Friday, December 17, 2010

Inaction: Loud and Clear

This is not even remotely funny, but I think that's his point. Last night, Daily Show host Jon Stewart lambasted Republican Senators for filibustering a bill that would provide health benefits for 9/11 first responders. As Stewart notes, "The party that turned 9/11 into a catch phrase, are now moving suspiciously into a convenient pre-9/11 mentality when it comes to this bill." Stewart also ripped the media for providing minimal to no coverage of the bill's troubles, noting that Al Jazeera had provided more information than many of the U.S.'s major networks:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
9/11 First Responders React to the Senate Filibuster
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

This bill--which would provide medial benefits for the firefighters, police officers and other personnel that responded to the 9/11 attacks--has been mired in a political bog for months. The U.S. systems of checks and balances is one of its greatest strengths, but it can also be a significant weakness. And this particular situation, where petty partisan differences have trumped domestic values, is a perfect example of why. The Senate's failure to pass this bill shows divisive leadership, narrow-minded politics and a refusal to actively support frequently professed values. An often overlooked element of public diplomacy is the way that domestic policies are perceived by foreign publics, and it's hard to regard this particular policy in a way that reflects positively on U.S. leadership.

That American comedians and foreign-owned news stations are the most prominent advocates for 9/11 first responders suggests a breakdown within the nation's political and media systems. In this case, inaction speaks louder than words.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Un-American Books

Greetings, manICateers. No doubt there's much been rending of garments and wailing and gnashing of teeth due to my extended absence from the blogosphere, for which I apologize. A combination of a hellacious virus and an equally grueling finals season have kept me away from the blog for a while, but I'm hoping to pick up again over the winter break.

Today's topic comes courtesy of the New York Times, thanks to alert reader (and fellow blogger) Jaxiecracks. The article discusses the crusade of foreign cultural institutes and publishers to get American readers to pick up books from their countries.
Hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market — about 3 percent — foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States. Increasingly, that campaign is no longer limited to widely spoken languages like French and German. From Romania to Catalonia to Iceland, cultural institutes and agencies are subsidizing publication of books in English, underwriting the training of translators, encouraging their writers to tour in the United States, submitting to American marketing and promotional techniques they may have previously shunned and exploiting existing niches in the publishing industry.

This isn't simply a marketing gimmick, but a cultural diplomacy strategy, one that underscores a major difference between U.S. diplomacy and that of other countries--namely, the U.S. tendency to overlook culture in general. As John Brown argues in "Arts Diplomacy: The Neglected Aspects of Cultural Diplomacy," the United States does not promote its high culture abroad the way other countries do. This could be a result of national psychology--a remnant of puritanical heritage that sees art as an indulgence--but the end result is that USPD tends to emphasize education over culture, which is why the CIA had to conduct covert high culture ops during the Cold War. U.S. pop culture has the strength of the market behind it, but high culture--like foreign literature--lacks that support.

As a recovering English major whose foreign literature collection takes up significantly more than 3 percent of her shelves, I support this push for literature diplomacy. Some things will inevitably be lost in translation, but I think there's a lot more to be found.