I was reading on Blogcritics about KFC: KFC Raises Eyebrows, Cholesterol With New Offering, writes Pete Blackwell. He writes, amusingly, "It's tough...out there in fast food land." Perhaps the pseudo-chicken is crispy. But is it the American soft power that was once made of the Statue of Liberty, the American Dream, Levis, and the vision of success in business?
American soft power that once made the world yearn to come to America and to emulate its ideals has become crispy and sometimes rancid. Levis are no longer banned in Russia and the rest of the world has knocked them off or made designer versions. Mexico has tequila and Mayan ruins. Italy offers style. Our insistent powers of attraction and of the American dream have soured into Blackhawk helicopters and smart bombs, Guantanamo, and Alcatraz.
The new soft power of the most powerful nation on Earth is fast food, junk food, sweet drinks, convenience foods, and abominable movies of sex, violence, superficiality and money-worship. In the world of junk food, Competition is fierce and marketing budgets are immense. In an attempt to get a leg up, fast food outlets are forced to continually update their menus with new, or apparently new, items.
Now come the new huge servings for the newly huge Americans:
Hardees has...their new gigantic hamburgers and Burger King...their Enormous Omelet Sandwich. Talk about truth in advertising: the latter fare, which consists of bacon, sausage, cheese and eggs on a bun, weighs in at 730 calories, 47 grams of fat (including 87% of the daily allotment of saturated fat) nearly 2,000 mg of sodium and 138% of the RDA for cholesterol.
(For me this is a day's worth of salt, a week's worth of cholesterol and 1.5 days of fat.) This is America. It has become a symbol, an icon of the American Dream with gas-guzzlers, smart bombs, border walls, and surly security people. America is rewriting itself. It is finding new types of "soft power" with which to influence the world.
(Photo © Beringer-Dratch. New Orleans before the deluge.)
This is America's legacy to the world that once looked to the Liberty Bell, Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, and Hollywood. Our soft power base has gone from the Dream to breast-like golden arches, the kid on a Dominos motorbike, and a president spying on all his own citizens.
Soft Power is, as Joseph Nye, Jr, the originator of the term, writes:
...the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished.
What can the government do? Soft power grows out of both U.S. culture and U.S. policies. From Hollywood to higher education, civil society does far more to present the United States to other peoples than the government does. Hollywood often portrays consumerism, sex and violence, but it also promotes values of individualism, upward mobility and freedom (including for women). These values make America attractive to many people overseas, but some fundamentalists see them as a threat.