WikiLeaks Doc says ‘Friends’ More Powerful than Propaganda


The whole WikiLeaks situation has dominated the news during the past several weeks, but as a movie fanatic, one WikiLeaks story in particular caught my eye. News outlets from ABC News to Entertainment Weekly reported this week that one State Department document released by WikiLeaks reveals “the American programming on [privately-owned channels that air American shows] is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that … U.S. propaganda never could.”

The document states that according to unnamed Saudi sources, American movies and TV shows are the most effective at presenting a positive view of American culture in Saudi Arabia. Among the most popular shows and movies listed are “Friends,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Michael Clayton.”

This is a pretty fascinating example of the power of movies beyond entertainment. Movies and TV shows paint a portrait of American life – what we’re interested in, what we value, what kind of relationships we have. “Michael Clayton” is about fighting corruption, something the document says Saudi audiences admire about the film. “Friends” is about a group of people who support and care about each other, just living their ordinary lives. The characters are likable personalities that people can relate to, whether they live in America or overseas.

It’s interesting to think about what other movies and TV shows could present a positive view of American life and values to foreign audiences. How about a show like “Community,” which follows a tight-knit group of friends that vary in age, race and religion? Or a movie like “The Dark Knight,” with its fight against corruption and the glimmer of hope it offers that plenty of good people do still exist?

What do you think? Are you surprised about the WikiLeaks revelation about the impact of American entertainment overseas? What are some other movies and TV shows that present a positive view of American culture, or in contrast what movies or TV shows present a negative view? Sound off in the comments section.

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2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Bev #

    I don’t get it. How could shows like “Desperate Housewives” be considered “presenting a positive view of American culture” to anyone? I haven’t read the W article, but I am thinking there must be more to this.
    Then again, if we were shown a well-done series taking place in, let’s say North Korea, no matter what the subject, maybe we would all want to vacation there, too.
    And maybe it doesn’t have to be positive – maybe it just has to be entertaining – and then our curiosity is aroused.
    What do you think?

  2. Alexa M. #

    “Friends” and “Michael Clayton” I get in terms of positive messages. The doc mentions that Saudi audiences are attracted to the message of supportive relationships that “Friends” portrays and the themes of truth and honesty in “Michael Clayton.” “Desperate Housewives” is definitely more of a head-scratcher. The doc doesn’t go into that one as much, other than to say audiences find the show entertaining and the stars alluring. But I think you’re on to something in terms of entertainment sparking curiosity. Foreign audiences like the show, and it makes them curious about the culture in which it was produced.

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