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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

American Pop Culture and World Opinion

Although much global distrust of American leadership is reflected in increasing disapproval of the U.S. foreign policy, American pop culture is also a culprit of blame. Beginnings of popular American culture can be traced back to the early 1900's with daily exposure to radio and print. The biggest change in pop culture occurred between the 50s and the 70s, marking the beginning of the most influential years of wide spread distribution of the pop phenomenon. Now, the Internet and computers have skyrocketed access to pop. American popular culture is not the beacon of freedom to those in closed societies it once was. It has become a glut on the market as a U.S. ambassador to the world without cultural diplomacy. The prolific producers of trash enjoy the same freedom as American artists. And many of the people worldwide now attracted - and repulsed - by the trash do not share the same ideal of expressive freedom. The United States remains broadly disliked in most countries surveyed, and the opinion of the American people is not as positive as it once was. Martha Bayles says, "I agree that popular culture presents a distorted image of American way of life: there is very little in pop culture about compassion of Americans, patriotism, and family oriented values. However I find it natural that in our politically correct and law obedient society, popular art searches for expression of darker, suppressed sides of human nature." (Martha Bayles, Washington Post, August 28 2005) Some Negative Effects? People like Bill Stephney, co-founder of the rap group Public Enemy, have raised concerns about the normalization of crime and prostitution in gangsta and "crunk" rap. And in April 2005, the Pew Research Center reported that "roughly six-in-ten [Americans] say they are very concerned over what children see or hear on TV (61%), in music lyrics (61%), video games (60%) and movies (56%)." Representatives Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World stated that "Arabs and Muslims are . . . bombarded with American sitcoms, violent films, and other entertainment, much of which distorts the perceptions of viewers." The depiction of Americans in media content as violent, of American women as sexually immoral and of many Americans engaging in criminal acts has brought many youthful subjects in a recent survey to hold generally negative attitudes toward people who live in the United States. (Melvin and Margaret DeFleur, Louisiana State University, 2003 poll of teenagers in 12 countries) Pop culture has a negative effect on American adolescent women relating to their physical appearance, educational goals and view on relationships with men. It seems that most of the negative effects of pop culture are on young girls. As they watch celebrities on TV and see them in magazines, it makes most of them feel like they have to be just like them. (Jennifer Hawk,“The Negative Effects Pop Culture has on Adolescent Women”) This model of perfection idolatry by Americans has produced ill feelings in many other cultures. Solutions to the Problem? The solution to this problem of negativity in pop culture is far from clear. Most agree censorship is not the answer. But, a stronger awareness and concern of what popular culture is teaching the world about America is sorely needed. Equal time for the portrayal of positive values and practices might begin to sway opinion. And, the knowledge that freedom is self-correcting -- that Americans have not only liberty but also a civilization worthy of liberty -- should be shared with the world.
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