So, it seems Mitt Romney wants to cancel Sesame Street, or something. So I thought I would mention what a massive mistake that would be, from the perspective of a foreigner.
When I was growing up, everyone saw American things as definitive. You know the way people see Italy as the home of pasta? Well, in the eyes of my contemporaries, America was the home of everything. All a marketeer had to do was slap a Statue of Liberty on something, and call it ‘American Style’ to give him or her an edge in the market. American style pizza, ice cream, sandwiches, jackets, sports shoes; anything.
For whatever reason this state of affairs arose, it must have had a massive effect on the US economy. You see, most British people don’t think of American movies as foreign films, they are just movies. If a movie is not American, only then is it identified by it’s country of origin. There is no friction, no cultural resistance, to going to see an American film, or watching American television. This has positive economic consequences, but has other surprising effects as well. For example, showing the first episode of ‘The Cosby Show’ in Apartheid-era South Africa meant that, for the first time, it became obvious to the racists that they would lose, and American-style multiculturalism would win.
Sesame Street is shown all over the world, to many millions of people. Whether it is shown in America or not hardly matters: Sesame Street is introducing teeming masses of people to the idea of America as the home of all good things. To American English as the default method of international communication. To American media as the source of entertainment, education and moral guidance. Whether this is a good thing or not – objectively speaking – hardly matters either: it is good for America.
But America needs to keep doing this, and in developing markets, with new generations of consumers. Africa is going to be the fastest growing continent on the planet in the next 20 years, economically speaking. Mozambique alone has enough currently uncultivated arable land to feed the world, and food security is a growing concern of western nations. The Chinese government knows this very well: they have been building dams and schools all over Africa in the last few years. They are working themselves into a position where China is seen as the natural ally and home of all good things.
So America has a fight on its hands for the hearts and minds of the world. But – thankfully – America has Big Bird, who has probably done as much to raise America’s international profile abroad as anyone since Neil Armstrong. Now might not be a good time to get rid of him to save a piddling amount of money.