Sunday, May 9, 2010

Unlikely Ambassadors

While scrounging for information on Japan's public diplomacy, I came across this odd little article on three cultural ambassadors who dress in the style of anime/manga heroines to promote the concept of kawaii, or cuteness. The decision seemed only marginally less bizarre than naming Hello Kitty an ambassador. But that's one of the things that I love about cultural diplomacy: the inevitable wackiness that ensues when governments try to highlight both the uniqueness and universality of their cultural heritage.

Cultures are inherently different from one another. They have different expectations and objectives and behaviors. And the act of cultural diplomacy must tread a fine line between celebrating those differences and building bridges. The fact of the matter is that a lot of cultural diplomacy programs navigate that in-between space, and so it's inevitable that they'll look out-of-place. But some of the weirdest ideas end up being extremely successful, and that's the beauty of cultural diplomacy.

Below, I've drawn up a list of some unlikely cultural ambassadors. It's neither comprehensive nor authoritative, but includes the names of several cultural ambassadors who have navigated the brackish cross-cultural seascape.
  1. Shirley Temple Black -- Shirley was a traditional ambassador, not simply cultural, and she was probably a fine one, but there's something about this photo that just seems incongruous to me.
  2. Rain -- Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of this video (not to mention this one). But Rain's appeal is his pop music. So why was he chosen as an athletic ambassador? And does it matter? He's insanely popular.
  3. Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong -- Ellington and Armstrong were two of the American jazz musicians the United States sent abroad as cultural ambassadors. Jazz was incredibly popular both at home and abroad, so choosing the men was a no brainer. What's more surprising is that their international service occurred years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  4. Rihanna -- The pop star was appointed a Culture and Youth Ambassador for her native Barbados, but critics complain that the skills that have made her famous aren't representative of her home culture.
So that's my list, or at least the start of it. I'm sure I've missed dozens of obvious choices. Whose name would you add?

1 comment:

  1. from the world of soccer...
    Pele was a minister of sport for Brazil (makes sense) and UN ambassador for the environment (???).