Wednesday, April 23, 2014

#Happy #Yerevan - ArmComedy Update

A few weeks ago I had a post about the "Happy Yerevan" video, made by the US Embassy in Armenia as a part of its digital public diplomacy effort. The video has been quite a hit: it's received almost 156,000 views in two weeks, and is now the most popular video on the Embassy's YouTube Channel (the second being the video of a 2012 "US-Armenia FlashMob", which has been viewed about 47,000 times since October 2012). Given the size of Armenia's population, the language/interest barrier, and the Internet penetration rates, "Happy Yerevan" is clearly a success for American YouTube diplomacy in the country.

The video was also featured in one the recent episodes of the ArmComedy show (the Armenian equivalent of the Daily Show, if you will), where the hosts of the satirical program wondered whether this happiness is "appropriate" for a nation which is "supposed to be always sad". It's not "truly Armenian", they joked. They "warned" the more traditional and patriotic members of their audience about the "dark forces" of the American Embassy, which is forcibly trying to make Armenians smile (a mock response to some of the reaction the video got on the interwebs from the more 'patriotic' Internet users). As an alternative, they ask the "nation" (represented by the guy in the white T-shirt) to focus instead on the sad tune of the Armenian duduk, which is "truly ours" and comes as a reminder that the purpose of life is to suffer and to be sad (as opposed to being joyful).

Beginning at about 5:02.

Then, they go to an interview with the US Ambassador John Heffern, asking him to explain why America would do such a thing to Armenians - why try improving their mood? Here's an approximate translation:
Q. - I've seen the video. Everyone's dancing, following your moves... What if people, and especially children see this and try to do the same? What if it spreads and everyone in the country suddenly starts to smile and dance? Is that what you want?
A. - That's exactly what we want. I hope that happens and I hope that you help us spread the message.
After discussing whether they would like seeing so many happy and smiling people on the streets of Yerevan, one of the hosts (Narek) asks why is it "OK" for the Americans to be happy, while it is not considered appropriate for Armenians. He points out that the Ambassador himself dances in the video, to which the other host (Sergey) responds by wondering if Americans would enjoy seeing Armenian diplomats organizing "something happy" in the US, as well. He says he's aware how unlikely that is, but decides to pose the question to the Ambassador nonetheless:
Q. - Let's switch places: How would you feel about Armenian diplomats organizing fun or happy events in the US?
A. - We should have invited them to participate, too! Next time, we'll invite the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to join us. I also hope that the diplomats are having a good time in Washington - it's a beautiful town. And I do hope they have some fun in Washington!
Q. - So you would be perfectly OK with it?
A. - Absolutely. Absolutely. 

So, despite all the geopolitical and regional tensions, and the increasingly visible splits among the wider population -- which, thanks to the events in Ukraine, are constantly threatening to boil over yet again -- the US Embassy managed to find an alternative way of "getting to" the Armenian public. Of course, a significant part of this audience was already predisposed to liking the video, while others would have to be won over by satire (which, by the way, is a wonderful alternative communication tool that can help overcome selective perception and existing negative preconceptions).

Whether this changes the public's overall attitudes towards the US or not, it is at least yet another step in the right direction. Seeing the openness, lightheartedness, and cheerfulness of those in the video (including the Ambassador), it is indeed very difficult not to think of the contrast (whether with the Armenian officials in the US, or with Ambassadors of certain other countries in Armenia).

In short, well done!

Here's the original video yet again. Enjoy :-)

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