Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Scattered, smothered, covered, diced diplomacy

I set out yesterday with my little brother to head down to Charleston.  We had an uneventful drive down, the 500 or so miles through Virginia and the Carolinas went pretty quick.  After arrival and unpacking in his new place, we went out for dinner at the ubiquitous Waffle House.

To celebrate our arrival to Chucktown, Harry and I feasted on Southern fare.  I had two eggs over easy, creamy grits and a buttery Texas biscuit.  He had a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit as well as a side of bacon.  We split Waffle House's famous hashbrowns, and had them scattered, smothered (cheese), covered (onions), diced (tomatoes) and peppered (jalepenos).  Of course, we had to split the eponymous waffle, and feasted on a buttermilk chocolate chip version, swimming in butter and syrup.  All washed down with the diabetic life blood of the south: sweet tea.

Oh, Waffle House, God shed his grace on thee. As Undersec for PD, I am going to shut down all American Cultural Centers and replace them with Waffle Houses. Can't think of a better form of American cultural and gastrodiplomacy; there is no better symbol of the south and of good ol' American cultural values.  Thus, I will turn America's ambassadors into short-order cooks.

In all seriousness, sometimes it seems that cultural diplomacy tries a little too hard.  Don't get me wrong, I love jazz and interpretative dance as much as any cultural diplomat, but greasy spoons and diners are such a vivid symbol of American life, and would have been a wonderful thing to have at the eatery at the Shanghai Expo ("Better hashbrowns, better life").  This all fits into my own running discussion (with myself) about doing American public diplomacy that is really drawn from the American public, not frou-frou high culture but good ol' fashioned Americana.

Perhaps I am a populist public diplomat but in true PT Barnum style, I would try to conduct cultural diplomacy ala the country fair. As I have previously written, effective public diplomacy takes a national trait, distills it and communicates it abroad in a tangible fashion that plays on multiple senses. In this regard, nothing signifies the US of A like the county fair.  I would recommend that the US conduct a global country fair the same way that Malaysia set up Malaysian night markets in Trafalgar Square, the Meatpacking District (NYC) and the 3rd Street promenade in Santa Monica, and the way I have counseled Taiwan to conduct night market diplomacy.  This also gets back to a secondary running theme of getting pd buy-in from the heartland of America, and getting Red-State America to realize that public diplomacy showcases their culture too.

This all gets back to the Edward Bernays-PT Barnum School of Public Diplomacy that I am in the process of expanding.  This particular school gets that the way you connect public diplomacy to the public is not through rational explanation but irrational, emotional connections; you don't win hearts and minds through the ears (unless it is with country music), but rather through the stomach and other sensory points.

So, in short, don't laugh too hard at my plans for public diplomacy with a side of biscuits and gravy.

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