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  • Once Upon a Time, Hollywood Helped U.S. Image Abroad

    On his recent trip to Eastern Europe (including Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania), Heritage foreign policy analyst Jim Phillips was struck by both the prevalence and the ultimate source of conspiracy theories about the United States. In an upcoming memo, he writes:

    In particular, young people cited the influence of American movies, which have boosted the popularity of many conspiracy theories. They repeatedly referred to Fahrenheit 9/11, the slanted diatribe created by leftist provocateur Michael Moore. They had difficulty sorting fact from fiction in Moore’s “mockumentary,” a film that mimicked a documentary to disseminate its propagandistic views. The students also referred to Zeitgeist, a more recent documentary-style rehash of conspiracy theories concerning the Catholic Church, the 9/11 attacks and U.S. economic policy.

    Much of the anti-American disinformation that is eagerly consumed overseas comes not from governments but from Hollywood. A frequent theme in American-made movies is the threat posed by rogue agencies within the U.S. government or by predatory American corporations that seek world domination. In Hollywood’s jaundiced view, the root cause of terrorism and of many of the Middle East’s chronic problems can be traced back to U.S. foreign policy.

    Read his full report below:

    I returned from a trip to Eastern Europe last month, where I was surprised by the persistent popularity of conspiracy theories concerning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, U.S. foreign policy and the war in Iraq. After speaking about U.S. Middle East policy before public audiences in Estonia, Finland, Latvia, and Lithuania, I was frequently asked about the Bush Administration’s motivation for the war in Iraq, suspicions that the driving factor in U.S. foreign policy was the ambition to establish control of oil, and even far-fetched theories that the U.S. government had secretly engineered the 9/11 terrorist attacks to justify a lunge for oil in Iraq.

    It is not surprising that conspiracy theories would gain traction in troubled times. Chronic Middle East crises, spectacular terrorist attacks, distant wars, and spiraling energy prices provide considerable grist for the mills of conspiracy theorists. In times of uncertainty such conspiracy theories offer the comfort of a simple explanation for complex events.

    Moreover, conspiracy theories are particularly popular and prevalent in countries that have emerged from totalitarian rule, where government policy was by definition a conspiracy and government secrecy encouraged conspiracy theories to flourish. Totalitarian ideologies often are based on conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories also may be spread by governments or groups that have an interest in molding public opinion regarding an issue. For example, some officials in Estonia and Latvia, which have relatively large Russian minorities, suspect that Russian media may be helping to spread such anti-American conspiracy theories.

    But many students that I talked to appeared to be more influenced by Western and American media. In particular, young people cited the influence of American movies, which have boosted the popularity of many conspiracy theories. They repeatedly referred to Fahrenheit 9/11, the slanted diatribe created by leftist provocateur Michael Moore. They had difficulty sorting fact from fiction in Moore’s “mockumentary,” a film that mimicked a documentary to disseminate its propagandistic views. The students also referred to Zeitgeist, a more recent documentary-style rehash of conspiracy theories concerning the Catholic Church, the 9/11 attacks and U.S. economic policy.

    Much of the anti-American disinformation that is eagerly consumed overseas comes not from governments but from Hollywood. A frequent theme in American-made movies is the threat posed by rogue agencies within the U.S. government or by predatory American corporations that seek world domination. In Hollywood’s jaundiced view, the root cause of terrorism and of many of the Middle East’s chronic problems can be traced back to U.S. foreign policy.

    For example, the film Syriana presents an elaborate conspiracy theory in which the CIA and American oil companies are the driving forces behind the creation of a toxic political environment in the Middle East in which terrorism flourishes. This “blame America first” outlook is all the more egregious because the movie was (loosely) based, at least in part, on the book See No Evil, written by former CIA case officer Robert Baer, which was an indictment of the bureaucratic inertia and political correctness that undermined U.S. counter-terrorism efforts before the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    To counter the many conspiracy theories propagated by hostile governments and movements for political purposes, or by Hollywood to make a buck, it is important that the United States develops a strong public diplomacy effort to explain U.S. foreign policy goals, programs, and decisions. This is particularly important regarding the war in Iraq and the broader war against terrorism, where there is considerable suspicion about U.S. motives.

    Taking the high road and ignoring the persistent appeal of anti-American conspiracy theories will not work. That will only allow conspiracy theories to fester, take root, and grow in strength. It is best to confront the theories head on and discredit them. U.S. officials should take every opportunity to knock down conspiracy theories, point out the logical inconsistencies in them, and expose the factual errors whenever possible. It would also be helpful to send non-government experts overseas to do the same.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to Once Upon a Time, Hollywood Helped U.S. Image Abroad

    1. Vicki Eilenberger, L says:

      Conspiracy? Can anyone say, "Pelosi and Reed"?

    2. dave, laguna niguel, says:

      Hollywood has turned into Hollywierd, promoting everything "contrary" to American values, like family, country and God! We have given up the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Ronald Reagan, Clint Walker, Betty Grable, Donna Reed and others for the likes of John Cusak, Alec Baldwin, George Clooney, Barbara Streisand, Carmen Diaz and other actors who are overpaid, over sexed, over drugged, over liquored, over hyped and the media pushes these people down our throats on a daily basis. Yeah, Amy Winehouse for president! If she was on the democrat ticket they would be pushing for her all the way( no democrat can do any wrong!). Where Hollywood used to entertain, enlighten and make us feel good, especially when the bad guys got what they deserved, now Hollywood proclaims the joys of teen motherhood without a husband, intimate gay relationships and gay marriage while at the same time dissing American family values, total lies about our involvement in a war against terrorism and in fact act like they are on the side of the terrorists. I actually believe they are afraid to make a movie about terrorists and jihad when heck, all they have to do is tell and show the truth about these people! Its no secret what they(jihadists) believe in and what their goal is and NO, its not because of ANY US policy! Unless you want to blame it on our support for Israel and we are willing to fight for the preservation of that country! The Hollywood crowd is mostly leftists now. Where is Mccarthy? I believe he was probably right!

    3. Arnis, Latvia says:

      Well, you have to admit, that US foreign policy is not easy to comprehend. For a casual citizen with basic analytic skills it may appear that the goals are sometimes blurred and application of the policies inconsistent. Sometimes you apply one set of methods to implement the policies (e.g. war) or other times it's just foot clapping. Explain more with logical arguments and less with emotional PR (which one has to admit, US govt. is quite good at) how your actions contribute to policies.

      If you can't explain it logically and consistently then something is wron with either your goals or methods.

      By blaming Hollywood or any with right to opinion (however ludicrous and far from 'truth') in fact you go against the very 'American values'.

    4. Wisdo, Dublin says:

      When the entire indigenous creative population of a nation has bad things to say about their own country, you write them ALL off as cranks and opportunists?

      Past US foreign policy and big Oil have NOT helped foster the rise of extremist violence in the middle east? Surely you jest.

      You write: "it is important that the United States develops a strong public diplomacy effort to explain U.S. foreign policy goals, programs, and decisions"

      I agree wholeheartedly. However it is equally important that the US develops a foreign policy that is not entirely opposed to the principles it espouses. One does not have to be a complete cynic to see that the US says one thing and does another, preaches one thing and practices another. Supports some tyrants but not others, then switches its favoured tyrants around.

      Saudia Arabia, a dictatorship, is supported wholeheartedly. Other dictators in Uzbekistan, Egypt etc are supported. Saddam was supported (and ARMED). The US gives full, unconditional support to Israel – a frequent and gross violator of international law (and indeed its own courts). The US has a policy of aggression against countries which cannot defend themselves and is hard pressed to explain its reasons once the shooting stops.

      The majority of world opinion holds that the US is an impediment to world peace. This is not a conspiracy theory, this what those who live outside the US fishbowl see. You disregard their views at your peril.

    5. Darvin Dowdy, Houst says:

      Bottom line is, old Europe believes what it wants to believe about the U.S. Generally speaking. Most likely it'll be a series of Islamic states within 50 years.

      The U.S. needs to quietly/gradually turn its emphasis and focus toward the Pacific Basin and away from "old" Europe. At least we know where we stand in the Pac Rim region. Old Europe has been and is a continuous drain on us.

      The U.S. must, one day, get over the fact that world opinion is stacked against us. The only thing we can do about it is to ignore it and move on, doing what is best for "our" Nation. And being able to back that attitude up with a strong military. DD

    6. Davidslesinger says:

      Considering the reality that successful politicians everywhere are usually successful liars, why should it be inappropriate to expose official lies of the last superpower? Moore won an Oscar for the Farenheit 911 in the documentary category. Where is your right to call it something other than a documentary? All social commentary is biased. Is the New York Times really "All the News That's fit to Print" when it refuses to cover the gagging of Sibel Edmonds? This regards the sale of nuclear secrets tied up with drug dealing.

    7. It’s actually a cool and useful piece of information. I am satisfied that you just shared this useful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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