April 25, 2011

U.S. Public Diplomacy

The U.S.’s opinion of public diplomacy in the past has been, “what for?” We saw it (and still do to some extent) as a non-issue because we are, well America. I have to admit, sometimes it is hard for me as an American to understand why people wouldn’t like us, and then on other days I want to apply for dual citizenship in another country. But every country has its ups and downs and most understand this due to past and current histories of struggle, experiencing being at the very top of the world in terms of international relations and being at the bottom. As a relatively young and successful country the U.S. has not experienced the bottom. We have not had the humbling experience losing majorly and licking our wounds and gaining perspective. Most of us are like rich kids who have never had to experience a struggle like the harsh political realities that most countries have had to, at least not within the past two centuries. That is not to say that we are perfect and have never lost a battle or been hurt badly (Pearl Harbor, September 11th), but we have not experienced military coups, genocides, complete economic ruin, famines, etc. We have had a good run. This mindset is what Zaharna labeled “American exceptionalism,” but what this term necessarily implies is “All other mediocrity” and its surprises us to see that people don’t like that!

OK so enough critiquing, what are we to do about it? Well I don’t recommend self-inducing famine or creating a military coup but there are people within this country that can empathize or even identity with those who do not have the opportunity to live in countries that have similar opportunities and safeties. In class we talked about the power of communication and how the government needs to use more communication strategies in reaching new publics such as revamping our international broadcasting. However, if there is one thing I take away from public diplomacy and all of the concepts and countries studied it is this: nothing beats personal communication. It’s the most long-term form of public diplomacy, but to me it seems to be the strongest. There is nothing more genuine that one on one interface with someone to create trust, credibility and legitimacy. Of course this can go wrong and politicians need immediate effects, but it doesn’t matter how much money we pour into communication outlets if it’s falling in deaf ears. Personal understanding is the most tedious but effective way to change minds. So I think that exchanges are my favorite form of P.D. and the U.S. should engage in these more. But it has to be reciprocal, there have to be almost as many Americans going to developing nations and there are people coming to the states. Empathy must be two may in order to build mutual understanding and in turn help us understand what kind of communication will be the most effective from home. Will this work? I don’t know, but I personally root for Switzerland after the U.S. in every Olympic or international sporting event I watch just because I lived there.


R.S. Zaharna “Grand Strategy: From Battles to Bridges” in Battles to Bridges: US Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11 (2010)

Improving US PD with Bridges

This class has allow students to question PD’s complicated nature. While the definition of PD is not clear cut, PD is not just one concept but the interconnectedness of many ways or concepts to attract foreign publics to a positive image in order to manage the international system. The most exciting part about this emerging field of public diplomacy is that all actors in the international system must acknowledge and participate in it. Actors in PD must migrate and help frame stories in their best possible light, particularly the media. While Hilary Clinton articulates that more jobs are opening up for Foreign Service officers, US PD has a lot of room for improvement. The US could be branding itself better. Other countries are developing their more informal PD plans as the US is trying to win the war of information. US grand strategy efforts should be less spent on fighting the information war and more on building reciprocal cultural bridges to help other publics understand American culture and vice versa. Deep meaningful contacts in many places should be the American PD goal. The hardest part about making these contacts are managing them in the media and successfully planning and executing initiates that withstand time. People at all levels of society realize that their role in the international system can have an effect on how their state actor is perceived by other publics.

April 18, 2011

Japan's Culture Diplomacy

Last week we discussed in our class that Japan focuses on its pop culture as a tool of Public Diplomacy besides using branding. Their philosophy is to internationalize Japan, but at the same time to shield Japan from outside influences. We see an emphasis on branding, fashion, animations, and pop culture in Japanese Public Diplomacy.

Mr. Seiichi Kondo, a former diplomat who has been appointed as Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, says "Public Diplomacy is not necessarily selling pop culture like Pokemon, though Pokemon is a Japanese cultural ambassador to the rest of the world." He adds that he does not draw a line between pop culture and high culture or sub-culture. "Culture is culture, and we promote whatever is liked by Japanese and non-Japanese."

The following is a press briefing of Mr. Kondo on Japan's Culture Diplomacy:

Informal PD: Solidifying Cool Japan

While Japan has a long history of traditional PD, it is emerging with a new more popular culture PD today through the soft power of anime and manga. Similar to China, Japan plans on educating the world about its culture. For instance, in 2006, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso proposed setting up a "Nobel Prize" for foreign "manga" cartoon artists and awarded talented Japanese artists the title of "Anime Ambassador". Aso, said Japan’s anime and manga could be the way to China’s heart. "What you have been doing ... has grabbed the hearts of young people in many countries, including China," he told an audience of some 100 students at the University of Digital Content in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. But does winning over people’s hearts equate to a legitimate and credible image within the international community? Japan, on occasion, has been known to have an odorless culture. So it is trying to set itself apart from that primarily through cultural diplomacy.

A brief look of images show Japan’s attempt to display its gastronomy, tourist destinations, electronics, hello kitty, and anime and manga culture. Just because one public likes another’s culture doesn’t necessarily equate to spectacular international relations between the two countries. There are many factors to consider if an actor has a successful PD policy. Furthermore, this form of PD targets a younger audience abroad. One thing is for sure, the younger generations are most open to change in the field of public diplomacy. Of course, making Japanese culture cool does not hurt Japan’s image but it does not necessarily mean that people trust in Japan as a leading global actor. Younger generations, however, are fueling new ideas to modernize traditional diplomacy and bring it to the world’s people. There are now large relief programs using social networking sites to raise relief funds for the earthquake/tsunami. The opportunities are endless for where PD can go…the only question is if whether or not the opportunities that became a reality successfully changed the image of the country in question.

April 16, 2011

J Pop Was Here

In Anne Allison’s article, “Attractions of the J-Wave for American Youth” she tries to explain why Japanese pop culture, specifically Anime and other television cartoons and action series from Japan have been so popular among American youth. She concludes by saying that it is because of its foreignness or strangeness that American children love and embrace the shows as something different and take it as their own while still being Japanese. This is opposed to adults who don’t understand the fad because they think of Japan as foreign, exotic and unknown as well but prefer to keep it that way.

Is this true? No one can deny that the popular culture coming from Japan isn’t like anything we had in America before it. It is definitely something new and exotic. But I am not sure if that is why young children love it. An alternate explanation could be that children have been collecting things for centuries, whether it was rocks, stamps, baseball cards etc. and trading them with friends. The Pokemon phenomenon could have just been that generations trading card du jour. It was definitely more exciting than stamps because of the technology it used. Sure you could trade cards as well, but then you could watch the television show and play the video can to solidify the Pokemon as a part of your everyday child life. Children also love pets, which is what the Pokemon essentially were. You had to play with them or train them and you had to take care of them. Were they exotic? To be sure, there is no naturally existing animal called a Pikachu that I know of, but is it Japanese exotic or just something new?

My brother loved Pokemon, I mean was SO obsessed and had all the cards and watched the show every week religiously and had all the games. I remember we couldn’t go out anywhere without him asking my mom to get him a pack of the cards. It was a problem (that’s the way it seemed to me anyway). But did it cause him to be more attracted to Japanese culture? Well as he got older he watched more Japanese cultural products like Dragon Ball Z and other Anime shows. I watched his best friend go through all of these phases as well. But while my brother moved on (although he still watches the cartoons from time to time) his best friend developed a love for Anime that can only be described as… insane (again, at least that’s what I think). He began to draw the comics that he saw and create his own in the Anime style. He actually started to learn a little Japanese and his dream became and still is to move to Japan and create his own comic book. This seemed utterly insane to me and not like a real life goal, but after reading about the J Pop wave I still think its insane of him but very clever on the part of the Japanese.

So what’s my end take on this? Does it work? My answer is it depends on the person and it seems as though there are a lot of people out there who are testaments to Japan’s cultural diplomacy. I can apply this phenomenon to my own life as well. My brother borrowed from a friend a game called Final Fantasy VII one summer. I was sitting in my room bored and I went to see what he was playing and why he and his friends were so animated. To his chagrin (and his friends) I was hooked and literally spent two weeks of my life completely and utterly engrossed in this game. It was SO good. The story had drama, love, a war, a distant land and honor- just utterly amazing. I ended up playing the game two times through with my brother in subsequent summers just going back to that game but I never like any successor games as much as Final Fantasy VIII or any other games that my brother brought home. Once school started I was over it and went back to my other hobbies and I haven’t played it in years. I liked the game because it was different and while the characters could be described as mildly Asian in appearance the game took place in an alternate universe, I had no idea of its ties to Japan. I just found out today that the game was created by a Japanese man and produced by Square Enix and Japanese company.

What has affected me personally about Japanese culture is what I would call its historical culture. Japanese food, the history of the geisha, Tom Cruise in the Last Samurai (just kidding- I did like the movie though...mostly for the Samurais); to me that stuff is bad ass. I don’t even get why they would have to create a popular culture when their historical culture is so new and already exotic to Western places. It was the exotic nature of Final Fantasy that attracted me to it and it’s that same idea that attracts me to Japan. I know that J Pop has been very successful for them and they want to cash in on this money cow while they can, but if they ever worry about the fad fading, I think they just have to look back to see how they can go forward.


Anne Allison “The Attractions of the J Wave for American Youth” in Watanabe Yusashi and Michael McConnell (Eds) Soft Power Superpowers: Cultural and National Assets of Japan and the United States (2008)

(Pop) Culture Diplomacy

From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website: MOFA “began the "Anime Ambassador" project, with the aim of increasing interest in Japan through Anime.” As a diplomacy goal of creating “interest” in the country, Japanese pop culture has certainly been successful. By that metric, though, so have the United States and many other countries.

But at what point does cultural byproduct become cultural diplomacy? Government backing? Intentional dissemination? Or, like the case of Turkey’s soap operas that I talked about this week, does it just happen sometimes?

There are many TV shows, especially from the US, that are exported elsewhere. That doesn’t always seem to work out too well for us “diplomatically.” There are a lot of other TV shows from around the world, especially reality shows, that seem to be picked up and remade all the time, that become completely odorless, like a Korean television. Not really intentional or government sponsored, and maybe questionable on how well it portrays the country of origin.

For the Japanese, though, this seems to have worked out differently. They have come up with things that no one else seems to think of. And the West eats these cultural peculiarities up. Nintendo, like Toyota, have become household names, but are still very much Japanese. The first Wii commercials from a few years ago, for example:

Tomagotchi. And Pokemon. And Anime. And bento boxes. And the list goes on, and people in the US find them entertaining. But what does that ultimately mean for Japan-US relations?

Like the Turkish soap operas, its just an opportunity. In the Middle East, the historical tensions between the region have been minimized for some who see cultural similarities portrayed on TV. Japan has the opposite, cultural curiosities that entice a particular subset of the Western population. Whether that works out for the future of their public diplomatic interests remains to be seen.

Prof. Hayden also mentioned “Firefly” in class. The cultural conglomeration is particularly apparent in the clip (starting at 6:20 or so) with a few instances of the Chinese-English language mix in there too. Its kind of like walking through Chinatown in DC.

Gorram Fox canceled my show, Professor.

April 14, 2011

Nye on Soft Power, Superpowers and "The Rise of the Rest"

Joe Nye's been making the rounds lately, promoting his latest book. Here he's talking to Al Jazeera's Riz Khan, covering issues and concepts that are just much too familiar to our class :)