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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.
Karlyn Bowman, AEI
Martha Bayles, Author, "Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad"(Yale University Press, 2013); Contributor, Claremont Review of Books; Lecturer, Boston College Honors Program
Adjournment and Reception
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Martha Bayles frequently writes and lectures about the arts, music, media, and cultural policy. A former television critic for The Wall Street Journal, she writes about film for the Claremont Review of Books and is a frequent contributor to The Boston Globe, The Weekly Standard, and many other publications. Currently a lecturer in the humanities at Boston College, Bayles is the author of three books: “Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music” (University of Chicago Press, 1996), “Ain’t It a Shame: Censorship and the Culture of Transgression” (University of London Press, 1996), and the forthcoming “Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad” (Yale University Press, 2013).
Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, the North American Free Trade Agreement and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, Bowman has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States and writes a weekly column for Forbes.com.