At Monday's Bradley Lecture, Martha Bayles explored the degradation of America's image abroad because of the ever increasing "vulgarity, violence, and vitriol" in popular culture. Bayles explained how after travelling the globe and interviewing countless demographics for her upcoming book “Popular culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad," she discovered a great disparity between what Americans think of themselves and what the rest of the world believes.
Throughout her lecture, Bayles highlighted the importance of public diplomacy. She emphasized that Americans should convey themselves as unpretentious, ordinary citizens who believe in solving problems by working with others through practical wisdom. Unfortunately, said Bayles, America exports distorted, inaccurate representations of American culture. For example, "urban singles comedies" — shows like Friends, Sex and the City, or Girls — focus on a group of young, free, and family-less individuals who seem to always be alone. Moreover, the Quentin Tarantino model juxtaposes extreme violence and unrelated music and dialogue.
To remedy America's image abroad, Bayles called for more conversation abroad about what is shown on the television or movie screen versus what occurs in American daily life. She concluded that it is most important to remember that the medium is not the message; the message is the message. No matter how Americans communicate, the message should be thoughtful and representative of what their image abroad should be — not what it currently is.
Why are democracy and freedom in retreat around the world? There are many reasons, from the impact of the global financial crisis on fragile democracies to the sophisticated propaganda of 21st-century authoritarian regimes. But another reason, which is often overlooked in the debate over American leadership, is the entertaining but distorted picture of democracy and freedom found in ubiquitous popular culture.
Drawing on her forthcoming book "Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad" (Yale University Press), Martha Bayles will share some of her insights into the way US cultural exports shape foreign perceptions of America and the unexamined relationship between popular culture and public diplomacy.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.