Hollywood – Weapon of Mass Attraction or Weapon of Mass Destruction for the US?

Introduction: The full name of the book is “American Idol after Iraq” which is published by Blackwell – Wiley in 2009. The author of the book Nathan Gardels has been the editor of New Perspectives Quarterly since it began publishing in 1985. He has written widely for the daily papers and journals since mid 1980s and he has been a Media Leader of the World Economic Forum (Davos) as well. Apart, he has given speeches in Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (IESCO). Gardels holds degree on Theory and Comparative Politics from UCLA. His co-author Mike Medavoy has had a very active role in making large number of Hollywood movies. Throughout his career in Hollywood, he has been active in politics as well. In 1992 and 1996 he advocated Bill Clinton and in 2008 he was in favor of Barack H. Obama. He was born in Shanghai, of Russian-Jewish parents; he graduated with honor in History from UCLA.


In this must-read book the authors explain and mainly discuss the public diplomacy and Hollywood role in shaping it, mainly in the new era after 9/11 terrorist attacks. The foreword is by Joe Nye, Harvard Professor which is mostly well-known with his notion of “soft power”. Once again, Nye asserts the importance of the soft power- Weapon of Mass Attraction- and recalls that not missiles and bomb but the American soft power was the key in collapse of Berlin Wall and consequently Soviet Union, the Evil Empire as Reagan called it. Nye believes that in wake of the new century American soft power is not as powerful as the past decades. It is because of the mistreatment of the prisoners in Gitmo and Abu Ghoraib prison by American troops. The world does not believe and trust America as before. Professor Nye puts forward that in the Information age success is not merely the result of whose army (hard power) wins but also whose story (soft power) wins. He recalls the US challenge and problem with Islamists hardliners and extremists in which hard power is needed to defeat them but WMA is needed to win the hearts and minds of the moderate Muslim which are the majority in the Muslim world. He accentuates the fact that democracy and human right could much more easily achieved with soft power with a long lasting effect. Obviously, the most important tool as soft power for America are its giant media-industrial complex and Hollywood which broadly discussed by the authors in their script.


Hollywood, as the authors put forward has been the largest machine of dream making and storytelling in human history. Unlike most countries in the world America’s image is based not only on who they are and what they do, but on how the Americans present themselves to the world through their global window. The most attractive and glamorous production of this machine has been the image of America as the promise land of infinite possibility and opportunity where individual liberty is in hand and the society is always on the move. In its 100 years it has opened a new window toward the world in which America has been seen through it and Americans has seen the world through it, as well. Some believe it has been truly and largely successful in telling and selling the American (version of) stories in past 100 years. “The dreams of America – individual freedom, middle class, prosperity, social mobility, the rule of law- which were made the dreams of the world, too, were pictured by Hollywood.”

Other than that it has been used as a tool by the American Government fighting against “freedom” enemies, Fascism, Communism. Even the author argues that during the tensest day and peak of the Cold War, it was J.F.K who ordered the managers in the Hollywood that the Ian Fleming 007 espionage novels ought to be made into motion pictures. Other than that he mentions that to fight against Fascism and Nazism in the twentieth century Hollywood made the fist celebrity known globally, Charlie Chaplin who diminished and underestimated the power of Hitler in The Great Dictator. It followed the Wilsonian ideal in America’s role in bringing democracy and self determination to the other parts of the world. These are samples which shows that Hollywood in its lifetime has used and been used as a tool and actor for America’s political purposes. By creating roles known globally, like Rambo and James Bond, Hollywood has beaten its enemies, world foes and made it believable that the US is the ultimate savior of the world. Its values are absolute and universal and needed to save human and humanity. Accordingly, Washington eagerly sought to employ Hollywood’s influence and soft power at home to make people in favor of his own foreign policy objectives.

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But it could not be generally accepted that America’s secret weapon, Hollywood, the biggest soft power tool is playing a positive role all the time. Not only foreigners criticize Hollywood to spreading violence, porn culture through its images in the world but within the US there are who reprimand and knock the film industry as well. To a great extent Fukuyama asserts that “It is perceived as the purveyor of the kind of secular, materialistic, permissive culture that is not very popular in many parts of the world, especially the Muslim world.” It is living without any responsibility which is creating the greatest tragedy of our time. It is emptied of a spiritual dimension. Many believe that Hollywood is not doing a great job in elevating spirituality and morality of America in the world to win the hearts and minds of the people, but conversely Hollywood is sowing the seeds of loathing and hatred in the world generally and in the Muslim world particularly. Some, like Bill Bennett, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education openly and famously charged that Hollywood is undermining the America’s mainstream values. This is much clearer when we take a look at the PEW foundation Poll in April 2005, which nearly 61% of Americans are concerned what their children see or hear on TV. Accordingly, “Soft power does not necessarily increase the world’s love for America. Soft power is still power and still makes enemies”. If there is a resistance to military presence and occupation, surely there would be an opposition and resentment to cultural invasion and occupation. For example even in Turkey which is America’s NATO Ally, the most popular novel in 2004 which was sold more than 800000 copies envisioned a war between Turkey and the US in which finally Turkey wins. Even American brand of secularism which is pictured in movies has been the source of concern among the religious leaders in the West. Pope Benedict XVI carried forward the worry that aggressive secularism reflected in the media was eroding the religious Foundations of America. He told American bishops that “America’s brand of secularism poses a particular problem. It allows for professing belief in God and respects the public role of religion, but at the same time can subtly reduce religious belief to the lowest common denominator. The result is a growing separation of faith from life.”

Although the Noble poet Octavio Paz called America “the Republic of Future” which always eyes on future and new horizon in which Hollywood has been successful to create. But now due to democratization of digital media all around the world the future is not a Gospel for American soft power and its culture. For instance, although American soap operas largely viewed and seen from Malaysia to Canada, but in South Korea, for example 92% of TV and video games are domestically produced and are telling and selling their own stories.

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In the age of globalization, we may be witnessing the end of “the end of the history”-which Francis Fukuyama stated after the end of the Cold War. Process and era of globalization, accelerated the modernity and post modernity and diversification around the world. The Singaporean diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani, makes this critical point in his book, “The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible shift of Global Power to the East” asserted that the great paradox about the failed Western attempts to export democracy to other societies is that in the broadest sense of the term, the West has actually succeeded in democratizing the world. One key goal of democracy is to empower its citizens to make them believe they are masters of their own destiny. The number of people of in the world who believe this has never been higher. Even in the undemocratic society of China, citizens have seized the opportunities provided by the economic freedom they enjoy to completely change their lives…. In the global term there has been a huge democratization of human spirit.” Due to the point that some assert that in a democracy the voting booth and the box office share the same public. So, Hollywood has largely been considered to be the United States of America muscle in public diplomacy to win the hearts and minds of public as well as elites around the world. The trend of globalization and democratization of the media and the increasingly power sharing in many centers – the rise of the rest -as Fareed Zakaria calls it, results in an atmosphere in which Hollywood is not the expected and absolute winner. Apart, by the development of the communication technology mainly Internet and the emergence of Netizen (Network citizen) now everyone is their own story teller and filmmaker which is growing largely in numbers. It leads all people to move to the same neighborhood, more and more people want to see and hear their own stories on the screen, to see that their own ideas and cultures has been projected and reflected on the screen and then to enjoy the latest offerings.


The authors assert that as Harry Warner, one of the founders of Hollywood believed “the movies should educate as well as entertain people”. The author puts forward due to the change in challenges that the world and America are facing, the media and Hollywood strategy should be changed to meet the problems of the new era. Some recommendations are given on close cooperation of public diplomacy and mass culture. Some of them include the matter of sensibility which should be considered in media and Hollywood to promote the empathetic understanding of other civilizations and ways of life. It is insane to try to impose the American way of life and the liberal model of “good life” to the world. “To Be able to put oneself in another’s shoes without prejudgment is an essential skill” as a Chinese cellist asserts. Among the recommendations is the breaking the American public narrow mindedness by promoting more cultural cooperation with other cultures, promotion of the exposure of the worthy American cultural products, elevating the level of exchange in students and journalists and cultural figures as well and creating a joint committee by Washington and Hollywood on cultural relations. They believe it may work to restore the American dream and stance in the new era again.


by Rezvan Bayati