Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rockwell/Socialist Realism: A Photo Essay

"Norman Rockwell's paintings are not so different in their style from Socialist Realism, or even in the kind of people and situations they depict; they've often been used as Americanist propaganda. The difference between what might be called 'bourgeois realism' and Socialist Realism is not the manner, or even always the matter, it's the address of the artist. Consider this [Rockwell] painting (via) of a schoolroom back in the USSR:"

--Duncan Mitchel; see also

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Academic Seminar: International Affairs and Public Diplomacy

GOVT-305-02, Academic Seminar: "International Affairs and Public Diplomacy," course given for Georgetown University's "Semester in Washington" program, January 13-May 15, 2010

Instructor: John Brown

Executive Summary (Version 1.1, 1/12/10)

There are many approaches to the study of “International Affairs,” a term that encompasses countless activities, ranging from issues dealing with human rights to nuclear non-proliferation. Our course focuses on one aspect of this complex topic -- public diplomacy -- in order to provide us with a concrete example of what “International Affairs” entails.

In the twenty-first century public diplomacy -- first coined as a term in the mid-1960s in the United States -- is playing an increasingly important role in the world today.

Public diplomacy is used not only by the US State Department -- which defines it as “engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences” -- as a tool of foreign policy, but also, increasingly, by other organizations -- governmental and non-governmental -- globally, which characterize it in their own specific ways.

The purpose of our course is to examine the nature, history, purpose, use, and morality of public diplomacy, as well as its relationship to international affairs, and especially to traditional diplomacy and propaganda.

Important note: Our course is not a “training course” in how to get a job with the US federal government (or any other government), domestically or overseas; rather, it is an effort to expand our understanding of America’s and other countries’ role in the world.

Our course is divided into four parts:

-- PART I: The history of public diplomacy, with a focus on how the United States has implemented it throughout the years (mid-January to late February);

--PART II: U.S. public diplomacy today, with an emphasis not only on how it is currently carried out by the State Department (including by diplomats in the field), but also with a consideration of its role in the international activities of other U.S. government USG agencies, such as the Defense Department and AID, and how it is seen by Congress (late February to early April);

--PART III: Public diplomacy as a global phenomenon, with an examination of how other countries, through their embassies and media/cultural programs, use it in their dealings with the United States and other parts of the world (early April to mid-April);

--PART IV: Non-governmental organizations and public diplomacy, with an overview of citizen diplomacy and public diplomacy as an academic disciple (mid-April to May).

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Americanization of Mental Illness and Public Diplomacy

The Americanization of Mental Illness by Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, in The New York Times Magazine (January 10) -- is, in my view, a must-read for anyone interested in US public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy (if not "strategic communications").

At the same time that we debt-ridden Americans are desperately exporting, mostly through our private sector (more paranoid souls would say through our military-industrial complex) our information/military technology and entertainment/pop culture, we are, throughout the globe, spreading our notion of what it's like to be mentally dysfunctional or "clinically mad" -- thanks to the work/research of our "serious," "expertly-trained" scientists, doctors, and hospitals.

The three -- "cutting-edge" technology, the latest "what's-in" pop culture, and the most "scientifically advanced" form of "what it's like" to be mad in America are interrelated.

Take, as examples, the out-of-this-world sci-fi quality of the Pentagon's newest weapons programs; the nutty “what happens here stays here” smile-all-the-time Las Vegas (13 km from Nellis Air Force Base where "Predators" are directed to bomb Afpak "insurgents"); the weirdness of the mindless, image-bound blockbuster film, Avatar, made for a visual culture without a serious thought in mind.

To be sure, Vegas's "nuttiness" and Avatar's "weirdness" -- vigorously marketed overseas -- are superficial and packaged in a way to "entertain" mass audiences; but, perhaps, they reflect a deeper kind of American anxiety/anomie/madness in our era -- the kind, I would suggest, analyzed by US psychiatric/psychological experts in cases of "deranged" individuals.

As for the Pentagon's newest weaponry, it does not take a "highly-qualified" shrink to figure out that the military's updated Dr. Strangelove 21st century toys have nothing to do with sanity as defined by reality. Or, at least, a certain kind of reality, perhaps the one venerated by humanists in past, now so distant, centuries.

Meanwhile, official US government "public diplomacy" -- carried out, supposedly, by the State Department with the aim of "engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences" -- seems positively "crocodilian" in such a "loony" 21st century of techno/crass-Hollywood/ mad-is-USA American-dominated (dominated for how long?) landscape.

As author Joe Klein recently put it, "[T]he Department of State, a noble antique, is still trying to come to terms with the invention of the telephone."

But what I most value about our "homeland" (thank you, George W. Bush, for introducing this awful word in the American language) is that it's wild and crazy.

May it always remain so but in a really crazy, funny, Billy Wilder sort of way, without the tentacular, humourless Pentagon, corporate business-only mega-blockbuster Hollywood, or acolytes/critics of "psychology" defining our (let us hope) naive and harmless madness that actually makes people laugh about, rather than despise, being human (not to speak of being American).

Mad Magazine? Why not. Or how about It Happened One Night. Isn't that how America, at its most invented/reinvented, happened ...

Meanwhile, "Predators" bomb "Afpak." So much for American humor/sanity.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Avatar and Public Diplomacy: Follow-up

"I have a trilogy-scaled arc of story right now, but I haven't really put any serious work into writing a script."

--Avatar Director James Cameron, regarding sequels to his blockbuster film

Encouraged by numerous Huffington Post readers' comments to my piece "Avatar and Public Diplomacy," below are my plot suggestions -- of course, meant not to be taken too seriously -- for the planned Avatar sequels.

But first, consider the tempest-in-a-teapot controversy surrounding Avatar. It's been attacked for being slick propaganda reflecting a Canadian-born movie director's leftist anti-Americanism, ecological extremism, and "we love the natives/ hate Western civilization" romanticism (see my Public Diplomacy Review for some of these articles). But let's not forget the article suggesting that Cameron is in fact a secret conservative.

OK, here we go: Sequel 2 (antithesis) to Avatar: Return of the Native

The Na'vi blue people, true to their "primitive" tailed nature, want to take revenge on the humans. They've quickly mastered the technology the humans left behind on Pandora, in the same way "non-Western" people can handle, say, computers, without atavistic "hang-ups" of previous outdated technologies/ways of thinking. The Na'vi decide, with now-Na'vi Jake Sully's full agreement, to send his "human" avatar down to earth to destroy the humans -- such is their bitterness about how humans treated them.

So off goes Avatar-Sully to a minor formerly green/blue planet not far from a dying sun, on a spaceship built by the Na'vi from the abandoned "humans'" base on Pandora. Sully-the-human avatar reaches earth (no one can recognize him, as he reaches the planet hundreds of years after the humans' Pandora expedition took place).

Ex-mother Earth, Goa, is the very opposite of what Sully found on Pandora. No lush Garden of Eden, no mountains with waterfalls floating in the air, but a desert-like total post-fossil-fuel apocalypse. No available energy, practically no nature in all its glory, is left on Earth.

And, to make matters worse, the humans are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Zombies,

creatures that appeared during the early years of the 21st century, when the United States of America began its steady decline.

Sully, as an ex-human but now a Na'vi (but not quite; his human genes are still there; he still thinks, parochial that he is, that being "human" is being "American"), feels sorry for the humans, and especially his coutrymen.

After his spaceship lands in Detroit, Michigan (unnoticed, of course, by US "intelligence" agencies), Sully hooks up with the family of an unemployed man (on a wheelchair, as Sully was when he first went to Pandora as a human) who worked for GM but was paralyzed due to an accident on the assembly line.

After much doubt Sully-the-human-avatar decides that he cannot wreak vengeance on the earth's inhabitants. He feels that the mineral the evil human corporation he worked for as a human sought in Pandora -- unobtainium -- could help the earth survive.

He's all set to go back to Pandora to plead for dying earth's case (give 'em some free unobtainium!), but first he must fight off Zombies (as he tries to get into his spaceship) who realize he could be dangerous to them because of his "sympathy" for humans.

Will Sully make it back to Pandora? Will Earthpersons-PandoraNav'i unite? (And how will Sully and his Na'vi princess spouse deal with tails as an ethnic "Na'vi-human" factor?)

Part 3 (synthesis) Coming up ...

McDonald's and a Soviet Invasion

Evidently some of the below rather avoir du poid "Soviet" soldiers -- to anyone, such as myself, who witnessed rake-thin ex-USSR military men begging on Moscow streets in the late 90s/early 00's -- consumed too many McDonald's hamburgers upon their hostile takeover of the United States ... will it be the same case with the Chinese who, in the Red Dawn remake decribed below, invade die Big Mac homeland?

US paranoia seen in new Red Dawn - Benjamin A Shobert, Asia Times:The Chinese propaganda posters, carefully set inside the windows of the Chinese/American Friendship Center in Detroit, say it all:

the first, a picture of the Capitol in Washington DC having its rotunda blown off, with the words "Defeating Your Enemy" running along the top. The second, a Chinese hand reaching down to help up an American, with the phrase "Helping You Back On Your Feet", and the last, a burly laborer hammering away at an anvil, a figure of the US dollar beneath his descending hammer, with the slogan "Repairing Your Economy" in large white letters on the poster. Another poster makes its point even more directly: beneath a picture of the chastened US dollar, "Deceitful Leaders. Greedy Corporations. This is Not a Democracy. We Are Here to Help." Thankfully, this is not the Detroit of today, rather the Detroit of tomorrow, at least as envisioned by director Dan Bradley, who is in the midst of remaking the 1984 cult hit Red Dawn, but this time with the Soviets taking the back seat and the Chinese standing in as the aggressor. Red Dawn image from