April 16, 2011

(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.

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