- Soft Power – a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence.
- Exceptionalism – the belief that something is exceptional, especially the theory that the peaceful capitalism of the US constitutes an exception to the general economic laws governing national historical development.
- Bolshevism – the communist form of government adopted in Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
- Foreign Policy – a government’s strategy in dealing with other nations.
- Hard Power – a coercive approach to international political relations, especially one that involves the use of military power.
The American film industry is the most influential and well-known in the world, despite the declining reputation of the USA and the considerable presence of soft power. This essay will focus on why Hollywood still has a great cultural influence and the evolution of soft Power in American cinematography. Additionally, I will draw on evidence of a correlation between the American political state, specifically foreign policy, and American films to deconstruct the main question. I will provide evidence to justify this claim from reliable academic sources.
The emergence of soft Power
Soft Power as a political instrument of influence originally arose during the Cold War but gained traction after a 1990 paper by academic Joseph Nye aimed at providing a fresh perspective on American foreign policy’s approach to the new global order. Power, according to Nye, was no longer based on a state’s resources, like population or sheer militarism (Güzelipek, 2018). The new shift overpowers concept, on the other hand, was based on a state’s ability to communicate, organize and structure itself, and manipulate others. Since its inception, Nye’s phrase soft power has been re-examined numerous times. One such reconsideration took place in 2004, when the US was embroiled in conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan and, in Nye’s opinion, failed in terms of soft Power (Nelson, 2021). Nye claimed that the United States’ foreign policy’s global unpopularity might be eroding its cultural soft power.
The word “American exceptionalism” has been one of the most important concepts in American foreign policy (FP) throughout history. There is a strong inclination in the United States to view the country as a flawless consequence of human factors rather than a product of fate (Güzelipek, 2018). During the Cold War, the soft power concept was implemented to secure absolute cooperation with conventional American FP principles. In this environment, Hollywood began to play an increasingly important role in the dissemination of America’s power potential and the consolidation of the US’ “exceptional invincibility.”
The American film industry was so strong in many ways, including economics, culture, and politics, that it began to play a governmental role soon after its founding since Hollywood’s potential and prominence matched Nye’s soft power idea well. During the Cold War, Hollywood was operationalized as part of an American Foreign Policy strategy to wage a cultural and intellectual war against Soviet Russia and Bolshevism by the American state (Örmeci, 2015). Today, Hollywood contributes to the construction of national images by disseminating ideas and prejudices through blockbuster films seen by billions of people across the world.
Hollywood as a Source of Soft Power in the United States
Hollywood reflects modern life and the progress that nations in the global cinema have made. For decades, Hollywood, which is known for its inventiveness in terms of aesthetic appeal and business, has acted as a defender of US government policies. The films created on the west coast portray an American perspective on the globe that may be quite appealing to outsiders. Even for many foreigners, particularly those from post-communist countries, American films contribute to their perception of the United States as a joyful, free country (Shah, 2014).
The subjects of the movies, particularly those involving military and historical events that occurred, contain the hallmarks of the United States’ foreign policy. Furthermore, it is a crucial public diplomacy application in which the American culture is introduced, which is free and opposes individual institutions, pluralist populists, and free American ideals (Aydemir, 2017). In the film “Rocky IV,” a renowned boxer character named “Rocky” and his resistance against a big Russian fighter named Ivan Drago is just one example of soft Power in Hollywood movies. The film was a huge hit, not only because of its cinematic qualities but also because of its “heroic” American stand against the cold-hearted and brutal communist Russians.
In this light, Rambo (1982) may be seen as another Hollywood film that expresses the same concerns. The Vietnam War is still regarded as one of the most significant traumatic events in contemporary American political history (Shah, 2014). In this regard, it might be claimed that Sylvester Stallone’s stand-alone heroic performance brilliantly restored the film’s damaged image of the United States. Another example is The Patriot, a film about the American Revolutionary War that speaks to the subconscious and sentiments of the audience. The film highlights persons who inspire those who share the civic culture, as well as their values, worries, and beliefs. Patriot, like the storylines of previous films, popularizes foreign aspects of American public culture.
Considering the evidence that will be presented below, the American film industry is currently more globally powerful than it was when the notion of soft power was first articulated 30 years ago. Examine, for reference, the most popular films in 1989 and 2016. In both of these years, a Batman film and a Ghostbusters film were released. The fact that 22 of the top 30 films in 1989 made an overwhelming of their money in the United States, compared to just one of the top 30 films, got the bulk of its box office in the United States in 2016 (Nelson, 2021). X-Men: Apocalypse, Warcraft, and other blockbusters made more than 70% of their money outside of the United States.
As a result, the transition from Hollywood blockbusters with a largely local audience to films with a primarily worldwide audience amplifies American soft Power and, as a result, enhances the country’s total relative power share. After all, the United States’ soft power asset of culture, in general, is undeniably strong.
Hollywood is the expression of a mental process for the political aims
Apparent cultural propagation techniques in Hollywood films explain America’s soft Power in transmitting desired messages to the public and convincing them, therefore initiating a public diplomacy execution in the usage of a film with multifaceted propagation of people (Aydemir, 2017). Hollywood is the culmination of a mental process aimed at furthering America’s political objectives. In this regard, films are made with foreign policy goals in mind, with values evoking and also many behaviors aimed at the core demographic.
As a result, Hollywood films have reason to criticize totalitarian and fascistic governments as a source of political inspiration, forming a foundation for social demands and significant attribution to American values, and most importantly, they cover all walks of life with Americanism deconstructing ethnocentrism (Örmeci, 2015). As a result, the United States uses propaganda as a strong weapon with the goal of establishing a negative image of the United States and portraying itself as a representation of everything associated with humanism.
The Paradox of the US Soft Power
There has been a fall in hard power metrics connected to the economy and military in the United States, as well as a host of problems surrounding Nye’s soft power triad of culture and foreign policy (Nelson, 2021). Looking back over the years since the conclusion of the Cold War, the United States has really used a lot of “hard power” across the world. Just to look at the facts from two wars in Iraq, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, as well as bombings in Iraq and Syria, to name a few, and the deployment of drones. Soft Power alone was not enough to prevent a war or military involvement in any of these situations.
Additionally, the recent events of rising protests for racial and gender equality, abortion bans, and US involvement in Taliban conflicts in Afghanistan are current indicators of the wrong choices America is making, and as a result, America fails not only on the international stage but most importantly in the eyes of Americans. Citizens are accustomed to hearing from individuals who despise, adore, or fear America, but an increasing number of people are feeling sorry for the country. If aesthetics are important, the United States now does not resemble the country to which others aspire (McTague, 2020).
Even when the United States was at its most vulnerable, Washington ruled supreme. Any moral or strategic problem it confronted, there was a feeling that its political vitality paralleled its military and economic power, that democracy was so firmly embedded that they could ultimately recover (Aydemir, 2017). It was as though the entire concept of America mattered, like an engine propelling it forward despite any other flaws. And such a concept was strongly supported by Hollywood and the cinematographic culture that propagated prosperity and the American dream. Notwithstanding the recent major flaws of the American government to sustain the nations’ peace, The United States’ reputation as a free and democratic country among foreigners that are not involved in political issues has not changed much.
Foreigners and inhabitants of the United States continue to love the country of freedom, demonstrating the deeply embedded culture produced by Hollywood films, despite the recent events, due to the fact that the political states and interferences do not contradict the image they have already established. It is especially true for the developing countries, as their approach is that despite all the flaws America is facing, the country is still much more democratic and opportunistic than the one they are living in (McTague, 2020). Drawing on the ideas presented above, the aid of the film in the dissemination of a US perspective of what a free and democratic existence may entail, but only if individuals viewing understand the significance of those ideals to them.
Since Nye’s introduction of the soft power idea in 1989, it has gained traction as a valuable lens for gaining a more nuanced view of, among other things, the US’s dominating position at the conclusion of the Cold War. However, the world’s power structure has shifted substantially since then. Despite the United States’ decreasing influence, American films continue to be extremely popular in other nations. Outside of the country, contentious governmental choices and local protests do not appear to have a substantial impact on America’s image. As a result, it can be said that the idea of soft power as an instrument for foreign policy has succeeded in achieving its major goal of projecting a positive image of a free and democratic America in comparison to other countries that is far superior to that of post-Soviet countries.
Aydemir, E. (2017). Use of Hollywood as a soft power tool in foreign policy strategy of the United States of America.
Güzelipek, Y. (2018). The implementation of usa’s soft power via Hollywood: Looking back to cold war. Journal of Süleyman Demirel University Institute of Social Sciences, 32.
McTague, T. (2020). The decline of the American world. The Atlantic.
Nelson, T. (2021). Captain America? On the relationship between Hollywood blockbusters and American soft power. Globalizations, 1–13.
Örmeci, O. (2015). Hollywood: A tool for American “soft power” or A “globalbrand”?. TEDx Talk.
Shah, R. (2014). Is US monopoly on the use of soft power at an end? BBC News.