Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Best That America Has to Offer

America was once thought of as "A shining city on a hill" whose values were recognized by all as timeless and appropriate for all mankind. We attempted to broadcast those values to the world and influence them with our words. Now a cacophony of alternative "values" are being transmitted into the Middle East. Values that Americans should be ashamed of, values that make Iraqis distrustful of America, and values that run completely counter to our expressed intentions of achieving liberty for the people of Iraq.

Not long before coalition forces invaded and occupied Iraq, America shut down its Voice of America broadcast in the Arabic language. Shortly thereafter, the Farsi-language broadcast ended as well. In its heyday, Voice of America broadcast American values, democratic values, and deeply meaningful discussions about social and political issues.

In the transition, what remains of VOA broadcasts, according to a former VOA director, is a putrescence of alternative American values. Ones that I'm embarrassed by. Ones that do nothing to endear Arab and Persian Muslims to the American way of life.

In the Spring of 2003, Robert Reilly, a former director of Voice of America, was in Baghdad. A young Iraqi journalist ran up to him and asked:

Why did you stop broadcasting substance and substitute music?

Instead of lessons on civics and social issues, what do people in the Middle East hear on Voice of America?

Britney Spears. Justin Timberlake. Eminem. Snoop Doggety Dog or whatever his name is this week. Iraqis are looking for freedom, not licentiousness.

That kind of filth masquerading as music irritates me to no end, but I live in a society that has been conditioned to accept it. Can you imagine how much distrust such broadcasts engender among the Iraqi people (not to mention others) who have never even heard such drivel, and who once believed that America represented things positive, like charity, public service, strong families, and devotion to God?

Reilly states:

We do not teach civics to American teenagers by asking them to listen to pop music, so why should we expect Arabs and Persians to learn about America or democracy this way? The condescension implicit in this nearly all-music format is not lost on the audience that we should wish to influence the most — those who think.

Some, of course, suspect that the United States is consciously attempting to subvert the morals of Arab youth.
I think there are entertainment forces in America who are subverting the morals of American youth, so the Arabs and Persians are probably not too wrong in their suspicions. The Iraqi people are much smarter and more civilized than we give them credit for. They know what America is supposed to stand for, but they can easily see that great swaths of American culture are decaying.

If we can't even keep our own society from failing on so many fronts, the Iraqis must think, how can we expect to help them? If this is the kind of help we're giving, I suspect they won't want it much longer.

If that's the best America has to offer, then we deserve to fail in Iraq.


Elizabeth said...

It's frightening. In my paranoid moments, I think it's a conspiracy to 1. Reverse the women's movement by flooding our consciousness with degrading imagery of women and by promoting pop "stars" who are mostly former hookers and strippers and 2. Make people stupider by bombarding them with nonsensical imagery, tuneless and repetitive (and therefore hypnotic) music and idiotic and degrading lyrics. So we can all be more easily controlled by the powers that be.

Frank Staheli said...

Thanks for your comments. I agree.

Despite those times when we disagree, in this instance we don't. It is a travesty the mindlessness that is being perpetrated on the American populace. It is not difficult to construe this turn of events as being the purpose or the tool of those who want to mold a docile public. At the very least it is having that result.

Matt said...

Quite coincidental timing you put that first sentence about the "City on the Hill", Frank. I'm writing a paper on that (and another thesis) about how they relate to US Cold War policy and the Vietnam War. VOA still broadcasts in Persian. One Iranian whose blog I read says it's a joke (I think he might be pro-mullah, though; haven't quite figured it out). Anyway, I find it hard to believe that VOA broadcasts rap and pop instead of democratic talk shows. That Iranian (whose page I linked to above) said they have them and that he thinks they're funny (in a way that implies that they're worthless to be transmitted in the first place). I don't know. I seriously hope they stop broadcasting that trash (what your referred to in your post), if that's what they're broadcasting. Just for the record, yes, I listened to Snoop and Eminem back in the late '90s. I won't make any apologies for it then but no, I no longer listen to them nor would I care to. I've changed, to put it in a few words.

Danny said...

I didn't even know that they were broadcasting that kind of thing on VOA. It is rediculous. I, personally, like some of Snoop and Eminem and the like. I listen to it in leisure every once in a while, usually while I drive.
To push it on to a society that we are trying to educate about democracy and the American way of life; not a good idea. It has no educational value whatsoever.

Frank Staheli said...

Especially when their society has never been exposed to something like this and would find it very invasive and offensive. (Then wait til someone translates into Arabic for them what the words to the songs are!)

Sang J. Moon said...

Broadcast television doesn't represent the USA, and that is why it is on the decline. A better representation of the USA would be the mixing of local and national television, cable, satellite, internet, etc. Only a sliver of the whole picture reaches people outside of the USA because all of this is meant for domestic consumption. The answer isn't for the government to control what reaches other countries. The solution is to open the media market in other countries so that more of what we see domestically becomes available abroad. Vice versa, if the USA opens itself more to foreign media markets, its views of the outside world becomes more realistic. Anyone who takes broadcast news headlines as their bible of what the world outside is like are poorly informed.

Frank Staheli said...

Excellent, excellent point!

I am often bothered by how Americanized everything is around the world, and how Americans in particular are on average so titillated by meaningless entertainment that they have no idea of the real richness of the diversity of cultures and traditions around the world.

Rich Warnick said...

Karen Hughes is a Bush crony with the title Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State with the rank of ambassador. She is in charge of fixing America's image in the muslim world. Doing a heckuva job.

Frank Staheli said...

The article by Reilly that I linked to mentioned Ms. Hughes, and he had about the same opinion of her.

Danny said...

Mr. Moon, I just want to say that your comment was very well put. The last thing we need is our government regulating media. I believe Frank has another post on that type of thing going on in France. It doesn't go well. Also, I like what you said about the media in the US being for "domestic consumption." We, US citizens, know that the things portrayed in pop and rap music are not the typical way of life. Likewise, we should know that what we see in mainstream media about other countries isn't typical either. I fully agree that we should open our "media doors" to foreign markets to better understand.