Shortly after the attacks on 9/11, a delegation of high-level media executives, including the heads of every major studio, met several times with White House officials, including at least once with President Bush’s former top strategist, Karl Rove, to discuss ways that the entertainment industry could play a part in improving the image of the United States overseas.
By Tim Arango
The New York Times
One of the central ideas was using “soft power” by spreading American television and movies to foreign audiences, especially in the Muslim world, to help sway public opinion.
There were few tangible results from the meetings — lesser ways of supporting the war on terrorism like public service announcements and packages of free DVDs sent to American soldiers.
But since then, the media companies have gotten what they wanted, even if the White House has not. In the last eight years, American pop culture, already popular, has boomed around the globe while opinions of America itself have soured.
The television program “CSI” is now more popular in France than in the United States. Hollywood movies routinely sell far more tickets overseas than at home. A Russian remake of the TV show “Married With Children” has been so popular that Sony, the producer of the show, has hired back the original writers to produce new scripts for Russia. Even in the Muslim world, American pop culture has spread.
But so far, cultural popularity has not translated into new friends. The latest data from the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released in June, shows that the image of the United States remained negative in the 24 countries in which Pew conducted surveys (although in 10 of those the favorability rating of the United States edged up slightly).
Joseph S. Nye Jr., the Harvard professor who coined the phrase “soft power” in 1989 to refer to the ways beyond military muscle that America influences the world, said that “what’s interesting about the last eight years is that polls show a decline in American attractiveness.”
He added: “But then you ask the follow-up questions and you see that American culture remains attractive, that American values remain attractive. Which is the opposite of what the president has said — that they hate us for who we are and what we believe in.”
Jeffrey Schlesinger, the head of international television at Warner Brothers, had a simpler explanation for the popularity of American entertainment.
“Batman is Batman, regardless….