Is the US losing its “soft power”?

11 June, 2020 · News> Global situation

Buenos Aires

According to the Anglo-Saxon media, the demonstrations over the death of George Floyd have spread throughout the world creating a sort of “global anti-racist movement”. China has bought the thesis and is trying to use it as a weapon of ideological warfare between the two powers. At first glance it would appear like a paradox: the influence of the US on global culture, the ability of US capital to create global campaigns, would be such that even their rivals would end up playing on the ideological terrain of American domestic battles. The “soft power” of US imperialism would be healthier than ever. But if we look closely, the situation is far from that.

Why haven’t mobilizations in the US created a global movement?

Seoul

The sight of Korean MPs on their knees begging for forgiveness like the American Christian protesters cannot fail to impress, but the truth is that on the street they only gathered a few dozens of people cheered on by K-Pop stars. The slogans and posters did not show that they were internalizing it as a Korean problem, they were just participating in a game that was taking place in another field. In other countries such as Turkey or Argentina, the demonstrations, which were generally seen as extravagant, not only brought together very few groups, but “solidarity” was serving as a basis for the old anti-US discourse of the left and Islamists. An attitude that is far from the cathartic “mea culpa” that characterizes the movement in America. In Spain, only three thousand demonstrators protested in front of the US embassy, very few for a capital city where every year there are half a dozen demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people and where issues as insubstantial for most people as the levels of protection of the Iberian wolf gather more than 10,000 people. Even so, demonstrators “in the spirit” of the American mobilizations, with signs written in English and using American slogans, were only a few, mostly very young and from well-to-do backgrounds. Most of those who demonstrated took advantage of the media attention to protest against issues only secondarily linked to racism: confinement camps for immigrants, the treatment and exploitation of migrants, etc. In other words, basically xenophobia and migration, not race. After all there are people of all origins and phenotypes in the migrant confinement camps.

Another thing is Great Britain or Germany, that is, the countries in which, for different reasons and ways, the bourgeoisie historically created the identity of the nation from a racial conception, presenting the state as an expression or materialization of the “spirit of a people” and its “destiny”.

In countries where “the state creates the nation” – those of bourgeois republican tradition like France, but also in Catholic “universalist” countries like Spain – racism exists and is something far from minor or bearable. It exists and is obviously morally intolerable. The system in these countries exudes it with all its range of discriminations and is openly linked to the ethnification of social classes. But few people think that the over-exploitation and abuse of “undocumented” day laborers is a product of racism. On the contrary, even the most conservative leftist understands that it is the status as “irregulars” which indirectly legalizes the quasi-slavery of thousands of seasonal workers. And that it is this situation of over-exploitation, isolation and helplessness that feeds the racism of a petty bourgeoisie which exploits them while also denying their existence. The same could be said in Turkey, where the thousands of refugees and migrants are mercilessly exploited and there is no lack of discrimination based on ethno-linguistic origin (Kurds, Arabs) or religion (Alevis, Sufis) and, to top it all, anti-Semitism is an official ideology and widespread.

Therefore? Quite simply, the movement in the United States is so directly linked to the aspirations of the American black petty bourgeoisie that in order to “spread” it has to find sectors of the petty bourgeoisie that can identify not only with its situation and its aspirations, but also with its account of what racism is. In other words, it needs a whole combination of historical circumstances and class relations, which can only be found in a handful of historically linked countries.

The decline of the “dream factory”?

Actors of “La casa de papel”, a global hit by Netflix.

But does this mean that the ideological clout of the American bourgeoisie is beginning to wane? Not in itself. The global news ecosystem is controlled by American capital. With a general crisis in the press, echoes between media and agencies are constant, press releases are being recycled over and over again. Many times, when news are traced back to the original story, we have to read it all over to find out that it’s about something that happened in a US town and not just around the corner. The costly attempts of rival imperialisms to set their own news agendas, from French international TV to Chavista Telesur to Qatari AlJazeera, have at best achieved regional relevance. Some, like the Iranian channel, after some great successes, are facing pure and simple bankruptcy. And none of them has even managed to contest the virtual monopoly of the new audiovisual platforms that dominate the dramatic series: Netflix and Amazon Prime still overwhelmingly control the market.

But let’s not stop there. Confinement set a record in platform connections. What series, what narratives were seen during each country? Virtually all of the premieres promoted by Netflix during this pandemic were aligned with the discourse of “identity politics”: from the story of America’s first black millionaire to various dramas in which gender identities play the central role. However, none of them appear among the most watched stories in Spain, nor in Argentina, nor in Brazil… and we could go on. And it is not a phenomenon limited to the months of pandemic and confinement although, like everything else, it has speeded up now. What we are finding from the listings of programs with the largest audience outside the United States is that:

  1. The weight of English as a language of global fiction is eroding, the Netflix user gives priority to contents in his own language or in languages close to it, regardless of where they are made (Spain consumes Argentine and Mexican stories, Brazil and Argentina Spanish stories, etc)
  2. Viewers prefer arguments in which “the bad guys” are the state, the mafias, the rich… in other words, different forms of institutional and economic power than the recurring arguments of “identity politics” and the American political agenda which seem to be of little interest to them.

In other words, the United States, while controlling the major means of distribution, is losing its ability to impose ideological approaches in several important regions of the world. What’s more, it seems that English and consumption of media from Anglo-Saxon countries are becoming less and less a sign of prestige. Predictably, the renationalization of production chains also means the renationalization of information agendas and imaginaries. And the logic of “decoupling” does not seem to be going to accelerate it.

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