Popular cultural texts and other aspects of social life, depicted by their widespread presence and acceptance, are significant power assets used by countries in their international relations and foreign policy. America’s pop culture, embodied in communications and various products, has increasingly gained worldwide appeal, enhancing the nation’s ability and opportunities to influence the preferences of other jurisdictions. This implies that the United States popular culture has helped in the accomplishment of major foreign policy objectives. For instance, it contributed significantly towards America’s victory in the Cold War and the democratic reconstruction of Europe after the ravages of World War II. The former’s realization was made possible by the persistent transmission of Western images and narratives through films and music, which had devastating political effects on the former Soviet Union. Although the United States has sustained its global influence for years, the evolution of its popular culture has enhanced the persuasiveness of its foreign policy by showcasing the country’s core beliefs and values.
Popular Culture and Soft Power
Popular culture has emerged as a fundamental instrument and an asset through which countries enhance their global attractiveness, influence, and popularity. In the realm of international relations, soft power encompasses the ability to shape the preferences of other nations by appealing and mobilizing cooperation instead of using coercive means. According to Nye (2017), this approach is defined by its focus on achieving the preferred outcomes through persuasion without military or economic force, compulsion, and threats. The United States has utilized this concept as a major foreign policy tool to get the desired outcomes. Nye (2017) contends that soft power tends to stem from such resources as the appealing nature of a country’s culture, policies, and political ideologies. Notably, the United States possesses vast universalistic and globally attractive values, beliefs, customs, and a considerably popular cultural wealth. Combined with an extensively developed mass media and such infrastructures and outlets as Hollywood, which have prominently broadcasted the ideals espoused by the country, America has always been strategically positioned to influence the world.
Additionally, the United States’ popular culture has progressively provided more opportunities for broadcasting the country’s espoused values and ideals, through which it has shaped and influenced the preferences of other nations. Consequently, America has accomplished numerous critical foreign policy objectives by utilizing the global reach, attractiveness, and appeal of its popular culture. For instance, Nye (2017) notes that Western films, including the 1964’s Dr. Strangelove and the 1959’s On the Beach, contributed significantly to the victory achieved in the Cold War. These movies had devastating political consequences on the former Soviet Union by demonstrating how the ideology of communism made life difficult for civilians. Additionally, the United States utilized the mass media and entertainment industry to depict images and narratives, which adjusted the political and social foundations of the Union.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a new genre of music known as rock and roll emerged and gained widespread acceptance since it embraced popular themes which reinforced such values as patriotism and freedom from oppression. Nye (2017) notes that songs such as Lennon Trumped Lenin contributed to enhancing the impressiveness of America’s ideals, such as individual freedoms, open culture, and democracy. These occurrences were widely reflected in other jurisdictions as countries adjusted their domestic policies following the infiltration and projections of images and narratives of American ideologies and values.
Further, Western pop culture has significantly contributed to the adoption of American practices, including democracy and the upholding of human rights. The iconic television series, music, films, and publications, which display the country’s accomplishments in such realms as expanded and sustainable democratization of society, create an opening for other nations to adopt such practices. For instance, Nye (2017) argues that the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would have been impossible without the infiltration of Western messages, images, and philosophies through television and movies. From this perspective, the values and ideals conveyed by America’s mass media cause individuals to revere and adopt the practices and behaviors of the United States. This implies that the Western popular culture creates an opening for citizens of other countries to embrace appealing and attractive ideologies. For instance, Nye (2017) notes that the widespread consumption of Hollywood movies and television series in China causes an increase in the litigiousness of the Chinese population. As a result, the peoples’ desire for functional institutions grows significant as policymakers respond by making responsive provisions.
Moreover, the United States has utilized the impressions created by popular culture in publications, films, and music as a platform for calling for the democratization of societies globally. According to Alsadoon (2019), the mass media has played an influential role in transforming people’s attitudes and behaviors towards politics and governance. Notably, movies, television shows, podcasts, and literature have manifested the benefits accruing from democratic and accountable administrations. For instance, through music, television programs, videos, and movies, the Middle East has increasingly become Americanized, culminating in far-reaching changes in the region (Alsadoon, 2019). Consequently, the United States has utilized these as a resource through which they have implored other nations to embrace democratic tenets as the foundations on which people-driven administrations are established.
In addition, America’s pop culture has evolved significantly and started amplifying such issues as racial and gender equality and social justice. From television series such as The Cosby Show, Motown, and Black Panther, black-themed pop culture has increasingly gained publicity and occupied prominent positions in America’s mass media. This evolution is manifesting the United States’ deliberate efforts to eradicate racial segregation and promote gender equity. According to Donze (2016), pop culture has progressively embraced equality of all people, which has enhanced the country’s perception as the ideal society. Aistrope (2019) posits that the years-long transmissions of these images and narratives have contributed significantly to the continuing decline of patriarchal hierarchies globally. Additionally, racially insensitive artworks are increasingly being banished and receiving relatively limited broadcast, reflecting the changing public attitudes and perceptions on issues of gender or racially-inspired segregation. Daniel and Musgrave (2017) argue that these narratives and images continue to impact conservative societies across the world, thereby advancing social justice by promoting the acceptance of ethnic and gender equality.
The equal portrayal of diverse ethnicities and genders in pop culture has created a perception of reducing inequalities and disparities in the United States. The country has utilized this as an influential soft power strategy to champion inclusivity, diversity, and equal societies. For instance, numerous music, films, and television series are increasingly developing programs that assign equally complex roles to men and women alike. This phenomenon demolishes deeply entrenched traditional perceptions by some societies that hold a particular gender or race in low regard. Donze (2016) notes that although masculinity and femininity disparities are still widespread, the equal artistic representation of all genders contributes to the perpetual decline of stereotypes in society. In this regard, the everyday portrayal of genders in different Western media outlets changes the global perception of gender in modern communities.
Further, America’s pop culture has mobilized global cooperation against terrorism activities. The production of broadcast content with an agenda of highlighting the sinister nature of hate crimes such as terrorism and xenophobia has recorded a significant effect on world politics. For instance, media outlets have reframed the events of the September 11 attacks to demonstrate the extent of human suffering brought about by terrorism. Muzzati (2017) posits that themes of resisting militarism, radicalization, and counterterrorism continue to infuse the United States broadcast productions to alter the global stance on violence. As a result, America has won critical allies and achieved significant success in mobilizing support from foreign powers to combat the atrocities of mass killings. Although the threat of terrorism is yet to be entirely suppressed, there is a heightened global awareness and collaborative approach adopted by countries to promote the safety and security of their citizens. Videos, literature, films, poetry, song lyrics, and television series have significantly contributed to sensitizing the world and the subsequent accomplishment of a universalistic strategy and responses towards terrorism.
The production of content depicting disastrous events instigated by hate, such as the strategic repetition and publicity of men beheaded by terrorist groups, have been influential communication tools to influence the country’s behaviors. The United States has utilized the resource of its popular culture as a platform for disseminating information, doctrines, and tactics for connected efforts to eradicate violent crimes in the world. Although the country is arguably the target of numerous terrorist groups scattered across the globe, the broadcasted content by the media has amplified the severity of the threat posed by these organizations. Consequently, countries worldwide feel exposed to terrorism and unanimously agree to participate in the efforts seeking to eliminate terrorism activities. For instance, the United States popular culture was characterized by numerous content of increasingly explicit narratives and images of torture. Television programs such as Zero Dark Thirty and Homeland routinely depicted torture, resulting in a perception of the strategy’s effectiveness as a legitimate interrogation tool (Schlag, 2019; Muzzatti, 2017). These shows demonstrated that countries were justified to persecute and torment individuals since it was rational and guaranteed the production of vital and accurate information.
Soft power encompasses a country’s values, ideals, and philosophies which make it attractive, appealing, and influential in its foreign policies without using the coercive force of military or economic sanctions. The United States’ popular culture has evolved over the years and contributed to the broadcasting and publicizing the nation’s progressive ideologies, which enhances its persuasiveness to other countries. The mass media outlets, including television series, movies, magazines, music, poetry, and other artworks, have played an influential role in portraying the values and issues espoused by the United States. These encompass gender and racial equality, human rights, democracy, expanded freedoms, open, diverse, and inclusive societies. The prominent display of these issues has reinforced the global attractiveness of the United States and has contributed significantly to the successful embrace of such ideals by other countries.
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Alsadoon, M. (2019). Effects of American pop culture on the political stability of the Arab Spring. Pop Culture Intersections, 35, 1−25. Web.
Daniel, J., & Musgrave, P. (2017). Synthetic experiences: How popular culture matters for images of international relations. International Studies Quarterly, 61(3), 503−516. Web.
Donze, P. L. (2017). Gender and popular culture: A comparison of promoter and listener preferences for popular music arts. Sociological Perspectives, 60(2), 338−354. Web.
Muzzatti, S. (2017). Terrorism and counterterrorism in popular culture in the post−9/11 Context. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1−22. Web.
Nye, J. (2017). Soft power: The origins and political progress of a concept. Palgrave Communications, 3(1), 1−3. Web.
Schlag, G. (2019). Representing torture in Zero Dark Thirty (2012): Popular culture as a site of norm contestation. Media, War, & Conflict. Web.