In Box

Pop Anti-Americanism

It turns out that television Mafia boss Tony Soprano and the rest of the U.S. pop-culture crew, not the Bush administration, are more likely to blame for the dislike of the United States outside its borders — at least among global youth. Or so conclude Boston University media researchers Margaret and Melvin DeFleur in their ...

It turns out that television Mafia boss Tony Soprano and the rest of the U.S. pop-culture crew, not the Bush administration, are more likely to blame for the dislike of the United States outside its borders — at least among global youth.

Or so conclude Boston University media researchers Margaret and Melvin DeFleur in their recently released survey of 1,259 teenagers from 12 countries, "The Next Generation’s Image of Americans" (available on the Boston University Web site). From Bahrain to the Dominican Republic to South Korea, the responses of the teenagers (median age: 17) toward the United States polled by the DeFleurs were overwhelmingly negative. Saudi teens top the list of those with negative perceptions about Americans, Bahrain ranks second, South Korea third, and Mexico fourth. The negative characteristics that respondents associated most readily with Americans were that they are sexually immoral, dominating, warmongering, materialistic, and violent.

Calling the findings "disturbing," Melvin DeFleur sees the widespread disdain partly as a result of too little human contact. Fewer than 12 percent of those surveyed had ever traveled to the United States. (Since the DeFleurs surveyed those in public schools, the respondents were overwhelmingly from the lower and middle classes.) "People do not like [Americans] because people lack contact with them and form their views in most parts of the world from the media and the rumor mill." The DeFleurs also draw a strong connection between the most negative characteristics cited by respondents and the violence, sexual content, and materialism displayed in the flood of U.S. films, music, and television programming distributed around the world. "These results suggest that pop-culture rather than foreign policy is the true culprit of anti-Americanism," says Melvin DeFleur.

The DeFleurs pointedly observe that the "notion that some sort of clever propaganda — perhaps modeled after the practices of the advertising industry — can quickly [change people’s impressions of the United States] is naive." But noting that respondents were less negative about the humanitarian values of Americans, the researchers recommend that, over the long term, media messages emphasizing American humanitarianism might yield dividends.

Other findings offer some incongruous glimmers of hope. Teens in Pakistan, a supposed hotbed of anti-Americanism, were less negative about Americans than were their peers in South Korea, Mexico, Spain, Taiwan, and the Dominican Republic. Despite considerable bilateral tensions, young Chinese actually harbored less animosity toward Americans than did young South Koreans. Young Nigerians believed more than all others in Americans’ humanitarian values. And Argentines and Italians were not just the only teens with an overall positive view of Americans; they were also the only teens in the study who rejected the belief that "Many American women are sexually immoral."

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