Saturday, January 30, 2010

Oh, the Weather Outside...

Well, ICkateers, it's snowing in Washington, D.C., which means snowballs are flying, police are packing, and my cozy little ivory tower is frosted over and bitterly cold. It's the perfect day to be anywhere that's not an attic bedroom, and a quick scan of the Washington Post's Weekend Section revealed a fabulous article by the illustrious Michael O'Sullivan on the cultural film offerings available in D.C.

Many of these film series are organized by embassies and cultural centers, a service the United States offers abroad--although not as much as it once did. Like many aspects of modern U.S. diplomacy, cultural outreach programs decreased (as did their funding) in the wake of the Cold War. John Kerry addressed the situation in a February 2009 report titled "U.S. Public Diplomacy--Time to Get Back in the Game," in which he laments the disappearance of the American Centers of yore.

American Centers, for the noncognoscenti, were libraries of sorts that offered book clubs and lectures and civic youth programs and cultural series and English lessons to foreign publics until a trifecta of events conspired to bring about their demise. The end of the Cold War, the information revolution and the mollification of Senator Jesse Helmes led the U.S. Information Agency to be absorbed, like an extra in The Blob, by the State Department. American Centers were gradually shuttered, shrunk and otherwise underfunded until the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon convinced Congress that cultural outreach might have more value than previously assumed.

In subsequent years, the United States has stepped up public and cultural diplomacy efforts once again, but progress is slow and hindered by lack of vision, leadership and resources. This is not to suggest that U.S. public and cultural diplomacy is ineffective or unnecessary, rather that there is a general consensus on the need for reform. The catch is that the consensus is strong among people with the skills to effect reform, but weaker among people with the ability to lead the charge. There's plenty of snow on the hill. What's needed is a few kids with mittens* to set the ball in motion.

Fortunately for D.C. residents and Beltway outliers, our town is hopping with options for the foreign film enthusiast, and I encourage you to check out the article and take full advantage. Alas, I've got too much reading this weekend to join you. Eat some popcorn for me! I'll be bundling up in my tauntaun sleeping bag until the weather turns.

* A totally irrelevant aside: Why does a google search for "congressional mittens" turn up more pictures of Mitt Romney than any other U.S. politicians? Can anyone help?


  1. Cultural diplomacy certainly needs to be propelled into action. Massive change may take time as cultural expectations for America are rather institutionalized in thought. I love your Capitol Hill analogy! Your post is inspiring to all to get out there, put on what some might seem call unfashionable mittens, and through some snowballs.

    As a side note, it is absolutely incredible what people search for on Google and Google images. The queries alone are a good laugh. Happy Blogging!

  2. *sigh* As my friend Nancy gently pointed out, the google search function is probably assuming "Mitt" and "mittens" derive from the same entomological source. And all this time I was assuming there was some kind of scandal where Romney was in the pocket of Big Mitten. Evidently I'm not nearly as clever as I think I am.

  3. Oops, I just reread my comment. I meant to say throw some now some snowballs, instead of through.

  4. Love the new design! Coincidentally, my DC snow day included watching Invictus with Rahm Emanuel sitting in front of me. There's gotta be some way to construe that as cultural diplomacy...

  5. I can't believe you got close enough to Rahm to spill popcorn on him and you are only telling me now. How did this not merit an emergency phone call?