- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

American pop culture has prompted teenagers in countries with close ties to the United States, as well as countries lacking close ties, to view Americans negatively, says a book to be published in October.

The book — “Learning to Hate Americans: How the U.S. Media Shape Negative Opinions Among Teen-Agers in Twelve Countries” — contends that though teenagers embrace American movies, TV and music, they believe that the violence, crime and sex portrayed in pop culture accurately depict ordinary life in the United States.

“These kids love our popular culture,” said Boston University communications professor Marvin L. DeFleur, who wrote the book with his wife, Margaret, a communications associate professor at the school, based on a study they did last year.

“Using the lessons of the media product, they learn to hate Americans because they seem like despicable people,” he said.

The State Department consulted a preliminary version of Mr. DeFleur’s book this year while studying why negative views of the United States have emerged in recent years, possibly contributing to terrorism.

Ted Baehr, who studies family values and popular culture, said the work of Mr. and Mrs. DeFleur shows how bad impressions created by pop entertainment in the United States are spilling over into other countries and having international ramifications.

“It’s really about how we want the world to see us,” he said.

To do the initial study, surveys in native languages were submitted to about 1,200 middle and high school students in 12 countries: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South Korea, Mexico, China, Spain, Taiwan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Nigeria, Italy and Argentina.

Mr. and Mrs. DeFleur found that teenagers in two Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, held the most negative views.

But Mr. DeFleur said he was surprised that teenagers in South Korea and Mexico — countries with close ties to the United States — had views nearly as negative as teens those in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Nigeria and Italy were the most neutral, while teenagers in Argentina were the only ones to view Americans positively.

The surveys registered the responses of teens to statements such as “Americans are very materialistic,” “Americans are a generous people” and “Americans are generally a violent people.”

Many countries in the survey lack the facilities for producing sophisticated films and TV, but they do have cinemas, TVs and VCRs capable of showing Hollywood entertainment. Thus, many young people gravitate toward the high-budget thrillers produced by American entertainment companies, Mr. DeFleur said.

He said teenagers in Tehran like buying rugs imprinted with Elvis Presley’s face, and that Madonna’s albums are best sellers in Riyadh.

But with increasing levels of violence and sex in films and TV shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City,” coupled with foreign discontent with the world’s sole superpower, teenagers have developed these negative views, he said.

Because Americans value freedom of expression, Mr. DeFleur said, not much can be done to ameliorate the problem.

But, he said, two things could help: encouraging foreign governments to teach young people that not all popular culture is accurate, and encouraging international entertainment companies to clearly label potentially offensive content and restrict how much they put out.

The study’s authors acknowledged that their research was not scientifically based but said a scientific analysis of views in countries such as Saudi Arabia would have been impossible.


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