Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Now is tutorial session: The decline in America's reputation - Keith Reinhard w/ Pattie Sellers - What imact does it have on the U.S. and American brands? Reinhard will speak about a major new study.

Here are my notes. They are rough notes and may be a bit inaccurate or unclear.

Most people associate America with American's brands. Interesting to note that Carly Fiorina said that she didn't think that she suffered from America's bad imaged in response to a question by Martin Varsavsky.

"If you must talk, can you at least lower the volume..." - advice by foreigner to American about their voice.

The presentation made it clear that people outside of America have many negative feelings towards America and that most American's didn't care. The question they are addressing is, what can businesses in America do?

Tools to help Americans behave seems to be one of the answers...

Singaporean participant : suggesting that it's not just behavior of individuals, but that financial and business decisions made in America impact people in other countries that also affects opinions about America.

It's not business that's the biggest problem, it's US policy. It's the people who can cause changes in US policy and the only way to get people to change is to get them to understand what people think of the US. Most people don't know.

Chinese participant : doing all this work to get US image back will never get the image back to the original big brother image of the US and maybe the goal should be to just become a global peer.

African participant : is there a way for cultural exchange that is less superficial than movies and brands. Maybe people are more similar than we think. How about exchange programs that allow people to live together.

Japanese participant : Q: To what extent does change of government affect how people hate America. A: Resentment has grown over a long period of time, not just during this administration. "Insensitive, arrogant and materialistic." These issues we can address without just government change. Business could address non-government issues and also influence government.


In most cases, I would say that what others think about America is none of our business. Our country doesn't exist in a vacuum, so of course we must take responsibility for how our decisions and policies effect the rest of the world and our environment. However, I wonder if getting lost in a tangle of discussion about who thinks what, might be a useless exercise for Americans.

We are beginning to wake up to the fact that some of our greatest enemies are within. And I think we realize that the only way to win the "War on Terror" is not through brute force, but through introspection and subsequent positive action.

Bush was dead wrong to ignore and isolate our allies. But I think we will remain justifiably suspicious of global organizations who do not hold protection of our sovereignty and of our best interests as a priority.

Mike B your logic and rhetoric are confused. And scary.

America, through not only foreign policy but also economic trade, is "making it's presence felt", to put it VERY mildly, everywhere. As such it is imposing itself, and affecting the politics, economies and cultures of the world. It seems to feel it has not only the right but the obligation to so. This is called ideological imperative. It comes from your deep religious leanings.

Second, whether the enemy is within or without, America would be much better served taking a step back and figuring out *why* it has enemies. Actually, that step has already been done. Listen to your intellectuals and artists and thinkers.

Third, global organisations exist precisely to keep anyone from thinking they have any kind of sovereignty! America speaks of freedom and democracy and yet is acting like it rules the world like some sort of king! Your founding fathers are spinning in their graves, i assure you.

And, of topic, may I suggest you start a blog of your own? You seem to have a lot to say seeing as you comment on 90% of Joi's entries... :)

Mike B, it would be cool if you started a blog. But I do appreciate your comments here. I personally don't mind that you have a lot to say here. ;-)

Boris has a good point -- the rest of the world should *not* 'hold protection of US sovereignty and its best interests as a priority', necessarily.

Sometimes, what's good for the US is not good for other countries, and assuming that all states should do what's good for the US smacks of colonialism (especially for countries that were once colonies).

Studying in Barcelona for six months around 8 years ago, my classmates were from a variety of European countries including Turkey and the Czech Republic. We also had representation from Japan. I was one of a three Americans in the class. Becoming good friends with folks from France, The Czech Republic and Spain I asked them point blank their impressions of Americans. The answers were not kind, to say the least. By becoming friends, however, those impressions were quickly dissolved because they got to know me, an American, as a person. They did not base their belief on assumption and image.

Speaking as one American, I did not assign generalizations to the makeup of a person only by the country they came from. The relationships I developed were based on how we interacted as people seeing each other almost every day and having great conversations. Their differing points of view were a breath of fresh air, not that I agreed with all they believed. This did not keep me from enjoying their company and them mine.

I agree with African participant. By living together, assumptions are quickly dispelled. Interacting in a personal matter will play a vital role in eradicating the ill conceived generalization of Americans and all other nationalities.

So empire is bad for business (except for military contractors). It's time for American businesspeople to demand peace, and not just by dumping Bush. Kerry needs to understand that the U.S. has no business with troops in Japan, Korea, Germany, et al, much less as invaders elsewhere, and that such unwelcome presence undermines the real businesses of America.

Joi -

Thank you for your compliment, but I think I just have a big motor mouth these days. I'll make a concious effort to keep it down a little after this. Thanks again for your willingness to let me speak my mind, though.

Boris: Mike B your logic and rhetoric are confused. And scary.

Fair enough. If I were an Iraqi, I would definitely agree with that analysis! When I made my previous comment, I should have specified that I was thinking about the UN when siting "global organizations". Americans, I think, have to be careful about jumping back into bed with global organizations like the UN, especially if it's just a way to atone for our previous transgressions. How relevant is the UN to us and to the rest of the world, really? They weren't able to do much to stop the Iraqi war tragedy. America just rolled over them.

Peace efforts with North Korea, for example, are mainly being conducted by the interested parties: North and South Korea, Japan, the US, etc. Why is it that the UN was involved with Iraq , but not with North Korea? Is it that Iraq is a "UN issue" for some reason, while North Korea shouldn't be classified as such? It's confusing to me.
As I see it, the UN has failed the litmus test for leadership and relevance. That's why I get nervous about global organizations.

Boris: Second, whether the enemy is within or without, America would be much better served taking a step back and figuring out *why* it has enemies. Actually, that step has already been done.

Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more. That's why I say that what others think about us should be none of our business. Our main focus should be on cleaning house, without constantly referring to a global score sheet. Once we've done that, we will be a much better global neighbor and our reputation will have improved a bit. How do we begin cleaning house?

Well, at the moment, we are in the midst of a very serious crisis over here. The administration is abusing the power to classify, abusing the authority of the President and the Secdef at Guantanamo, and they *rushed* to a war predicated on lies. Their abuse of power in general has cost the lives of thousands who did not have to die and they spent billions in national treasure. This crowd has tarnished our most cherished ideas of freedom and justice -- they are a true facist horror. The first thing we have to do is to make sure these jokers stay in office no longer than January 20th, 2005. Then the rest of the world will know that the American people have done their job and that we are actually very concerned about our reputation.

By the way, I must admit that I shamefully count myself as one of the millions who stood by and said nothing as the Iraq war started. My soul is sold, but I'm working hard to get it back.

Hi Mike B.
Just to make sure, I didn't mean you shouldn't speak your mind here! :)

I agree with you, except for two parts.

The UN seemingly has been rendered .. well, lame at least, but only at the hands of the U.S.
Now I don't know how these things work exactly but I imagine the UN intervenes when it sees a need to or is asked to... The world made it known that they did not want the US going into Iraq... Basically, you don't call in a negotiator for every situation, right? The current US admin steamrolled the UN to weaken it so they can go on realizing their doctrine (originally written by Wolfowitz in '92, and rejected until post 9-11).

Second, i do not think "Our main focus should be on cleaning house, without constantly referring to a global score sheet." is realistic. The U.S. IS global, and every little thing it does has huge repercussions globally. Y'all are gonna hafta do both at once!


Boris - Well, after a day of thinking about your last post, I suppose I can't really disagree with what you said. (Damn it.)

And no! I didn't think you were trying to stifle me or anything. Your responses were intelligent and they kept me on my toes. Thanks.

OK Now you two can hug...

Hey, cool! Thank you! :)
(I can hear Joi giggling...)

Now I must admit something shameful: I never read the actual blog entry above! I essentially helped derail the topic! Sorta.

So on that note, here is my comment. Bear with me, I love making sweeping generalities when they serve my purpose...

"Most people associate America with American's brands."
Yes. This is because America's brands are, to a large extent, it's culture. Whether it is Coke or McDonalds, Brittney Spears or Spiderman, America's culture, overwhelmingly, is markting based: branding. Branding for the purpose of expanding economic goals, which it spreads globally. This is the more insidious way it is subverting the other cultures, and by extension, societies, economies and governments of other nations.

Worse, it does this not in the honest name of capitalism, but in the name of some vague concept of democracy, one which it itself is now completely losing (ahem).

You ask most foreigners what they like about America and they will mostly answer 1- something vague and unrealistic about "the land of freedom/opportunity", 2- Coca cola and 3- Hollywood movies. Then ask what they dislike and they will allude to politcal bullying, two-facedness, etc... These things are related. The connections are sadly just not apparent to most eyes... yet.

The interactions of the people form their culture, culture codified is law, law applied is governance. When the culture is subverted and redirected for economic purposes, you have not only corrupted the people, but the whole chain up. This is why corporations hold more power than most governments, and why the consistent decline of American democracy is hinged on the interactions between the people with money and the people in governance ("politicians").

"Some people call you the elite. I call you my base." Those are the words of an usurper of the throne, if I ever heard 'em.

And this is where we get to the core of the matter; why it is neigh impossible to revert the trend: greed. Everybody *wants* the economic might, but do not realise that the current systems cannot support it without totally undermining, in the long run, universal human rights which we have fought for so long and finally thought we'd achieved.

The machine is broken but it continues to churn ahead full throttle. The engine will seize, and WE, the people, need to be the sugar in the gas tank. But can we give up our cushy plastic lifestyles?

I should get my own weblog.. oh wait, i do... ;)

May I jump?

not to argue about many thoughtful comments which have been made already but more to share a life experience.

I'm French. So it classifies me automatically as this nastry French people who have refused to support the USA troops attacks in Iraq. I have even heard in Boston, last year "Oh we should drop Bombs on France on our way to Iraq". It's too much caricatural... but it's still something I heard when I was hiding silently in the corner of a cafe.

It classifies also like a very proud culture, which makes people think "we are snobish" and maybe that's a bit true.

But all of that it's just an introduction to my point.

Being a child in France, with a strong local culture, with a international political tradition and awareness through the whole French population, I have seen:

- McDonald taking over many nice cafes and restaurants, sometimes installing them in historical buildings of our cities.

- I have seen a load of crap USA TV series on TV and movies.

- I have seen USA Brands invading everything.

During all my childhood, I have seen all of that... without noticing it except if you took time to think about it.

When I became a student, I went to study in Montreal, Canada (part of North America). It was like a shifted reality becoming true. All my consumerings, my TV watching etc were becoming true suddenly. A kind of familiarity with still a foreign impression. The first time I went to visit USA, it was even worse. It was really surprising, disturbing, funny and scary at the same time.

My comment is not to reproach USA to invade everything in other countries. I think French people resist quite well by their own production locally, but more to make the point that USA citizens are almost not in contact at all with foreign cultures. How many movies from other countries are showing in USA Cinemas, how many brands from overseas are reaching USA, etc.

USA is often a closed world which imposes itself outside without accepting and/or favorizing the input from overseas. Look at USA TVs. It's scary to see how much (almost none) of international politics is given in the news.

All of that combined with a very high (religious) patriotism has a desastrous effect.

I'm French, living in Montreal, Canada, travelling a lot, unfortunately not enough.

PS: America is NOT USA. USA is part of north America, like Canada or Mexico. Another sign of silent cultural imperialism.

Well, heck. Since this thread is now more derailed than justice for the Iraqi people, how about some on-topic levity?

"This Land!" from JibJab.

Jibab doesn't work in Safari and Firefox

As a father who has had to stand up to gang punks and thugs in my neighborhood on more than one occasion, I understand full well why we had to act against Saddam. Bin Laden is a small threat compared to what Saddam would have become with the wealth generated from the ocean of oil Iraq sits atop and I don't think Vladimir Putin was lying when he warned Bush of Saddam's intent to attack the U.S. prior to 9/11. Real friends will step up and watch your back when you need them. Bush had nothing to gain by calling the U.N. a glorified "country club" and by engendering the wrath of his "friends" by exposing their corruption and cowardice. Which is precisely why I am proud to call him my friend and give him my vote to continue on as our Commander in Chief.