In his recent book, American Avatar, Barry A. Sanders, Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at UCLA, explains how the United States’ image abroad is falsely represented in literature on global views of America.
Sanders explained at the Heritage Foundation recently that his book is, “an examination, most generally, of how people form their ideas.” He says that an understanding of specific thoughts about the United States can help influence public policy.
According to Sanders, it is important to distinguish between outside attitudes and actual ideas. “My real concern is not attitudes,” he said. “When it comes to America, there are many images… Images are relatively unchanging.”
“Images are ideas,” Sanders explained, adding that various events can lead to the creation of an image. He explained that different countries, those that both like and dislike the United States, form their opinions of the country from certain ideas. “The imagery that people have are realities, but only partly,” he said. “Even as the eyewitness goes home, there’s an image that erodes in their head… We begin to forget. So much of what we have is what we imagine.” He stressed this as an important concern in regards to how the United States is perceived by the outside world.
Over the years, different European intellectuals have developed an anti-American stance. According to Sanders, the English playwright Harold Pinter held a certain image of America as he wrote; thus, inevitably influencing his works. This enlightenment-notion as influenced and advanced by Pinter has created a certain image of America in Europe. “When they look across the ocean, they see a Bourgeois society.”
This success that has remained continual throughout the country is something that many people hold against our country. Additionally, the fact that the United States stands for change through prosperity is recognizable. This prosperity, as Sanders describes, has led to envy.
“Envy is a universal emotion,” Sanders says. “It is not only universal, but it is very powerful.” Sanders suggests that the outside world sees opportunity and social mobility when they look at America and, consequently, they want the same for themselves. “What we have now is a culture clash. We have created a desire for America.”
Sanders explained that this desire could lead to danger. “The predisposition that may be most dangerous is not people who say they don’t want what we have, but those who say, ‘I want that.’… We stand for many desirable things but often times we can’t deliver,” Sanders says. He sees the formation of public policy as the best avenue to help overcome obstacles.
In order to persuade the world and work to create more positive images of America Sanders makes some recommendations. He says to be steadfast and give people the idea that we are, in fact, an open society with an open mind. We have to be “listening, not just speaking,” he says. Sanders also says we should let the outside world know that we seek certain things not just because it is in our interest but also because it is in their interest as well. “We have to show we’re compassionate,” he added. Finally, he says that although it may be hard, the United States needs to “escape hypocrisy.”
“I didn’t say that it’s going to be easy,” Sanders said in regards to ensuring this is carried out in public policy. However, he acknowledged that it can only help us in the long run.
Jocelyn Grecko is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Jocelyn has spent the past four years in the nation’s capital as a Media Studies undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America. She will graduate in May 2012.
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