WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION by Matthew Fraser

WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION

Soft Power and American Empire
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Do things really go better with Coke? Given the alternatives, writes journalist and Toronto National Post editor Fraser, the answer is yes.

The title has been overused, but everything else here is fresh: Fraser offers a smart, searching look at the role of “soft power” instruments such as movies, fashion, and pop music in spreading American cultural values and, by extension, empire across the world. These instruments, he writes, are distinct from “hard power” military applications, and they’ve been more successful than bombs. Fraser cites Mao Zedong as having called American pop cultural artifacts “candy-coated bullets.” Adds Fraser, “One can only imagine how Mao would react today upon learning that one of his successors . . . confessed he’d seen, and enjoyed, the Hollywood movie Titanic.” Though the intelligentsia has criticized soft-power incursions from the start, people around the world have found it hard to resist America’s sugar-water confections and entertainment extravaganzas, even when they have been naked tools of cultural-imperial power—as, for instance, when Walt Disney put Mickey, Donald, and Goofy to winning the hearts and minds of Latin America, or when his successors labored to install Disneylands in Paris, Tokyo, and Shanghai. Pop culture often trumps politics: “It is easily forgotten that socialism once had a chance in America,” Fraser writes, adding that “the Hollywood moguls would have none of it. They used all their powers—including the choice of movie subjects—to back capitalism against the ‘red menace.’ ” In the end, much of the world has been culturally terraformed to suit American desires, though this does not necessarily carry over into the political sphere. Fraser notes that alternative visions of the world—“where Vandals and Visigoths are Islamic fundamentalists in hijacked jetliners” or members of murderous drug cartels—are horrible enough that resistance to Big Macs and Madonna amounts to a something like a blow against global stability and world peace.

Arguable at points, but a provocative, intelligent view of pop-culture politics.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2005
ISBN: 0-312-33849-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2004




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