January 12, 2003 - The Patriot News: Malaysia RPCV Frank Swetz says Positive image of America seems foreign to many

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 2:07 am: Edit Post

Malaysia RPCV Frank Swetz says Positive image of America seems foreign to many

Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the Patriot News by Malaysia RPCV Frank Swetz who says that among the people of the world, there is a love/hate relationship with America and the American "way of life" and private citizens can contribute to the effort of providing truer descriptions of America and their own lives, experiences and ambitions to their foreign counterparts at:

Positive image of America seems foreign to many*

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Positive image of America seems foreign to many

Jan 12, 2003 - The Harrisburg Patriot

byFrank Swetz

In his initial public statement in reaction to the atrocity of 9/ 11, George W. Bush noted that America has enemies. Further, expressing puzzlement, he posed the moot question, "Why don't they like us?"

To most people, such a question would seem logical. After all, the United States is a most generous nation.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has officially expended more than $3 trillion in foreign aid. While much of this aid was self-serving in some manner, a good portion was purely humanitarian in nature. During this same period, private citizens and organizations within our country exceeded this amount in their giving to causes overseas.

As a nation and a people, we have given freely of our wealth in responding to natural and man-made disasters worldwide. But friendship and respect cannot always be bought, even huge sums of money.

On hearing the president's question, I was taken back to a night in 1965, to a jungle clearing in Borneo where an answer existed. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was involved in surveying access roads to isolated Iban communities. Ibans, a kind and gentle native people, are best known by their former occupation of head- hunting.

This one night, people were drawn for miles around by the promise of a movie at the government outpost. For the great majority of Ibans assembled, this was the first movie they had seen. A makeshift screen was erected on the side of a land rover and amid gasps of delight, the generator-fed projector opened a window on another world.

The film was a B-level, Lana Turner flick, "Kitten with a Whip." It depicted a sordid image of American life featuring deception, violence, adultery and murder. Although the audience could not understand the English language dialogue, it agreed that it showed "bad people doing bad things."

So, for these viewers in their first, and for many, only glimpse of America, they came away with a negative impression.

Throughout my Peace Corps service, one of my self-appointed tasks was to counter the negative stereotype of America and Americans as portrayed in our exported films and publications, such as Playboy Magazine.

In my daily behavior and interactions, I tried to show what an "average American" was like. Yes, my parents worked. No, I was not rich. I had to pay for my university education and so on.

Among the people of the world, there is a love/hate relationship with America and the American "way of life." A tenuous balance exists in their perceptions of us from admiration and respect to envy and resentment. Knowledge of our freedoms and opportunities are often counterbalanced by impressions of Americans as materialistic, self-centered and immoral.

These are tainted impressions that political and religious demagogues abroad build upon to further their causes. The devil from without easily becomes a scapegoat for economic, political and social evils within. It is easy to hate and vent frustration on "bad people," perceived bullies and oppressors.

So, Mr. President, there are groups of people in the world that dislike and even hate America. For many years, this emotion was directed primarily at American foreign policy and a careful delineation was made between the American people and the American government: The government was bad, the people were good. Now, this distinction is rapidly eroding.

Since 1965, I have traveled and lived overseas on several occasions and have noticed this disturbing change of attitude toward Americans. The impetus for this change is the same as I experienced in the Borneo clearing nearly four decades ago: Derogatory impressions of America and its people are exported for foreign audiences. These impressions are consumed, compounded and used against us.

While, in the past, such impressions were isolated and transitory, now, due to satellite technology, they abound and are broadcast continuously. CNN and MTV are viewed worldwide.

The escapades of O.J. Simpson and Bill and Monica reflected on the workings of our justice system and accepted levels of morality. Hip-hop lyrics convey a culture of violence and vulgarity. Comments by such trash-talk pundits as Howard Stern would seem to affirm this situation.

For television viewers abroad, vacuous soap opera bimbos, Anna Nicole Smith and semi-nude pop stars represent American womanhood. Stories about Enron's demise, bankrupt pension plans for workers and $6,000 shower curtains for CEOs reveal the greed and corruption of American corporations.

"See, I told you capitalism is evil!" This impression is further intensified by the actions of U.S. corporations overseas, such as the dumping of banned pesticides in developing countries and the aggressive promotion of tobacco sales in emerging nations -- the Marlboro Man rides high in China.

Insipid films, purposefully designed for the foreign market with simple plots, limited dialogue and lurid action scenes, seem to emanate from an intellectual wasteland. I once was seriously asked, "Do you have a symphony orchestra in America?"

Certainly, there is no single, simple reason for the decline of the United States' prestige in the forum of world opinion. Economic, political, military, social and religious factors all play a role.

One obvious factor, to those of us who have lived abroad, is the poor image of America and its people that is exported for foreign consumption. It readily becomes ammunition for our enemies in their campaigns against us. Where are our success stories, our positive accomplishments, our sources of national pride?

The United States Information Agency was established with the task of disseminating favorable information about the U.S. to the rest of the world. For many years it was successful, particularly through the venue of its Voice of America broadcasts.

However, since the cessation of the Cold War, its funds have been drastically reduced and its influence curtailed. In the ideological war we are now engaged in, it would seem that its services are all the more necessary.

Revitalized and modernized to include telecasts of "Images of America," the agency could be extremely affective in countering the negative views of America and Americans that exist.

Private citizens also can contribute to this effort by providing truer descriptions of America and their own lives, experiences and ambitions to their foreign counterparts.

We live in a great country. It deserves to be represented and depicted as such.

FRANK SWETZ is professor emeritus of mathematics and education at Penn State Harrisburg, where for several years he was director of International and Intercultural Activities.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out; COS - Malaysia



By ainul_majid@yahoo on Sunday, July 20, 2003 - 2:50 pm: Edit Post

dear sir/madam i want be volunteer about child, abuse women and childrend, peace or helping people, so can you tell me want should i do to join your progremme?

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