Statute of Liberty
US is going to be indispensable, because it is irreplaceable Image Credit: Gulf News

A recent survey of 23 countries found that a majority of people polled had a favourable view of the US. This finding suggests that US soft power — non-coercive influence, such as cultural and economic appeal remains strong.

Despite the headline-grabbing and politically divisive issues of the Jan. 6 uprising at the US Capitol, or Black Lives Matter Movement, or the most recent gender-related movement, the fact of the matter is that those asked generally saw the US as like other wealthy nations on five societal measures tested in the survey: political stability, safety, democracy, religiosity, and tolerance. In the poll, people around the world viewed ‘American technological achievements, entertainment, universities and military as the best in the world or above average among wealthy nations.’

Soft power is best summarised as a type of persuasive power — usually associated with intangible resources such as culture, ideology, and institutions that help a country gain legitimacy in the eyes of other countries. It seeks to define the internal organs of the host country through the various channels of learning, media, music, and cultural themes. It is a weapon, make no mistake about that, and one used effectively can draw masses to its ranks.

Hollywood sign stands as the WGA (Writers Guild of America) strike continues on July 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Members of SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other media professionals, may go on strike by 11:59 p.m. today which could shut down Hollywood productions completely with the writers in the third month of their strike against Hollywood studios.
Many secretly yearned for the American way of life early on, and the phenomena caught on with increased fervour during the dawn of television

It started with Hollywood and the flourishing of films that brought American mores and cultures to the world. The simplicity of life, as depicted in those early years of film, drew many outsiders to the way of life devoid of the heavy pressures of century-old traditions on personal freedom that were imposed in their own countries. Many secretly yearned for the American way of life early on, and the phenomena caught on with increased fervour during the dawn of television.

US Soft Power Shines Through

With increased shows on everyday life, the United States became an appealing apple in the eyes of many as they watched shows like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or the ‘I Love Lucy’ fare that was shown weekly on US television and broadcast in many countries as early as the 1950s. even US military adventurism and foray into other lands was portrayed in an honourable fashion on celluloid and filmgoers left theatres sympathising with the US point of view.

The music industry picked on the popularity of films to go global and indeed musicians such as Chubby Checker or the Beach Boys could be heard in dance halls across Europe and in many parts of Asia and the rest of the world. The youth readily adopted this quiet intrusion into their culture and even promoted it.

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Because the US during the post World War 2 era was dominant in the production of films and media, it soon became somewhat of a religion among the youth who despite the exhortations of their parents to stay away from the evils of this new culture adopted it with increased fervour. No amount of US tanks or guns has ever turned a people in their favour as the advent of these new cultural trends.

As travel became less costly, it gave rise to an increased transatlantic growth both for the interest of pursuing American culture as well as taking part in the education system that was rising fast to be among the best world with institutions such as Harvard and MIT competing with Oxford and Cambridge for top honours.

Soft Power Supremacy

The 60s of the last century gave rise to the breakdown of age-old established traditions in the US and authority was challenged as never before. The war in Vietnam created a distinctive divide among the Americans pitting the old against the young who were not afraid to express their anti-war sentiments and in the millions they did.

The non-US young today understand the menu of a McDonald’s outlet far better than the most popular traditional kitchen in their own country

Television, now slowly becoming global brought all these events to distant shores and the youth in other countries began bucking authority and marching in protest. In France, the UK, and other countries, hundreds of thousands of students marched on, inspired by what they say their American brethren do.

Such is soft power. All one has to do is take a drive down the main street in their city today and see the number of US fast food chains and coffee outlets. The non-US young today understand the menu of a McDonald’s outlet far better than the most popular traditional kitchen in their own country. No bullets had been exchanged to bring about this transformation. It happens subtly and through media exposure.

Aware of the benefits of this power, other countries have begun mobilising their resources toward that end. China with its exports and India with Bollywood are hoping to achieve just that.

Would they be able to compete with this century-old American foray? Only time will tell.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena