I am pleasantly surprised, again, by the extremely interesting (transnational) discussion provoked by my previous post. Since my response is long, I think it deserves a separate post.
Firstly, though, I wanted to officially invite both Vlad and zApl3zzz to contribute to this blog! :) I would be delighted to "cooperate"!
To respond to some of the major points that both of you brought up:
- I have not seen any of the Rambo movies (fortunately, or not - is a different question). Yet, I know that you are referring to. General "anti-Russian"-ism is widespread in both, the mass media, as well as in pop culture, including entertainment. That all has deep-running historical and cultural reasons, and is not, in any way, what you would call "propaganda proper". Tying into this issue is also "self-censorship" and "selective broadcasting" that you brought up, which is only more than natural. To be a successful news/media outlet, an organization or project needs to cater to its audience and/or owners. Thus, if we are talking about American TV networks, for example, they all depend on advertising, so they need to make sure they appeal to the largest possible audience, which in its turn brings the reliance on entertainment + viewpoints with which their certain audience is comfortable with (hence, the deteriorating quality of general programming). If we take Hollywood: they need to sell, too; so again, catering to their greatest market, which would be the U.S. And if we go to politicized "owned" media, such as Fox or most of the Russian TV channels, they need to play into the rules and fulfill the demands of their owners to further their interests, and thus, either cultivate certain perspectives among the general population, or play into the already existing ones. What I am referring to, in short, is the constant reinforcement of existing (mis)perceptions for a variety of reasons (commercial and political ones being the most prominent).
- The Internet: I cannot but agree with what both of you said regarding it. Yes, perhaps I am still very optimistic about it, but I did not mean that the WWW, by itself, can provide a solution, or act as a "system" in which we all operate. No. Internet is a tool, and not an end in itself. It is especially important when it comes to transnational communication, but indeed, if seen as the ultimate objective, can bring about a lame army of "remote patriots and kitchen revolutionaries". I do remember the March 2008 events in Armenia (which, by the way, are completely ignored in the Wester, just as those in Belarus or Moldova, for example, unlike the Iranian case. "Wonder why"...?!), but I also remember that I would get lots and lots of news over Facebook, for example. People started groups and mailing lists as a response to the complete blackout of the mainstream media (most of the activists, in fact, were those same journalists, just gone "underground"). The Iranian case was similar, since some of what happened online served to mobilize the people in the streets. But it was GRAVELY exaggerated, since a vast majority of communication came from outside the country, apparently, while the authorities learned very well how to play by the "new media rules" (I will skip mentioning certain names here, for various reasons, but I'm sure everyone's familiar with the major story line).
And yet, I cannot but stress the increasing importance of the Internet again. At least in the more technologically advanced societies, there is increasing reliance on the WWW (ok, now there are Blackberries, and iPhones, and 3 and 4-G networks, etc.). But then there is also increasing realization of its vulnerability, which, in its turn, brings about increasing efforts to ensure its security. So, no, I don't think there is any way back to the pre-Internet age, but I agree that it will take decades to make it what it really is hoped to be. Anonymity? Forget it.
- Russia being America's "natural ally"? Interesting that you suggest that, since I was thinking that no matter the "diplomatic dances" and the PD initiatives, there will always be rivalry (if not, hostility) between the two as long as they are both so vast in size and among the leading "world powers". It is obvious that any alliance and/or friendship between them has always been based on pressing convenience and/or necessity, and I really don't think that will change (unless, of course, either one agrees to join the federation of the other; but then, that cannot guarantee "cultural" coherence, either - in every sense of culture). I do think that the current Russian administration is much more adept in talking the "American language", as well as listening to it, but I am sure that would have been impossible had there been a different administration in the U.S., for example. Public diplomacy challenges, despite that, still persist, and that illustrates the distrust among their publics. A crucial factor here would also be the extent to which the U.S. is willing to listen to Russia and how proficient the latter becomes in communication, in general. They're still learning, and it's interesting to follow that process!
- The loss of "weight" of the word, as you put it, is indeed a major problem, not only domestically, but also internationally, especially when it comes to PD. This has become an even greater problem with the Internet boom. So now, as you pointed out, there are increasing explorations of alternative "methods" for communication, that can reach the intended audience, and have the intended effect. What I believe is essential, though, is credibility, which, unfortunately, takes very long to earn and is very easy to lose. There is increasing realization of that, and now the emphasis is on "relationship building" for example (as opposed to one-way communication). And yet, this approach is still mostly prominent in political discourse and the academic sphere (print and online! :)). Since it might look politically (or militarily and economically) unfeasible, we still see that one-way communication tends to dominate.
- An important aspect of the previous challenge is also education (or rather, lack thereof). As I keep pointing out, apathy and lack of awareness of a bigger world or alternative perspectives is one of the greatest problems in PD. It ties into credibility, since there is no way one can achieve it, if the other side narrow-mindedly believes in one and only, supreme, perspective - that is, their own. The concern about the "invasion of Georgia" of the woman from Tennessee is not a surprise (though, funny!), and it only illustrates the painful ignorance prevalent in the education system, as well as the media here, in general. I recently wrote a paper on the subject, as you know... (I can go on for ages about this, so I'll just stop here.)
- As for the demise of the Soviet Union, I think it is wrong to reduce the causes to one single "major" reason. Of course, I have not lived throughout that period (I just lived the consequences, which I should say I did not like), but having studied it extensively, it seems to me there were many structural, economic, military, as well as ideological and societal problems. Yet, it was shaky from the start and it was based on coercion. As cracks started to appear, and as more "freedom" was introduced by a certain Nobel laureate, the end was inevitable, since the whole structure could not withstand the pressure (both internal and external). I'm afraid I have to agree with you that a similar outcome would not be possible today, and trying a similar approach of external pressure and intrusive "public diplomacy" with Iran (or China, for that matter) might only backfire.
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