Jazeera telvision.  I have heard good things about it but I came from California and that is not in the basic cable package.   Since being here I haven’t had cable and don’t spend a lot of time browsing internet news.  I’m sorry to say that most of my news comes from the radio, and the free newspaper they pass out at the metro stops in the morning on my way to work.  I find their finding somewhat questionable, based mostly on access.

Unless Al-Jazeera is part of a basic cable plan that means the people watching it are living in an area such as DC, that may already make them more open.  I’m not saying that that news has no effect, but simply that the sample is skewed, and non representative.

Regardless of this I found the article very interesting, and can see how people will choose the news that confirms their ideas.  In general I think that most people are frustrated with the quality of the news.  In my opinion of the news you get isn’t going to be very informative anyways you mind as well watch something that already agrees with your opinions.  I think this is probably a very common view.

My other argument with this is that unless you live in a large city and there are multiple stations that cover your local area, you often only have one choice of station.  Coming from a semi-rural area, there is really only one news station that covers anything local.  There are a couple stations that will touch on my areas events, but don’t even cover my towns weather.  As a result I think people ideas get shaped by the news that they watch, and then are reaffirmed because they keep watching the same station because that’s what their option is.  Yes they could watch other stations for national and international news, but lets face it, people are habitual.  They always watch Fox, CNN, or Al-Jazeera for their local, they’re probably going to watch that for the national and international news as well because it’s what they’re used to and comfortable with.

I think it’s a bit unfair to say that people will only watch news that reaffirms their beliefs.   I think this has some basis to it, but doesn’t accept the logic behind people’s choices.  I don’t think this is the only reason behind why they watch certain channels.  For example my grandmother changed news cast stations, simply because they got a new girl and she couldn’t stand the woman’s voice.


Mobile device companies shaping social movements

The role that mobile devices has played in current social movements is fascinating to me.  I feel that I take the power of my cell phone for granted.  I am lucky to be able to communicate with my friends all over the world, but I had never really considered it as a tool for social change.  After learning more about the events in Egypt and other places in the world I do think it’s important for people to remember that these weren’t the sole forms of organizing.  I think that there is still much to be said for the old ‘grapevine’.  In my home town I know this still functions rather well, and even in larger cities, within communities I think in many ways it can be even more effective than technology.

My biggest concern is that social movements begin to rely on Technology to the point that they can be shaped and influenced by the companies, or organization that controls this.  If they know there is going to be a large demonstration, what stops a carrier from stopping service, or a government from setting up signal blockers in a vicinity.  I’m very curious to see how future events play out, and if my concerns about reliance on technology providers could be valid.



I was very interested in Chouliaraki’s article about the visibility of suffering. I can see how the way a news story is framed would affect the viewers perspective, but I found it difficult to completely accept.  In the article it argues that there is ordinary and then extraordinary news and that this is presented differently.

I think that compassion is something people will either feel or not feel for someone distant from them.  I think that you’re ability to relate to people who are far away or distant from you has more to do with personal experience and circumstance.  The framing ends up being a factor in this, but I think its importance is somewhat over-emphasized.

Tragedies when they are presented in the news can lead people to a moral decision about whether to care, or donate money, or in some other way become active participants.  However I think that these people that are moved by the stories would otherwise be no matter their framework.  They argued that some of the extraordinary events that were framed in a way that made you feel closer to those suffering had higher donations etc… However I think that people who donate money to causes are more likely to do so for a cause when it is easily found.

To clarify I feel that the pool of people that is going to actually care about an event is always about the same size, but that how it is framed doesn’t determine whether or not we care, but emphasizes what we pay more attention to.  For example if in a week 10 stories are shown on the news about people dying in floods, then the way they are framed is going to affect what we care more about.  In this situation framing an event in a certain way can draw on the support of all the people to care, so instead of what people care about being spread over many topics, the news has the ability to make an event big enough that all the people pay attention to that one event.



Does the internet really give us more power?

So I’ve been thinking about Benkler and how he argues that the internet has been changing power dynamics.  He uses wiki leaks as an example of this.  I do understand the argument he’s trying to make.  However in some respects I almost think that it minimizes and individuals power.  With thousands of millions of people tweeting, and blogging and lots of other ‘ings’, I think it creates a constant chatter.  Kind of like sitting in a coffee shop.  Yes you can hear lots of people, but there still is probably only one persona that you can actually understand or hear above the noise.

In many respects the internet has just increased the volume of noise so that it’s more difficult to actually hear what is going on.  It has given us a space to have a voice, and say our opinions, but people have been finding ways to express themselves for centuries without this, and in many different forms.  There has always been some kind of public tv channel, many schools have these as well, call-in radio stations, zines, graffiti, cafe’s dedicated to different organizations.  People have always been organizing and finding ways to voice their opinions.  Regardless, there are still only so many people who are heard, or become influential.  I don’t think that this number has really changed, its just become more difficult to find the people that actually have something good to say.  I’ve always liked the saying that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.  However the internet has practically eliminated this all together making it easy for people to express themselves, and communicate, but often more to just hear themselves “talk” than to actually say something worth hearing.

Ultimately I don’t think the internet has altered the real power dynamic, in many ways its made it easier to find ways to discredit and silence people (but that’s another story).  The people that actually become heard of or work on sites like wiki leaks would be doing something similar and still be “known” regardless of whether the internet existed or not.  It hasn’t provided them with any real power just a different medium.



I was thinking about the article on Ugly Betty and how the television show has been successful in many different countries and languages.  I used to watch the show, but I never got absorbed into it to the point that I had to watch it every week.  I thought it was very interesting how when it was introduced to the U.S.  they changed part of the structure.  I am curious as to weather if it was kept closer to it’s original form if it would have been more successful.  I think it would be interesting to see if shorter term show could be successful in the same manner that our current U.S. sitcoms are.  I would love to watch the original Ugly Betty version and see if it is more appealing to me than the American version was.


Copyright only Hinders Creativity

The topic of Copyrights has recently been raised and having learned a decent amount of history concerning the origins of different media forms I have a few insights I’d like to make.  My argument sides mostly with creative commons as a licensing form.  This allows people to use others works in a manner that is prescribed by the creator.  People can take music, images, anything and recreate it, make something new.  I think this is integral to the continuance of media as a creative form of expression.

Many people argue that this infringes on the rights of the creator, that they need to be able to make a living off their work.  This is where I argue that people are wrong.  Straight copying of a work should not be allowed but beyond that people should have the freedom to use whatever they like.    It is only recently that the idea of ownership has come into play concerning artistic works.  I don’t think that allowing people access to their work actually prevents them from making a living.

At their beginnings stories were passed down and transfered verbally.  Bards would sing of them, and travelers, and traders would exchange news and stories as they moved around.  Their was a constant fluid motion to the creativity.  Aspects of stories were borrowed and reconfigured, and each party would tell things a little different.  This trend was not exclusive to any time period or just the telling of stories.

Composers have always influenced one another and reappropriated pieces of anothers’ work into their own.  An example of this is what’s referred to as an allusion defined as“a purposeful, extracompositional reference made by means of a resemblance, usually thematic and local in nature.”  A perfect example of this is the “falling thirds” technique that was used by Beethoven.   In Brahms second movement entitled “Andante”,  “the rhythm of the theme identically resembles that of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony”.  Musicians and composers undeniably affect one anther and classical music history is wrought with this borrowing and re-configuring of  work.

To me this is our history, it is one of creativity and imagination and fluidity.  I don’t think any one person has the right to make claims to something that was undeniably a mere product of the styles and themes and works of those he has studied and who have come before him.

It is the same with the history of movies.  The much beloved Mickey Mouse, created by Disney first made his debut as Steamboat Willie.  Steamboat Willie was a copy of the movie made by Buster Keaton.  A film entitled Steamboat Bill  that was released earlier in the year.  This is the history of movie business.  This is just one example of how business was run.  A fact that the biggest copyright holders (corporations) would like people to forget.  They got their success by using other peoples ideas.

There are thousands of versions of stories out there, taken from collections like The Grimm Brothers, who collected their stories from people all over Europe who were orally telling the stories.  So who has the rights to a copyright?

In all of the history of art work and stories, and music, and dances, and everything and anything that can be considered material culture?  Where is the evidence that says that allowing people access to your work endangers your livelihood? To me it’s just a matter of greed.  It’s not that people couldn’t make a living without copyrights, but it’s that they feel entitled, they feel that their work is solely their own.   But when you really look at history, any material we culture we create is in some way a reproduction of something from the past.


Global Culture or national culture

By Denise Phelps


This week I really found Sinclairs readings on global culture very interesting.  His ideas about the national becoming  internationalized and his belief in a shift from cultural imperialism to global culture, really resonated with me. In many respects I see what he means, but I also question in what respects this is shaped by capitalist economics.  I see international bodies like UNESCO and powerful countries like the U.S. using their influence to promote a ‘global culture’ but it is one that is shaped more in their benefit than in others.  I’m  not saying that the good intentions are’nt there, but I would question weather the matter in which  global culture is promoted is done in a way that really allows for it to be multi directional.  My interpretation is that global culture is only being promoted as a front for Western culture.

I don’t think there is much doubt that the time-space dynamic is changing the social, cultural and political spheres in which we live.   We are now able to travel all over the world in a few hours, and people the world over are interacting and influencing one another in ways unimaginable only a generation ago.  Just today I had  Turkish, Thai and then some Sushi.  However, I think what is most relevant is a countries ability to not just receive others information, culture, and ideas but also to export their own.   Everyone knows American music, and American movies, and can name 15 of their favorite American actors, but American’s access to the foreign is much more limited.  There are many arguments for why this is, ranging  from: we are ethnocentric, to America is a big country we have enough going on that we don’t need to pay attention to anyone else.   Regardless of how many immigrants we have or how many different languages are spoken in a given city, our overall awareness of what other people are doing and experiencing: their music, movies, newspapers, is much more limited.   When I returned from being abroad I craved movies and music from Eastern Europe.  I wanted to get my hands on some of my favorites and I wanted to explore new ones.  I couldn’t find hardly anything.  Even with companies like Netflix, having huge databases, their foreign section is incredibly limited.  Sure you can find the odd French film, or German drama.  But even ones that are already made with English subtitles or dubbing can’t be found here.  What about places like Finland, and Ukraine, or Portugal?  Isn’t there something that they have to offer our “global culture”?  And why if it really is global do we not know anything about them, or even have access to the media they create?

I’m sure you’re thinking, there’s the internet you can find anything on the internet.   I would argue that the idea of a ‘global culture’ isn’t about searching things out on the internet.  It is about exposure to different cultures and ideas without initially seeking them out.  In order for there to be a global culture, there needs to be equal amounts of exposure all over the world not just in countries that consume American media.

Is this lack of multi-directional information flow due to an unabalanced and American biased “global culture”, or is it meerly a product of supply and demand?  Do not many Americans want to have access to these things?  Do people living half way across the world really want to see all of these Hollywood movies?  Or are we just exporting our American consumerism as “global culture”  because it’s more digestible?  Everyone else consumes our goods and media, and culture.  But really how much of theirs do we consume in turn?

In answer to my own questions I think that one of the reasons why we don’t have access to many of these foreign media types is because there isn’t a demand.  But the demand isn’t there because the exposure isn’t there to create the demand.  I think there is potential for a real ‘global culture’  but it would require certain countries like the U.S.  letting go of some of their nationalism and being willing to consume media from other places.


Does media isolate?

I was thinking about Media and how we had been discussing diasporas in class and how minorities are more connected to their homelands.  While living in Budapest  I had access to very little information about what was going on in the U.S.   In order to have television you had to sign a two year contract with a cable company, so most people who were there temporarily did not have television.  In addition there was really only one English news source in Budapest and it was relatively difficult to get your hands on.  Of course you could check american websites and things but there was a definite sense of seclusion.  For me what made it so strong was the fact that there were all of these media sources, and yet it was still so challenging to find out news, let alone actually communicate with people from home.  A phone call was incredibly expensive and one of the only places any of the American students had internet was at campus or in this little Mexican restaurant we all used to hang out in.

The point being is that I think that having all of this technology and knowing that its there and yet still feeling disconnected is more disheartening than if it wasn’t there at all.  It makes you feel more estranged, like you’re the only one in the world that can’t get in touch with people  “back home”.   It also made me realize how much we rely on other people and physical cues to keep us “up to date”.  Weather its overhearing someones conversation or catching the headlines of someones newspaper on the metro.  Suddenly not being able to understand these things, and then having little access to other sources, can make one feel completely out of touch.


Who isn’t prejudiced?

I received one of the many chain emails I get from family and friends periodically.  For some reason they are usually either geared at making you happy or at pointing out the shortcoming of some group.  I usually look all of these various emails up on out of curiosity.  I think that chain mail is one of the more interesting forms of media and culture.   Upon reading said email the first thing I thought of was the Communications Flow and Flowmations chapter that we read.  While it never discussed chain mail (not to be confused with a medieval form of armor) I feel that its descriptions of the way people interpret messages and information is quite accurate to this situation.  As media forms, like pictures are transmitted their meaning can easily become altered.  When reading the email keep this in mind “any idea that moves through space also undergoes a transformation”

Here is the chain e-mail I recieved:

George Washington statue is hidden at the MLK rally
in Columbia, SC.
The annual MLK observance at the state house in Columbia
SC had an interesting twist this year. The event is held on
the north side steps of the statehouse.
Prominent at that location is a large bronze statue of
George Washington.
This year, the NAACP constructed a “box” to conceal the
father of our country from view so that participants would
not be ‘offended’ by his presence.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw this picture of
the MLK Day rally in Columbia, South Carolina.
This rally was sponsored by the NAACP and they said that
they covered the statue because they “didn’t want to
offend anyone”. Really? George Washington is the father
of this nation. How is he offensive to anyone?
Can you imagine what would happen if we covered the
statue of Dr. Martin L. King on President’s Day? or is only
the statue of a ‘white guy’ offensive ??
Of course, this display of anti-Americanism wasn’t covered
at all by the national media (surprise, surprise !!), and the
local paper in Columbia only ran a short piece on it. It has
been covered a little by the blog-world but I think the word
needs to get out to the general public that this is what the
NAACP is all about…militant and (most definately) racist.

Here is what was later written about this event by the NAACP:

“A three-sides structure that covered the front and sides of the statue was intended to display a rally graphic and serve as a photo-and-television backdrop for the events speakers.  However the graphic was not finished before the rally and could not be put into place.”

With the media and many of its stories I often find it difficult to tell where the truth actually lies.  I feel as though the images we see have been distorted by transformed by so many different peoples perspectives and agendas that by the time we actually hear a story, the reality of it is often distorted beyond recognition.  While I must admit that this picture looks pretty bad, its difficult for one to determine what kind of ‘reality’ it is showing.  Was the picture taken specifically for the purpose of angering people?  Did the organization realize what they were doing?  Was their later statement just a cover-up?  If the board wasn’t going to be used as a backdrop why did they leave it up?  Or was there really something on the other side that we couldn’t see from the angle of the camera?

Most interesting to me is that this all came about last January, and nearly a year later this e-mail has become a kind of folklore and continues to be transmitted.