The New Cultural Diplomacy?
During the 1990s the U.S. government quit engaging in old-fashioned cultural diplomacy. With the Cold War over, it proceeded between 1993 and 2001 to cut the State Department budget for cultural and educational programs by 33 percent, dismantle the U.S.Information Agency (USIA), and close American libraries and cultural centers from Vienna to Ankara, Belgrade to Islamabad.
At the same time, the U.S. exported popular culture, especially movies, big time. Between 1986 and 2000 the fees generated by American exports of film and tape went from $1.68 billion to $8.85 billion, an increase of 426 per cent. Not only has foreign box office revenue grown faster than domestic, it is now approaching a 2-to-1 ratio.
In other words, while the big State Department was dozing at the wheel, the "little State Department" (the nickname, since the 1940s, of the Motion Picture Export Association) was busy prying open new markets all over the globe.
Which brings us to the present moment: "Fahrenheit 9/11" is now playing in theaters in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and on DVD in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. According to the New York Times, the theaters are packed. And the message, diplomatically speaking, seems twofold: First, people are struck by "how the American adminstration was able to manipulate the American people." And second, they "want to know more about the reaction to the movie among Americans, who have bought more than $103 million in tickets."
In other words, American democracy is still being showcased overseas, only now the image is of mindless mob being manipulated by demagogues. We could be sanguine and assume that this is OK, it shows that we are free to disagree. But if we keep in mind the classic and contemporary critique of democracy as...well, as a mindless mob being manipulated by demagogues, then this new cultural diplomacy looks less appealing. Maybe the old USIA wasn't so bad, after all?
AJ BlogsAJBlogCentral | rss
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
David Jays on theatre and dance
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Public Art, Public Space
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog