iDev: American Culture in Africa

Dr. Peter Levine, a Research Scholar at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, whose writings (non-fiction and fiction) I've followed throughout my time at Maryland, suggests here that a 2008 American presidential candidate should make America's image in the world a campaign issue: " [American popular culture] tells the rest of the world that we are a nation obsessed with violence, sex, and consumer goods, lacking spiritual depth. Our movies and music are popular, but people in other countries regard them as low pleasures."

I agree with Levine that we need to present our better side to the world. I even take special interest in his suggestions that American schools have students create 'websites, movies and audio segments.' This would both promote useful skills, and also give young people practice in navigating an emerging world of 'personal media.'

However, from the perspective of a Kampala street, I see a difficult challenge. Within a five minute walk of my house, any Ugandan can rent a pirated American DVD for less than $1, but the only libraries in town cost over $10/month for browsing (not borrowing) privileges, a prohibitive cost for most Ugandans.

How do we transcend this reality? Since 9-11, I've heard several commentators suggest that American Embassies around the world should sponsor free libraries that would have a hybrid collection American and local published works. Of course, these libraries should also support the types of 'personal media' that increasingly define our media consumption.

I see much value for this proposal, and I would love to see more policy ideas from both the public and private sectors that would showcase America’s contribution to literature, politics, art and religion.

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