American TV shows help limit extremism in Saudi Arabia

The cables Wikileaks has put out contain all sorts of interesting information. According to the Telegraph, some American cultural products, such as Desperate Housewives, The David Letterman Show, and Friends, are valuable forces in combating jihad in Saudi Arabia:

In a message sent back to Washington DC, officials at the US Embassy in Jeddah said the shows, starring Jennifer Aniston and Eva Longoria, were successfully undermining the spread of jihadist ideas among the country’s youth.

Such programmes, broadcast with Arabic subtitles on several Saudi satellite channels, were part of a push by the kingdom to foster openness and counter extremists, according to the cable…

The diplomatic cable was headed “David Letterman: Agent of Influence,” referring to the US chat show host who is also being broadcast to a Saudi audience.

The May 2009 cable said: “Saudis are now very interested in the outside world and everybody wants to study in the US if they can. They are fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before.” American sitcoms and chat shows were said to be finding a popular audience even in remote, conservative parts of the kingdom.

I’m glad such shows can be put to use – but this probably wasn’t a use that American TV executives expected…

On a more serious note, this highlights how American cultural products can be exported to other countries. Whether these shows reflect “American culture” can be debated but they certainly can introduce new ideas and values. Our military power might be impressive but American TV, movies, music, and more often have their own powerful influence.

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