In the modern era, the global television industry has become known as a major source of “cultural imperialism”, or the spread of Western values and culture throughout the world. From The Simpsons to Friends, the number of shows that have been exported from the United States to other countries continues to increase at a fast rate. But what happens when American TV entertainment is challenged, both in popularity as in global outreach, by foreign productions like, say, Latin American telenovelas? And how do these melodramatic soap operas remain successful within other cultural structures?
A telenovela is a serial dramatic programming that originated in Latin America and has now become popular in Portuguese, Spanish and several other regions. Approximately 2 billion people in the world find themselves glued to their TV sets on a daily basis to watch the intriguing, romance-filled series. As opposed to US soap operas, telenovelas only last as long as their plotlines (usually with a happy ending), and tell their stories within historical, political and social frameworks that are very representative of the region’s current issues. Additionally, they are aired during prime time in Latin American countries and are aimed at the whole family, which is seldom the case with US soap operas. Nowadays, telenovelas are credited for helping spread knowledge of Latin American culture and even the Spanish language as well.
In his article Romancing the Globe, Ibsen Martinez presents an interesting analysis of this type of entertainment and the impact it has had on the global TV industry. One of the main points he highlights is the particularity of the telenovela’s audiences, arguing that it’s “characters overcoming obstacles like poverty, class conflict and institutional instability” are exactly what make “poor and underprivileged” people the number one viewers of this type of programming. The comfort with which telenovelas portray characters that are not affluent and are sometimes poor, as well as the constant placement of struggling women as the center of the plotline, are arguably the two leading theories as to why the shows have been so successful. A typical example is Simplemente Maria, a Venezuelan telenovela that fully embodies both these themes and has become known as the founding plotline for many other productions of it’s kind. Another observation he makes is regarding the topic of money and unexpected inheritances that suddenly reverse the protagonist’s economic standing. This is very representative of the economic volatility that is so often associated with Latin America, and has thus profoundly resonated with other societies that suffer the same uncertainties. Finally, Martinez also pinpoints an interesting term, ‘reverse cultural imperialism’, to describe the success of telenovelas in challenging the domination of the American TV industry in globalization.
This week’s articles also discuss the importance of embracing and incorporating local culture into telenovelas and other programs when they are exported worldwide. From a business point of view, exporting a telenovela to Morocco will probably be much more appealing and profit-rendering if (1) it is dubbed in the local language and (2) it addresses themes (social, cultural, etc) that Moroccan people can identify with. The reason for this is closely intertwined with the cultural filters that different audiences use when interpreting the storyline of these shows. Although some Latin American telenovelas have succeeded in regions such as the Middle East for the similarity in social issues, the appeal of a local platform that audiences can more closely relate to has also led local directors to produce soap operas of their own. Noor, a Turkish soap opera, has reached an unbelievable level of popularity both locally and internationally, leading even to an increase in tourism to Turkey due to the appealing scenery and actors shown on scene. Even Hollywood Studios has made several attempts to recreate telenovelas and their plotlines, usually hiring Hispanic actors in an attempt to maintain the feeling of authenticity. Without a doubt, regionalism, not globalism, is what sells.
It comes as no surprise that, given its large Hispanic population, the United States is one of the countries where telenovelas have created the most significant impact. As Martinez states, “In the United States, the Latin American shows have become top sellers on Spanish-language networks, which have themselves out spaced English-language networks in some major markets, such as Miami and Los Angeles.” One of the most popular examples is that of the American TV series Ugly Betty, which is an adaptation of the original Colombian telenovela Yo Soy Betty la Fea. Although the American version replicated the original plotline, it has since then tweaked certain components of the series to better fit the interests and cultural filters of American viewers. Telenovelas have also had a political impact in the US with regards to how the government relates to its Hispanic population. In his article US Census Uses Telenovela to Reach Hispanics, Brian Stelter discusses how the popular Spanish-language soap opera Mas Sabe el Diablo has been one of “the government’s yearlong efforts to garner trust among Hispanics, an ethnic group that has been historically wary of the decennial census process.” In an effort to encourage their participation, the producers of this telenovela have incorporated the census into the story line in order to fight the fear, explain why the count matters, and emphasize the confidentiality of the process.
The social and cultural impact of telenovelas worldwide is clear, but could this type of entertainment actually bridge political and diplomatic divides? It is worth approaching this question using the example of Mexico and it’s export of telenovelas to China. Televisa, a principal producer of Mexican telenovelas, was recently moved into the Chinese market, as described in the article Mexican Telenovelas: A Big Hit in China. Televisa aired four Madarin-dubbed telenovelas in China in 2000, and with great success, it also signed an agreement with China to produce Chinese’s versions of some of its programs. The relationship between both Mexico and China through the TV and telenovela industry has now raised questions as to whether the trade gap between both nations could be narrowed thanks to this newly established relationship.
The future of telenovelas and the duration of their worldwide success remain to be seen. What can be said for sure is that this trend in TV entertainment has challenged the power and place of American entertainment industries in spreading brands, interests, culture, values, and way of life. They have provided a platform in which many underprivileged populations of the world can relate in terms of economic and social strife, while at the same time bringing intriguing, twisted and arguably addictive TV entertainment to living rooms all around the world.
Hollywood produces between 500 and 600 films on average per year, the majority of which are exported worldwide within the year. Domestically, the industry represents an astonishing percent of the US’s annual commercial revenue. Having said this, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood and the federal government have gradually become close comrades in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Yet the function of cinema and Hollywood film production in the modern day goes beyond just financial success. As the movie business experiences rapid, exponential growth, there is an important issue of cultural exportation (and exploitation?) to be considered, as well as the frequently questionable representation of foreign “enemies” on Hollywood’s big screens. Never has this industry been so deeply intertwined with geopolitics and international relations. So dim the lights and get your popcorn – it’s time to see what really happens behind the scenes of your favorite Hollywood pictures.
In his essay ‘Have You Seen Any Good Films Lately?’ Geopolitics, International Relations, and Film, Klaus Dodds presents a comprehensive study of how Hollywood films portray current US diplomatic relations and foreign policy issues in the post-9/11 era, sometimes in a critical manner and other times serving almost as propaganda. The article also considers the different challenges that exist in researching audience reactions to Hollywood films, which is indeed a crucial part of assessing the impact that they have both in the US and abroad. Throughout the essay, Dodds discusses the rising importance of visual language in international affairs, and how it has become “all the more important in the post-9/11 era.” In a time when civic education and public engagement are in peril, films have worked to fill this gap by encouraging conversation and interpretation, even more than textual language has done so in the past. One of the arguments that most stood out to me was with regards to how Hollywood “manufactures particular visual moments” that resonate with American culture and thus serve to represent it abroad. One example of this is the ‘Top Gun’ affair (referring to the popular Hollywood film of the same name), when George W. Bush flew as a passenger on a plane that landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003, in which his naval outfit and flying performance were meant to deliberately align the President with the armed forces and mark the end of major combat operations in Iraq. As Dodds argues, the purpose of this spectacle was “to announce to the navy crew and, of course, television audience in the USA that the US troops serving in Iraq had accomplished their mission.” The moment undeniably created an important visual for American audiences, boosting their morale and strengthening the country’s image abroad.
Dodds also develops an interesting argument regarding the role of films during and after periods of war. He states that one of the most fundamental tasks of these films is “to critically engage with interpretations and representations of war, nationalism, colonialism, world orders, the War on Terror, international political economy, and so on.” Movies such as Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Green Berets, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and The Great Dictator were all directly intended to reflect (and sometimes criticize) US foreign policy in The Vietnam War and World War II. Similarly, the Rambo movies in the 1980s were widely recognized as symbols of US dominance on the world stage.
Needless to say, the US is the most significant world force when it comes to cultural imperialism and expansion. Yet to understand the Western representation of other cultures or nations on the big screen, it is important to discuss the concept of “us” and “them”. As we have seen, throughout the 20th century Hollywood has resorted to stereotypically portray certain groups of people or cultures in it’s films depending on the US’s current foreign policy interests. We refer to this as Hollywood’s construction of “them”, the enemy. Although this may be done quite openly, such as in movies dedicated to boost the people’s morale during the Vietnam War (Tora! Tora! Tora!, for example), it may also do so discretely. Take for example Disney’s animated movie Aladdin, which quite discretely vilifies Arab culture and its people with its portrayal of the movie’s villains. As Jo Episcopo argues in his article Spotlight on Disney’s Cultural Legacy, “the Arab world was upset by what was said to be a one-dimensional portrayal” of their culture in this children’s movie. Without question, the construction of these “others” is essentially what aids America in its construction of their own identity (or the “us”).
But the question still remains: how influential can the US government be in the production of a Hollywood film? As was argued previously, the relationship between them is a two way street. As Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham discuss in their article “The Deep Politics of Hollywood”, the Department of Defense and the Pentagon “routinely demand flattering script alterations” from Hollywood producers in exchange for “advice, men and invaluable equipment, such as aircraft carriers and helicopters.” An almost unbelievable example of this ‘policy’ between both parties can be seen in the action movie Black Hawk Down (2001), in which producers changed the true identity of a heroic military character due to the fact that he is a child rapist in real life. Government interference in Hollywood has become even more apparent in the post-9/11 period, as Alford and Graham suggest. In fact, as a response to these terrorist attacks, the White House almost immediately announced the formation of its “Arts and Entertainment Task Force”, which sought to arrange meetings with Hollywood insiders to seek advice on how to “shape an effective wartime message to America and to the world.” In a time of low morale and weakness for the United States, the content of Hollywood films proved to be an essential part of shaping their foreign policy and boosting their reputation as resilient superpower.
In general, when we as an audience pay for a movie ticket, we mostly expect to receive entertainment. After all, that is and has always been Hollywood’s main intention when producing a film. Nonetheless, becoming aware of the dual function that some of these movies might have is also important if we truly want to understand their place in our society. Politics and Hollywood have certainly established a connection that will only rise in importance within the next years, as our technology-dependent societies resort to visuals (movies, Internet, and television) as fundamental outlets for communication and interpretation of domestic and global affairs.
The beginning of the 21st century marked a significant reorganization of power in world affairs. While the United States enjoyed triumph after the Cold War and basked in the glory of being the world’s most powerful nation, the rise of the digital age made the world stage much more crowded. Superpowers and emerging nations now face a new challenge in racing to the top: realizing the diplomatic importance of soft power.
The articles In Digital Age, ‘Future Of Power’ Must Be Smart (published by NPR) and The War on Soft Power by Joseph R. Nye both discuss the significance and current relevance for superpowers to implement a ‘smart power’ strategy; that is, “the hard power of coercion and payment, plus the soft power of persuasion and attraction.”
In ‘The Future Of Power’ Must be Smart, the author sets the tone by giving a somewhat historical background of power shifts in the world stage for the past hundred years. Nowadays, because of advances in technology and the cyber sphere, the barriers of entry into the world stage have been lowered, thus leading to what he calls a “diffusion of power”. Smaller actors and emerging states such as China and India now have the opportunity to play a part in defining world affairs. Almost 200 years ago, Asia was home to half of the world’s population and was responsible for half of the world’s production. Undeniably, after the Industrial Revolution, Asia still maintained its population but lost 20% of its production to the West. Interestingly enough though, the power shift reverted one more time as Asia returned to “a balance of half the population and half the production” in the 21st century, due mainly to technological advances. On the topic of Asia, the author also discusses how China used the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and the Shanghai Exposition in 2011 as soft power strategies to “augment its position on the world stage”. China also increased its soft power by promoting Chinese culture globally, issuing a rise in international broadcasting and establishing various Confucius Institutes around the world.
One of the most appealing aspects of this article was the inclusion of excerpts from Joseph S. Nye’s book The Future of Power, one of the most comprehensive written pieces on the subject of soft power. Here, Nye develops the idea using two examples from international affairs, one of which truly stood out to me as an ideal example of soft power’s success. Nye tells a personal anecdote of when he was in charge of Jimmy Carter’s nonproliferation policy and managed to convince France to revert their decision to sell a nuclear reprocessing plant to Pakistan. Although the plant was supposed to be used for civilian purposes only, the US felt threatened that the material could be used for bomb production. After failed attempts to prevent the sale using threats and payments, the US government allowed Nye to intervene and have a civilized conversation with French officials, who were convinced by the new evidence and cancelled the sale. To me, it was quite impressive to see how such a delicate decision in this diplomatic interaction was handled so effectively using nothing but persuasion and trust, two elements that are usually not considered to be forms of power because they do not render the immediate results that military strength and threats do. “Purchased love”, or arrangements based solely on money, are definitely becoming obsolete in a world where the absence of trust and negotiation will only lead to paranoia and the erosion of diplomatic ties.
These arguments hit even closer to home when I read The War on Soft Power, also by Joseph Nye, in which the discussion is more focused towards the domestic situation and foreign policy of the United States. In April of 2011, US Congress decided to cut the State Department and foreign operations budget by $8.5 billion, which was almost nothing compared to the cuts in military spending. Simply put, the US put more importance on the country’s hard power than on its soft power, which could gravely hinder America’s global influence.
In my opinion, the reason why this is so preoccupying lies in the fact that in recent years, the United States has received severe hits to it’s image and influence abroad (especially due to wars in the Middle East), and it has become too reliant on its military alone. While it is true that military strength is an essential component of maintaining superpower status, there are other tools such as diplomacy, human rights, economic assistance and communications that can only be achieved with an increase in soft power. Hilary Clinton, one of the main advocates for the adoption of a “smart power” strategy in the US, strongly agrees that US’s interests cannot be defended solely with soldiers and guns. Without a doubt, being a powerful actor in the world stage is now more about the ability to be in the “center of a circle or network that attracts and persuades others to come help.” With so many emerging powers, including smaller states and even non-state actors, the competition now lies in establishing transnational networks and inspiring cooperation, not fear.
It goes without saying that the fact that the US spends about 500 times more on its military than it does on enhancing it’s soft power strategy is deeply concerning. While it is true that hard power tools will provide short-term solutions in US foreign affairs, they will only superficially amend them. It is necessary for the US to fulfill its role as a responsible superpower and find an overarching budget that integrates both hard and soft power into one successful strategy. Granted, it might be decades before they can reap the benefits, but it will certainly be worth the wait – and the money.
Where do you go for news on current events? What network do you trust? Which one is more available and accessible to you? For citizens on the Western hemisphere and a great majority of those in the Eastern hemisphere, the options are usually narrowed down to CNN and BBC. Ever since their establishment, these two networks have had a near monopoly on the distribution of global news. But what happens when newsgathering and interpretation becomes an extension of a country’s foreign policy, and state-owned news channels become a trend?
As is discussed throughout several of this week’s articles, it seems like the most recurring motivation for establishing a state-owned news network is to portray current events through said country’s “perspective”. The use of the word “perspective” in this scenario is worth noting. It seems logical that countries would want to establish their own networks to enhance their presence and reinforce their impact on global newsgathering. But why have individual “perspectives” suddenly become so important for reporting global news? In theory, the news should focus primarily on reporting events with accuracy and objectivity, not interpreting and displaying a particular viewpoint. This controversial point truly captured my attention, as new state-owned networks begin to appear and the question of who to believe becomes more and more problematic.
First and foremost, establishing a state-owned global news network is primordial for a country when it comes to building its image abroad. In the case of France 24, one of Chirac’s goal in establishing this news channel was to reflect a certain French ‘art de vivre’, in which “at least 20% of the programming focuses on culture and lifestyle, embracing everything from world museums to cuisine, fashion and French chocolate”, as Angelique Chrisafis states in her article The News through French Eyes. There is also another more unifying purpose for the rise of these state-run networks: creating a front against Western domination in the handling and interpretation of current events. In the case of Russia Today, China’s CNC and France 24, an underlying (and sometimes unspoken) goal is to challenge Western news giants such as CNN. In her article, Chrisafis states that French President Jacques Chirac wanted to launch France 24 in an effort to continue “France’s struggle against the global dominance of the US”, clearly indicating that this venture was as important for diplomatic reasons as it was for French image-building.
Another aspect of state-owned media channels developed in the articles deals with how they occasionally mirror or imitate the structures and newsgathering strategies of larger networks like CNN, sometimes leading to a severe display of weakness. Given their limited budgets and staff, France 24, China’s CNC and even Al-Jazeera International are sometimes forced to rely heavily on the larger corporations. As Lawrence Pintak discusses in his article on Al-Jazeera International titled A CNN for the Developing World, “three-quarters of the on-air staff, and most of the management, come from British and American networks” due to it’s limited budget and scarcity of experts available for hire in the region. Additionally, Al-Jazeera International has also experienced problems in “the breadth and depth of news coverage”, as they are sometimes forced to broadcast repeats of interviews, recycled news or reports of smaller, less significant events.
Nonetheless, there is another side to this argument. While expanding the number of global news sources may pose a threat to diligent reporting and objectivity, it also encourages a more diverse discussion and interpretation of events. These new channels are a solution to the lack of representation that some world regions and groups of people experience. In their article “Can Al-Jazeera Topple Governments?”, Matthias Gebauer and Yassin Musharbash highlight this reality: “No other Arab TV network, no daily newspaper and no radio station reaches as many of the Arab world’s 360 million people”, as they currently broadcast into “about 50 million households.” This diversity of global news providers also gives the individual reader the opportunity to choose the source that more aptly suits their interests, at least in terms of regional focus. For example, I would personally feel inclined to read Al-Jazeera’s news reports on the Egyptian riots at Tahrir Square because of their proximity to the event and their tendency to give greater focus to Middle Eastern events. Additionally, the fact that these state-run news corporations are now beginning to include programming in other languages (such as Al-Jazeera in English or France 24 in Spanish) definitely shows positive signs of inclusiveness and a desire to reach out to more people around the world.
One point is certain: news systems have become very powerful actors on the international stage. Although some may criticize the journalistic integrity behind state-owned news channels, these new sources of information also expand the diversity of news and perspectives that reach our computers, TV screens, radios and newspapers. But can these new networks survive and parallel the global force of CNN and BBC? As of now, it is highly improbable. While there are cases like Al-Jazeera in which the channel has become a legitimate voice in the Arab world, there are others like France 24 that have lacked sufficient momentum and somewhat failed to become influential news sources. Without a doubt, when it comes to international diplomacy, nations have resorted to state-owned news channels as essential tools in extending their foreign policy goals and maintaining their influence over global news reporting.
This week in class we have been studying the sometimes turbulent yet ongoing relationship between China and Disney, one of the US’s most representative entertainment companies. In an effort to expand business in China, Disney has reached out to the Communist party through many outlets including films and themes parks, some successful and others…not so much. The articles “Disney will Defy China on its Dalai Lama Film” by Bernard Weinraub, and “Mouse Zedong? Disney opens its gates in Hong Kong” by Jonathan Watts both discuss the dynamics of this tumultuous relationship and how Disney’s business ventures have affected Sino-American diplomatic relations.
The first article, written by Bernard Weinraub for the New York Times, focuses on outlining the issue over “Kundun”, a Martin Scorsese film about the life of the Dalai Lama that Disney intended to release in 1997. Since China “regards the Dalai Lama as a threat to its control over the Himalayan region”, the announcement of this venture deeply concerned and offended the Communist Party, leading it to threaten Disney’s future business plans in the country.
What was interesting about this Chinese threat was its direction. While diplomatic and economic tensions were common happenings between China and the US, there were rarely any instances in which a threat was directed towards an American entertainment company. As I read this article, it as quite fascinating to realize the difficulties that these entertainment giants face when they expand their business ventures to other countries and must adapt to their host’s political and cultural realities. While China is definitely an attractive untapped market for the film industry, especially considering it’s large population, companies must still realize it is ruled by a regime that aims to keep cultural traditions intact and does not tolerate the open access of communications that we observe in the Western world. Intending to penetrate the Chinese market without taking note of these parameters will undeniably lead to a fall-out and severely hinder Sino-American relations at many different levels.
Although “Kundun” was still released in 1997, it wasn’t without paying a price. In an effort to compensate for their actions, one year later Disney released the film “Mulan”, an animated movie featuring a young Chinese woman who impersonates a man and takes her father’s place in war. Fostering Chinese culture and history, “Mulan” served to placate China’s discontent with the release of “Kundun”. Reading about this truly made me reconsider my view on diplomatic relations and how fragile they can be, especially if the two nations are politically and culturally distinct. As Weinraub describes it, in this case China used it’s “political muscle” to pressure a foreign company over a political issue, and it resulted in the US having to simmer down to calm these tense relations.
Jonathan Watts also has an interesting take on Disney and China in his article “Mouse Zedong? Disney opens its gates in Hong Kong”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article because it organizes ideas under coherent, simple headlines, and provides a more culturally focused perspective of the Disney-China relationship.
Watts begins by giving a creative description of the physical appearance of Disney’s theme park in Hong Kong, which opened in 2005. In quite an effective manner, he paints an interesting image of the merging of two cultures: China’s vice-president Zeng Qinghong and Mickey Mouse walking together at the inauguration of Disneyland Hong Kong, along with a crowd of 18,000 anxious visitors. Even after the Disney film debacle in the late 1990s, Disney managed to follow through with this business venture and is now “embraced for the cash it can bring in”, as the park’s economic spin-off stands at about HK$148 billion in over four decades.
Without a doubt, the section of Watts’ article that most captivated my attention was when he addressed all the cultural adjustments that Disney had to comply with in the establishment of the park in Hong Kong. For example, a Feng Shui master that to ensure the park satisfied “traditional views of harmony with nature”. Additionally, the park’s opening date was chosen in accordance with the Chinese zodiac, and the Disneyland Hotel was prohibited from having a fourth floor because the number bears phonetic resemblance with the word “death” in Chinese. Food and restaurant modifications at the park were also important, seeing as the Chinese were not used to the fast-food culture so commonly seen in America and considered it crucial to have at least one Chinese restaurant in the premises. These cultural modifications are seen more heavily in this Disney park than in the ones in Paris and Tokyo, which says a lot about the intricacies between the two countries and the way in which they interact when doing business and maintaining diplomatic relations.
In his article Watts also provides an important section on criticism. Again, it was very interesting to read how most of the criticism towards the Disney park has it’s roots in cultural differences between the US and China. We see a clear example of this in the way that staff are treated and trained. Staff members of the Hong Kong park are forced to practice smiling and waving throughout the park, something that might sound familiar and even normal in the US yet would be quite strange for a foreign culture such as China’s. In bringing its theme park attractions and fast-food shacks, Disney also brought along their own set of values in an effort to maintain some sort of symmetry with the other Disneyland parks. Watts’ presentation of this dilemma certainly provides a fascinating perspective on cultural adaptation and the problems that arise from this so-called “Disney-led US cultural invasion”.
So, how serious is the Chinese Communist party about preserving their ideology and maintaining their cultural traditions intact? Although they did put up a diplomatic fight with the release of “Kundun”, they still accepted the construction of Disneyland Hong Kong with open arms less than a decade later. Is China becoming more open to Western influence, or is it simply a matter of business and money? The answers to these questions remain to be seen as China gains more importance in the world stage and its economic potency and cultural presence become harder to ignore.
The essay “The Political Power of Social Media” by Clay Shirky is a fundamental read when it comes to understanding how new media shapes the dynamics of international politics.
One of the most interesting questions addressed in this article is based on the use of social media tools and their effects on political action. Do social media and digital tools actually enhance democracy? Social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and even text messaging have become very influential as coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements. One of the most outstanding examples includes the 2001 downfall of Joseph Estrada, President of the Philippines, who directly blamed the “text-messaging generation” for such a massive response. It was particularly interesting to read about “shared awareness”, a concept that Shirky introduces in relation to this topic and uses to describe the ability of each member of a group to not only understand a political movement but also understand that everyone else does, too.
Another interesting topic covered in the article deals specifically with how social media affects domestic and foreign policy. Shirky argues, “The potential of social media lies mainly in their support of civil society and the public sphere – change measured in years and decades rather than weeks or months.” Although Internet freedom is an important step to take towards democratization, it must be done with the right intentions; in other words, in a gradual form to ensure that it’s effects on each country are long-term and not simply to fulfill short term goals. This was by far one of the most captivating ideas that Shirky portrays in his essay, especially because we sometimes tend to see only the positive outcomes of social media mobilization and overlook the possibility of failure and ineffectiveness.
Shirky also builds an appealing presentation of the perils of Internet freedom using Hillary Clinton’s speech on Internet freedom abroad in January 2010. As she promoted an “instrumental” approach to Internet freedom in other countries (such as preventing states from censoring Google and YouTube), she overlooked smaller tools and methods (such as cell phones and outlets for private communication) that could actually create a stronger impact on a country’s transition to democracy. The US’s failure to support effective anti-censorship programs such as Freegate in China in order to protect China-US relations has also proved to be a wrong move on the US’s part. I thought it was very interesting how Shirky dismantled Clinton’s argument and actually paid attention to smaller details that could potentially render greater long-term benefits. The “environmental view”, as Shirky calls it, emphasizes, “positive changes in the life of a country, including pro-democratic regime change, follow, rather than precede the development of a strong public sphere.” In agreement with Shirky, I too believe this public sphere can only be strengthened through a sensible, non-immediate use of social media to achieve short-term goals, and by allowing public opinion to rely both on media and conversation. Politically, it is more important for people to have access to communication rather than access to information, given that political change cannot happen without the “dissemination and adoption of ideas and opinions.”
Shirky also introduces the concept of the “conservative dilemma”, which is created by new media that “increase public access to speech or assembly”, and thus make states that are accustomed to having a monopoly on public speech accountable for “anomalies between its view of events and the public’s.” This is basically the situation that has evolved in China, in which the state has seen the need to use censorship as they begin to feel the strains of the “conservative dilemma”. Shirky provides an interesting take on this subject: he suggests that popular culture and social media increase the “conservative dilemma” because outlets such as Twitter and Facebook (mainly used for social purposes) are now adopting more political uses, and thus creating a greater strain on governments. As Shirky says, it is more difficult for the government to shut down tools in broad use (such as Facebook and Twitter) than to shut down tools specifically designed for dissident use. Based on this reasoning, Shirky proceeds to give recommendations on how the United States’ should approach Internet freedom goals by INCREASING the conservative dilemma. As he does throughout his entire essay, he insists on the importance of building a strong civil society and securing the freedom of personal and social communication among the population (Facebook, Twitter, etc). It is necessary to ensure that citizens have freedom of assembly, seeing as this is the only way to force their governments to serve them properly.
Perhaps the only criticism I have regarding Shirky’s piece is that there was too much of an emphasis solely on the United States, both with regards to it’s domestic and foreign policy towards social media, and throughout his “long-run” recommendations (especially on the last page). It would have been a much more powerful and effective piece if he gave an overview of how other important superpowers have shaped their policies towards media, especially those under democratic regimes like Chile or the UK. Nonetheless, he does give some other perspectives, such as the case of China and it’s censorship policies, and he most certainly provides other strong case studies and arguments to fully support his well-built thesis.