The branding campaign of America as the land of freedom was brainwashing.
When I was young, American programming had considerable presence in Japanese television broadcasting. Every evening, American TV shows would appear on the black and white screen, fascinating the people in my living room. Programming was diverse, and included sitcoms, Westerns, and shows about hospitals, crime and the supernatural. Many of the stories would reach a conclusion in each episode, making them fun to watch and easy to understand, unlike the Korean dramas that have been taking younger generations by storm.
When I was called an “America worshiper” for watching so many American programs, I had to admit my accuser was right. Without being aware of it, I had come to think of the U.S. as a good country.
Looking back on the postwar period, the construction of postwar Japanese culture — a baton passed from Douglas MacArthur to the Rockefeller Foundation — was led by the United States. On the surface, the rationale seems to have been to prevent Japan from once again turning into a fascist nation. However, the real objective was a response to the Red Scare; to keep Japan away from communism, from influence by the Soviet Union. Japanese citizens across the country were bombarded with television shows, movies and music promoting America as the land of freedom.
“This is brainwashing, right?” I remember asking a teacher when I was still a student. The teacher responded that efforts to influence become influential only if you choose to be influenced. I felt as if Japan had become part of America, and America was just some enlarged version of Japan. Worshiping America was like worshiping our own Japan.
Nevertheless, the U.S. is great at propaganda. In comparison, China’s propaganda is incredibly crude; even though technologically grounded in the 21st century, the contents haven’t moved beyond the 19th. Do 1 billion people actually believe such propaganda? It’s almost impossible to believe that no one questions information circulating in many regions of China that would be questioned by the broader world.
Even the messages China sends out for global consumption are childishly executed. Japan employed China’s method of justifying itself by criticizing Western supremacy and provoking conflict between the East and West in the early 1980s. To be using exactly the same method today shows how little China has learned. A prominent university professor in China is said to have shown British colleagues a document accusing the American CIA of creating COVID-19, and asking that they sign the document in agreement — much to the astonishment of those British colleagues. That a professor at an elite university in a huge country like China is operating at that intellectual level is no laughing matter; it is actually frightening.
Why America Is So Skillful at Propaganda and China Is Not
There are critical thinker intellectuals in China, too, but they either stay silent or are punished as soon as they speak their minds. Professors who carry out their work, believing in the Communist Party’s policies without question and parroting its official views, form a majority. It’s not that they fear a reign of terror; they’ve just stopped thinking.
What makes Chinese propaganda so crude? The foundational discussion required for producing a piece of propaganda is missing. The result is a cheap and quick production without real substance and which is rather meaningless.
America, on the other hand, discusses everything it makes, in addition to making ongoing assessments from various perspectives. Going back to my earlier discussion about TV shows, in the U.S., it takes a considerable amount of time to prepare for even one episode of a serial drama. It’s normal to have a team of directors who change every show, even if there is only one writer. There may be misgivings about whether this method makes it difficult to maintain consistency throughout the program, but actually, thorough conversation beforehand and synchronizing ideas among those planning and those directing ensure consistency.
The U.S. is known for being a nation of individualism, but I suggest that it is more appropriate to call it a nation of teamwork. Individualism has meaning only if you belong to a team and put in your best effort for the team. The team organizer works to understand everything and to ensure the team functions positively. Those who report to the leader work diligently in their respective fields. Problems, when they arise, are reported in detail to the leader who resolves them. Those who can’t complete assignments effectively are sometimes fired immediately.
There is no evidence to show that the American way would work in other countries. Because everyone has been given a task within a certain field, there can be increased motivation but also increased stress from fear of slipping up and getting fired. This stress is America’s driving force; few Japanese people would be able to follow this model.
That being said, there is a world in which this model works, even in Japan: the world of professional baseball. Those attracted to professional baseball are also attracted to the American way, whether they realize it or not. Baseball is one thing that connects Japan to the U.S. Surprising that few people acknowledge it.
*Editor’s note: The article is one in a series.
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