The appeal and spread of American culture ‹American TV programs (including news and entertainment, movies, music, paperbacks, videocassettes, CDs, fast food and fashions ‹ is one of the truly astounding features of the last half of the 20th century. Aspects of this fascinating story were the subject of a recent roundtable at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. some of the indicators are mind-boggling.
- By the last half of the 1980s nearly 80% of all worldwide films and television exports originated in the U.S. In 1991, European TV aired 125,000 hours of programming. Less than 20% was produced by Europeans. Most of the rest was produced in the U.S. Among the most popular: The Cosby Show, L.A. Law, Cheers, and Golden Girls.
Why this penetration? According to Motion Picture Academy CEO Jack Valenti, “American pictures do well abroad because they tell stories better than anybody else tells stories, and that’s our business, story-telling.”
It’s also because America sells: columnist Richard Grenier says there is “an irresistible magnetism about the whole assemblage of American attitudes ‹ optimism,, hope, belief in progress, profound assumptions of human equality, informality ‹ that the outside world has found compelling.”
- Reader’s Digest, with 100 million readers, is published in 41 editions in 17 languages. It earns most if its revenues form overseas sales. Reasons according to editor Ken Tomlinson, “the Digest-embodies values ‹ about freedom family, God and the nature of man ‹ that are universal” and are core values of the planets emerging culture.
- The International Herald Tribune prints in 11 countries and is sold in 164. Two-thirds of its audience is non-American. Publisher Lee Huebner believes the widespread appeal of the appear is the respect accorded to the American approach to journalism, which emphasizes fact-finding, independent reporting and the continuing struggle for objectivity. American newspapers, unlike many European and Asian papers are independent of political parties, protected by the First Amendment from government dictation and try to maintain a Chinese Wall between the opinion pages and the reportorial pages. When people want to know what happened, they trust American journalism.
And American TV news is ubiquitous. More than 1230 countries are wired to CNN; U.S. network news is piped into many cable systems around the world. For example, switch on your TV in a Mexico City hotel and you’ll find Denver’s Channel 7, Mexico city’s source for CBS television.
- American colleges and universities are magnets for international students. More foreign students come to the U.S. for post-secondary education than to any other country. Reason: the lure of American culture, the promise of opportunity and the excellence and openness of our institutions of higher education.
Perhaps most remarkable is the emergence of English as the world language, the first language of many and the second language of nearly all educated people everywhere. English is the language of business. It’s the language of air traffic controllers form Boston to Beijing. Nearly three- fourths of the world’s computer programs operate by English commands.
Ideas of political freedom (democracy), economic freedom (capitalism), and individualism are on he march abroad. They are spread through many channels: commerce, tourism, education, immigration, telecommunications, international broadcasting and the ubiquity of the English language. They permeate the products of American culture ‹ from Amadeaus to Terminator, including everything from he Disney empire to Cal Tech, Levi’s and McDonalds.
There are downsides: excess (crime, violence, promiscuity, self- indulgence), incivility, corruption and materialism. But core values and ideas contained in he products of American culture ‹ and the freedom we have to produce these products ‹ inspire most of the world and will remain a source of U.S. influence for a long time to come.