“The Democracy Video Challenge:” The Rhetoric of Popular Culture in Public Diplomacy
Guinn, Clay Forman
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This dissertation analyzes the rhetorical changes in public diplomacy in the decades since the Cold War. Public diplomacy is the deployment of culture, a form of soft power, to shape public opinion overseas. In many ways, it has portrayed a consistent image of America in these decades: a multicultural meritocracy, where our strength is in our democratic values and the ability of anyone to contribute to society. However, public diplomacy has also changed in many ways in those decades, in particular its increased reliance on popular culture to reify that image of American multiculturalism and democratic values. My project contends that these shifts are largely due to the demands of globalization and neoliberalism, to a change in perceived external threats, and advances in information technology. Yet, as it responds to the demands of neoliberalism, public diplomacy of the past few decades also benefits American neoliberal empire. Increasingly, it advances America and its people as a brand, seeking to entice foreign publics into market-based relationships. It encourages its audience to buy into American ideas and economic structures. The first chapter will ground this dissertation in a series of intellectual conversations, examining rhetoric particular to American exceptionalism, cultural studies, postcolonialism, and neoliberalism. Then, I will chronicle these shifts in a series of case studies, focusing on the products of American public diplomacy -- including radio broadcasts, magazine articles, theatrical productions, and television commercials -- in the Cold War and continuing through today. Each chapter of this dissertation will examine texts from a particular era of public diplomacy -- the Cold War, the early War on Terror, Obama’s administration, and, finally, under Trump -- and describe the continuities and discontinuities of this particularly elusive form of rhetoric.