Nov 16, 2009

Soft Power and the American Image

One of this weeks readings was “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power” by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. from the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Nye begins the reading by defining soft power as being attractive rather than coercive or bribing to influence others into getting your way. The article described the negative aspects of America’s cultural image as coming from unpopular war efforts and popular culture. Nye extensively used Hollywood films as examples, describing how Hollywood worked closely with the Office of War Information to produce and distribute films that were patriotic and presented America in a positive light.

I think that America’s negative image not only has to do with our government and our foreign policy (although when I went to Europe a few years ago, people kept asking me whether I voted for Bush, even though I was, at the time, way too young to vote), but also our more everyday “cultural” image. It’s hard to say whether or not there is such a definitive thing as American culture, but one of the stereotypes is the overweight gun-toting white guy you might see on

I did a google image search of “American stereotype” and most of what came up on the first page was guns, fat people, food, and bikinis. I think a lot of this has to do with international corporations like McDonalds and Walmart. A few years ago, I went with my parents on a trip across the United States. The tour was hosted by an international travel company, so there were a lot of visitors from abroad on the tour. One of the big “sites” we visited in addition to places like the Grand Canyon, the St. Louis Arch, and the Hollywood sign was a Walmart. The tour guide actually gave us free time inside the Walmart, and many of the tourists from abroad went crazy buying things and taking pictures. It’s really scary to think that Walmart is considering one of America’s important sites.

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