I think it’s time for the State Department to admit they’re just not trying anymore. Late last month saw the State Department’s first ever “virtual ambassadors” organize an international jazz festival … on Second Life … to help the world better appreciate American culture.
Second Life? Come on, guys – that’s not even phoning it in.
It was modeled after a series of Cold War international jazz concerts sponsored by the State Department and using America’s finest jazz musicians of the time as cultural ambassadors to the South America, the Middle East, and Asia.
The Second Life event was co-sponsored by the University of Southern California, naturally, because … well … only in California. We are, after all, the dark heart of social networking.
The Department of State and USC’s 8 hour “Second Life Virtual Vibe Fest 2007” was intended to engage international audiences. It included streaming video of live jazz performances, “virtual” live performances (is that even a concept?), and a panel discussion on how to promote American values oversees through Jazz … an art form that America no longer values.
It included such fascinating discussions as this one, taken from the event’s Second Life transcript:
[7:14] Mishie Sands: not enough guys dancing today!
[7:15] Saranade Kwak: i was trying to get my boyfriend to dance with me but he's a busy bee at the moment
[7:15] Iris Ophelia shouts: /Don't forget to check out the United States Department of State
International Information Programs Bureau at
[7:15] Iris Ophelia shouts: /And visit The University of Southern California Center for Public
Diplomacy at the Annenberg School at http://uscpublicdiplomacy.com/
[7:17] JenzZa Misfit: Applause!!
[7:17] Sin Speculaas: CLAP CLAP CLAP
[7:17] Beth Welles: oh yeah!!!!!!!!!
[7:17] Saranade Kwak: WOOHOOOOOO
Well I’m sure convinced. How about you, Osama?
The irony, of course, is that a Public Diplomacy through Second Life is in fact a perfect emblem for modern American culture: it’s an abstract, artificial construct with an ever increasing reliance on the whimsical, bizarre, and pornographic. It uses novelty to pull people away from real time spent interacting with their literal communities and families. It’s entirely based on commerce, open to laissez-faire commercialization, and is structured in ways that make deep, penetrating conversation difficult (see for yourself, read a transcript in PDF form).
It is, in short, exactly why “they” hate us. It’s also incredibly successful as a movement to change the world, as shown by this report on an attack against the French right-wing Second Life headquarters; and this report about terrorists making plans on Second Life; and even the inevitable Second Life terrorists, which are both sillier and preferable to the real thing.
But what is it changing the world into?
“The medium is the message” Marshall McLuhan taught us, and that’s what the State Department is spreading … the medium and all its attendant “hyperreality.” It could be jazz, punk, funk, electronic, polka, swing, ska, or the blues: it doesn’t matter, all that’s really going to promote is virtuality.
Which is easier than actual work.
“(It) took far less time and effort than if we had tried to do this in real life holding a real event," the Director of Policy for the State Department’s Bureau of International Informational Programs told the media.
Uh … yeah.
Real events are so 20th century. Of course, we won the Cold War.