Protest rocker Bob Dylan performed a government-approved set in Beijing this week. As the Washington Post reported, "There was no 'Times They Are a-Changin’' in China. And definitely no 'Chimes of Freedom.'"
I think its fair to say that Dylan's brand is tied up with the U.S. image of people power and government-tolerated dissent. His songs represent revolutionary change and personal freedom, so the PRC-approved set list doesn't seem to be entirely in keeping with his ideals--or with those of the nation he represents.
The Post story emphasizes China's human rights situation, an issue I highlighted not too long ago in this blog. It reminded me of yesterday's Doonesbury, in which former revolutionary Mark Slackmeyer interviews former pop legend Jimmy Thudpucker about performing gigs for Gaddhafi and other dictators. The punchline, of course, rests on the premise that Thudpucker's social justice repertoire isn't exactly a top seller with oppressive regimes.
Dylan is of course an individual citizen and not a public diplomat. He's an artist and to some extent a businessman. Nonetheless, as a global celebrity, he is viewed as a representative of the United States and his actions contribute, even in a small way, to global attitudes. Cultural exports like Dylan have more to do with Soft Power than with Public Diplomacy, but I'm curious about what his compromise suggests about both his and the nation's brand.