Two things made America more influential and awe inspiring than any other nation on the face of the earth: cowboy movies and Michael Jackson.
Long before the American Tomahawks, B-52s and the rest of the American weapons used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, Michael Jackson entered the houses of the nations across the Middle East and Central Asia.
Some say these Muslim nations want war with America. That’s typical Langley hogwash. Long before Karen Hughes and Don Rumsfeld came up with kooky concepts of public diplomacy, and long before Pentagon and State Department established offices for outreach to Muslims, this icon of modern American culture was welcomed in a region that knew little about American culture or simply didn’t care.
America didn’t need men with twisted minds and Darth-Vader plans for global domination to open the doors for American supremacy [this is for you, Richard Perle]. It happened anyway thanks to Jackson, Stallone and Madonna.
Those who knew one face of America – Reagan at the time – and vehemently hated it became crazy about another American face. I am sure they could never reconcile this contradiction deep in their hearts. But it was there, the two sides coexisting side by side.
Aside from our region, Michael’s music opened the doors of the Soviet Union and China to everything American, not to mention Africa, East Asia and the rest of the world. Before his album, Thriller, for example, only members of the elite in some of these nations knew the truth: that there is another side to America besides imperialism, a good side.
It seems so ordinary now. But, really, think about it; closed and proud societies warmly welcoming a completely new and alien culture of a country whose foreign policy was viewed suspiciously by many.
Right about the same time as Michael’s Thriller and the moonwalk, there came Sylvester Stallone with his accent, Tom Cruise with Top Gun, and then ‘USA for Africa’: forty-five American singers joining in a song for the victims of the African drought. The song, We Are The World, gave the world this amazing message about an American nation striving to help the needy. Even the best American diplomats and the best image consultants couldn’t buy the goodwill that these ordinary good Americans created for their nation.
Sure, while this was happening, CIA was secretly supporting terrorist militias in Latin America and Africa, pushing Iraq to declare war against Iran, destabilizing governments and exploiting the pure passion and the blood of the Afghans to settle an American score with the Soviets. America’s governments were doing dirty things. But it was the good side of America that the people of the world preferred, the one that was really launched by Michael Jackson and others. The Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union didn’t exactly crumble thanks only to America’s gung-ho politicians or military strategists. They crumbled because of the enduring power of the image that Jackson and Madonna and Tom Cruise and Stallone and others spread worldwide.
This is the lesson that America desperately needs to learn today. Jackson almost launched America’s cultural supremacy in the digital age. CIA or the US military used it, not caused it. So who is the real asset?
Enough of US government using Hollywood celebrities to get back at China like Stephen Spielberg did when he canceled a contract for Beijing Olympics last year in a theatrical move to politicize Tibet; and enough of the US government using YouTube and Twitter as political tools in its not-so-innocent battle with Iran.
The Americans need to bring that time back when they came together for something like ‘USA for Africa’, an effort devoid of any political mileage, like the search for cheap oil in African jungles, which is what they’re doing now.
This ugly and militarized side of America has eclipsed everything else in the past decade. Let’s remember that Washington’s entire might in Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t and couldn’t generate the kind of real goodwill that America received with Jackson’s death.
Your Jacksons are far more appealing than your Tomahawks. Get it. Or beat it.