September 1, 2004

Review: Learning To Hate Americans

Learning To Hate Americans
Authors: Melvin L. DeFleur, PhD. and Margaret H. Defleur, Ph.D.
Publisher: Marquette Books, 2003
ISBN 0-922993-05-X

With the help of their foreign graduate students at Boston University the DeFleurs conducted surveys on over 1300 teenagers in 12 different countries, assessing their attitudes toward Americans. They found the results shocking. It appears that teens around the world believe Americans are extremely violent, criminally inclined, and that American women are sexually immoral. They place most of the blame for such negative attitudes, now aggressively marketed worldwide, on U.S. mass media, especially Hollywood.

They warn that unless something is done to correct the problem, future generations of foreign teenagers will grow up "learning to hate Americans". However, beyond a call for more research on the effects of popular culture, each year, laced with more violent and sexual content, they suggest little in the way of policy. Remarkably, they ignore the enormous body of literature that has accumulated on the subject in a variety of disciplines, some of it focussed on policy and draw only on early pioneers such as Wilbur Schramm and Albert Bandura in their review.

In their own findings, their emphasis on "incidental learning" as an outgrowth of television programming, films, video and computer games, designed for entertainment purposes with youth the primary target audience, is somewhat overstated. Given the wealth of research findings on the subject, some of it based on child development theory pioneered by Erickson, Piaget and Kohlberg, now used not only by early childhood educators but advertising industry industrial psychologists as well, it would be more appropriate to factor in the component of "willful blindness" now practiced by scholars inclined to avoid the terrain of ethical professional practices.

To be silent in the face of the blatant commercial exploitation of children, American or foreign, discrimination against women and evidence of violence perpetrated onto them under the guise that it is "just entertainment", along with other, similar, excesses is to condone it. In which case, sadly one must conclude that the foreign teenagers who participated in the DeFleur study, were not altogether wrong in their impressions of American society.

The Defluers examine the conventional wisdom that unbridled capitalism in the cultural industries, also means freedom of expression for everyone else as well with the reminder that the First Amendment, originally designed to protect political speech has now, more than two centuries later, been extended to protect pornography, foul-mouthed thugs and excesses such as gratuitous violence. They also raise the spectre of an ethical appeal to the industry to "clean up its act" as, in all likelihood a waste of time and correctly refer to the problem of negative attitudes toward Americans as a growing public health problem. We are warned that, without change, future cohorts of teenagers in many countries will be exposed to even more negative depictions of Americans. The inevitable outgrowth will be no cessation of hostilities perpetrated by those who despise the United States and who have learned their lessons from entertainment media.

The key contribution in this book is new evidence of how influential America's largest global export has become. Popular culture, like aerospace technology is now fuelling the gargantuan American economy, sharpening divisions between the haves and havenots worldwide. It is also polarizing attitudes in ever more threatening ways. The powerful influence of both military and communications technology cannot be overestimated. It has outstripped our ability to manage it effectively and is a growing threat to our survival as a species both environmentally and socially. Media scholars must rise to the challenge and learn to do more to address the crises before it is too late.

Reviewed by:
Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chairperson, C-CAVE
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication