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?

August 10, 2004 9:30 AM |



PRC Pop 

The Chinese pop music scene is like no other ...

Remembering Elvis 

The best part of him will never leave the building ...

Beyond Country 

Like all chart categories, "country" is an arbitrary heading under which one finds the ridiculous, the sublime, and everything in between. On the sublime end, a track that I have been listening to over and over for the last six months: Wynnona Judd's version of "She Is His Only Need." The way she sings it, irony is not a color or even a set of contrasting colors; it is iridescence.

Miles the Rock Star? 

Does Miles Davis belong in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame? Here's my take on his career ...

Essay Contest 

Attention, high school jazz listeners ...

more trax

Me Elsewhere

Edward Hopper 

Painter of light (and darkness) ...

Dissed in Translation 

Here's my best shot at taking Scorcese down a few pegs ...

Henri Rousseau Revisited 

"Henri Rousseau: Jungles in Paris" appeared at the National Gallery of Art in Washington this fall ...

Paul Klee's Art 

Paul Klee was not childish, despite frequent comparisons between his art and that of children...

Our Art Belongs to Dada 

Rent my "Dadioguide" tour of the Dada show (before it moves to MoMA) ...

more picks


About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by published on August 10, 2004 9:30 AM.

Video Virgil: "Phone Booth" was the previous entry in this blog.

War Flix is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
On the Record
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
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.