Food Diplomacy

Last class we spoke briefly about soft power and its many definitions. One of the definitions we reviewed was from the Nye reading titled “Public Diplomacy & Soft Power.” In this reading, Nye defines soft power as “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies. A smart power strategy combines hard and soft power resources. Public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the roles of credibility, self-criticism, and civil society in generating soft power.”

Nye later recognizes that there are three main ways in which power influences others’ behavior. The first being threats of coercion, then inducements and payments and finally “attraction,” that which makes others want what you want (soft power). He specifically mentions that “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries want to follow it, admiring its values, emulating its example, and/or aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness.”


I would like to emphasize his idea of soft power being one that rests on culture and values. It is quite evident that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has openly been a strong proponent of soft power in all of its forms. I wrote about food in my first blog, and I should conclude by writing about food again. I’d like to briefly discuss the State Department’s food diplomacy program known as “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership.” I feel this is a great example of very soft power, one in which we share our U.S. values through food. I argue that this is an alternate form of dialogue that elicits emotion and communicates values, ideals and more. Many have criticized such a program, but they completely disregard the power of food as identity and as communication. Often, food says a lot more than what one can exchange at a negotiation table—there is obvious shared meaning.  American Chef Corps is made up of 80 food professionals who are deployed abroad as culinary ambassadors who do what most diplomats would do, although with a culinary twist. They “cook for visiting dignitaries, speak to groups, write articles, blog, tweet or find other ways to extol the virtues of American cooking and food products.”[1] I argue that with such programs in where emotions elicited and values are communicated in a way that most will understand (food), there is a greater likelihood for there to exist openness to an attraction in which others want what you want. Overall, food helps transcend boundaries, an imperative for public diplomacy.



RIP Twinkie

Twinkie’s Gone…VIRAL!

At age 82, it has come time where we lay to rest, a wondrous fluffy articificially-flavored and super processed bundle of pastry goodness—the Twinkie. While the media describes Hostess’ bankruptcy, social media users and their networks mourn the loss of Twinkie, a pop culture icon.  The loss of Twinkie has gone viral, but why? The world relates to such a processed pastry with great nostalgia and/or distaste.  In order to tie the Twinkie into our class, let us venture out by saying that Twinkie acts as a symbol of nationalism, branding, culture, globalization, modernization and other such “–ations” that I’ve failed to mention.

Although Twinkie came into existence around the 1930s, it really boomed after World War II, a symbol of food technology (homemade pastry in a cellophane wrapper) and modernization during an era where time turned into money.  Twinkie appeared in the many lunchboxes of schoolchildren as they fought to plunge their Wonderbread PB&J off the roof of their mouth. Twinkie quickly became a pop culture symbol appearing in several movies and on memorabilia, becoming a recognizable “American food” across the world. But, have you noticed that every country has some sort of creamy filled pastry whether processed or otherwise?

In Mexico, for example, Grupo Bimbo (parallels to Hostess brand, although with more brands and products), carries the line Marinela (started shortly after Twinkie in the 1950s), which is the maker of Chocoroles, Pinguinos (chocolate cupcake), Gansitos (my favorite), Submarinos (twinkie) and more. **NOTE: these are so delicious, by the way–more so than Hostess!** In fact, there was a Forbes article insinuating that the owner of Bimbo might be able to salvage Hostess by buying it out. Ironically, these processed treats are much more highly revered in Mexico yet not so much as a pop culture icon like Twinkie, which has appears on clothing, movies, TV shows and court cases. But, why is this so?


The Larger Context: Discourse & Framing 9/11

Giovanna dell’Orto’s discussion last class, alongside Professor Hayden’s discussion, addressed framing—the way in which a story is presented based on a desired message or reaction and/or on someone or something’s agenda—central organizer.

Dell’Orto also discussed much of what discourse is—the larger way of thinking and then talking about a social reality that transcends the speakers’ immediate will by implicitly saying things that belong to a larger social understanding based on a common sense or a historical cultural understanding. This is why, she says, it was easier for the Bush administration to convince others to get on board in the approval of the invasion of Iraq. The story was framed with a message of  “we are defenders the free world”—media also drew on this sense of a greater purpose and duty to the world, one that American society would understand in a larger cultural and historical context (yes, thanks to WWII and on the principles to which this country was supposedly found).

So, discourse analysis is looking at texts, larger scripts where certain words mean certain things at certain historical times. I’d like to particularly note, however, the visual framing that took place during 9/11. I argue that because 9/11 and the Iraq war were the first of their kind to be tracked by or depicted through the Internet, framing had a greater impact, particularly through visuals. Whether constantly showing the twin towers, troops in Baghdad, bombs or relief efforts, the war in Iraq was INITIALLY framed to depict conflict, conquest, rescue, and/or victory, all the while emphasizing this idea of defender of the free world. Of course, as time progressed this message was lost as soon as U.S. bodies came home. But, the power of framing and discourse still manipulated history.


Journalists as Mediators?

The article we read titled “International Reporting-‘No Further than Columbus…’ defines International reporting as “the content and processes of media coverage of realities beyond the home state”. The author differentiates this from other “direct forms of cross-border communication” like the Internet because these other types of communication can happen without a sort of “mediation,” and they also rarely have gatekeepers or editors to sift through the quantity of information that gets published.

I think it’s important to note the impact journalists and media have on globalization. I’d agree with Hafez that journalists and media act as mediators in globalization. Their main role is to serve as a meeting point for the sustainability of the “global public sphere” where they “process facts, information, opinions” and such from other countries for his/her home audience—essentially what could be known as a foreign correspondent (although not always based in a foreign country). With this responsibility, they hold the power to interpret and explain information in the cultural and historical context from which it derived. This means they must explain not only the national and regional perspectives and/or issues associated with such news, but also explain how it links to the rest of the world. They must present perspectives as accurately as possible.

But, there are obvious—like what? One of the biggest problems that a foreign correspondent can do is bring to the table a uni-cultural, if you will, perspective. Strictly having a Western mindset or Global South POV for that matter may skew the reality of things and or be a liability to international relations. The challenge, just like Giovanna dell’Orto mentions as a result of her research, is that foreign correspondents MUST make an effort to serve as mediators and let other frames in, in order to make ours bigger. The responsibility is greater now more than ever, and I feel this is imperative, but how does one navigate such a task in a capitalistic society often driven by ratings, politics and other factors?


Mexico and Social Media

We have read a lot about the Arab Spring lately. Not only that, but more so the role that social media plays in contesting authorities, rising social movements and creating networks of networks. While we know the role of social media in the Arab Spring has been one of great benefit, we also must realize the disadvantages and dangers social media can bring. The reading titled “Blogs and Bullets: New Media in Contentious Politics” brings light to these aspects where scholars argue, “technologies may actually exacerbate conflict.” Social media also gives opportunity for “authoritarian regimes [to] monitor and police their citizens” (pg.). While we all know that social media has its place in the Arab Spring, I would like to discuss the role of social media in Mexico’s recent events, whether violence, the election or otherwise.

First, I want to focus on how social media has played a role in both escalating and mitigating the violence in Mexico. Social media has been used in several ways to combat the violence in Mexico. Besides speaking out against narcotraffickers and political players’ poor judgment in dealing with such, social media has acted as a form of communication among the people far from each other when notifying what areas to avoid due to shootings or violent road blocks. Clearly playing a distinct role compared to the Arab Spring, social media has acted as a means of survival for peoples bounded by fear of escalating violence, all the while sometimes creating a sort of panic (this is compared to the Arab Spring in that the latter is more about overthrowing a government). Social media users Tweet or post on Facebook what plazas to avoid, on what streets shootings are happening and more. This gives both the people and the media a heads up on what to avoid, or what stories to cover. The people relied on social networks and media for this crucial information. 

This, unfortunately, has also given users an opportunity to spread rumors about things they see, or don’t see. It gives them opportunities to speak their frustration against the government so much that the “Veracruz State Assembly made it a crime to use Twitter and other social Networks to undermine public order” (NY Times). However, social media has also given Mexican citizens a platform to rally against the narcotraffickers and the authorities involved. However, this has presented an issue in that it has led to more killings. Narcotraffickers have also used social media to locate people, those who are potential kidnapping targets and those who are speaking against their doings or revealing “secret” logistical information. At one point in time, and still today, many social media users in Mexico did not use their full name—they use alias names that might skew their identity.

NOTE: There is also another social media medium that many in Mexico use. The “Find My Friends” app, the app that literally does just that– “allows you to easily locate your friends and family from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch” has served as a safety mechanism for Mexicans to locate their family and friends should they be in danger or out and about during violent outbreaks.

Like all things, social media has both its advantages and disadvantages and often plays different roles in different contexts.


Social Media and the SOCIAL MOVEMENT

In almost every class we have discussed some aspect of the Arab Spring and the role that both networks and social media have played. Recently, we mentioned an article in class that discusses how those outside of the Arab countries, rather than the activists inside were using social media more in order to heighten what came to be the Arab Spring. Now, it might be true that Egyptians and others used social media to strategically mobilize the masses, but it was the outsiders that truly brought attention to the issue.

The Lim article from this week, “Clicks, Cabs and Coffee Houses: Social Media and Oppositional Movements in Egypt, 2004-2011,” mentions how Social Media is used as a technology and a space for “expanding and sustaining networks” that these social movements depend on. I believe this parallels directly to the current crisis in Syria.

A Syrian activist, whose name will remain undisclosed, recently mentioned that if it weren’t for the citizen journalists on the ground and social media websites, the Syrian revolution would have ended a while ago. The citizen journalists give the “outsiders” something to talk about and things to re-post/publish based on what they see on their newsfeed. Without the citizen journalists, the outsiders would not have much to say to the world—the networks of networks (thanks, Castells).

Not only does this Social Media activism speak against Al Assad, but also motivates outside international powers to do what they are doing, whether they are doing something or not (social media used to inform policy makers).  Just like Lim mentions, we should clarify that social media may not have started these revolutions, but have nonetheless facilitated and empowered their message and ultimate goal.  The users from outside of Syria are using social media (i.s. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs) to “influence how activists form and shape the social movement[s],“ rather than just using social media as “neutral tools to be used or adopted by social movements.” However, it’s the intermodality that really gets ‘the show on the road.’ Lim defines intermodality as “the overlapping of networks of various media” and says that this is essential in order mobilize the masses beyond the Internet. In other words, it’s important to use Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs and more in order to reach a larger audience to truly motivate a social movement (241). This was not the case for Egypt, who since 2009 gathered followers on a Facebook page, but it was the additional use of blogs and Twitter that truly helped mobilize the masses. On the other hand, Syrian activists admit that they have been using various forms of social media at once which has most definitely empowered the movement. In all, these networks and social media do in fact play an imperative role in the revolution, particularly in Syria as they continue using several social media mediums to better depict the crisis.  

Ay, Dios Mio! Can’t We All Relate? Telenovelas & Canned Programming

“The mechanism at work here points to an understanding of the telenovela as a combination of universally-appealing elements (the rags-to-riches theme, and the melodramatic and humorous story lines) with customizable specifics (the characters, and physical, relational, and social settings). Waisbord, in explaining the growing global popularity of television formats as opposed to sales of canned original programming, classifies formats as “culturally specific, but nationally neutral.” In other words, the blank format contains cultural values at the broadest and most archetypal of levels, which are then customizable at the national level” (205-206). -Jade Miller, “Ugly Betty goes global: Global networks of localized content in the telenovela industry”

Jade Miller argues in her article that one of the main reasons that telenovelas are so globally popular is because of the universal archetypes. In other words, viewers can identify with the characters or the plots in the stories in “canned programming” (without remaking). For example, a Manila restaurant worker can identify with the troubles Marimar goes through, despite an obvious “cultural” difference (the Mexican telenovela Marimar is about a poor girl who falls in love with a wealthy young man who teaches her to read and write despite the disapproval of his parents). With that being said, Miller argues that “canned telenovelas” (those that are imported as original programs that are dubbed or with subtitles) compared to those that are remade to fit cultural formats can also achieve customizable specifics (the characters, physical, relational and social setting) without having to re-do the telenovela entirely.

Mexico often reformats telenovelas with localized content, La Fea Mas Bella, being a prime example of this. While Mexico always includes a rags-to-riches story, there are other standardized specifics that are possibly portrayed differently: Catholic religion/priest, working class family, wealthy family, deception, and sometimes even historical or colonial settings that cannot be imported. Of course, we should also mention that Mexico often reformats telenovelas because Televisa is one of the most well recognized and highly successful production companies. (Note: Something interesting about all telenovelas is that they reach and appeal to audiences of all social-economic classes. Telenovelas are one thing that all levels of Mexican society, for example, can talk about or relate to).

Another example of the telenovela phenomenon as canned exportation is that of the Venezuelan telenovela Kassandra. Exported to many countries, Kassandra was a particular hit in Syria. As the only Middle Eastern country to receive Kassandra (dubbed in the formal Arabic language), Syria embraced the 150-episode soap opera whole-heartedly. There were many reasons for its success, but one being that this was a new concept for Syria—it was exotic. At the same time, Kassandra is a compelling story about a Gypsy girl whose future in matrimony was promised at a young age. This soap opera brought the Syrian people together as many stopped during the day to watch the show. At the same time, products were branded and sold as Kassandra items (i.e. “Kassandra skirt” reflecting the gypsy skirt she wore. The same thing happened with jewelry, cars and more).

It’s apparent that while one may see telenovelas as exporting culture, the truth is that telenovelas often are prime examples of global networks of localized content.