Past Program

Sep 23 - Sep 27, 2016

Images of America: Reality and Stereotypes

Session Overview

There are ambivalent, conflicting and contradicting images world-wide of America, its culture, institutions and people. America impacts world wide, and its image is shaped by every available medium. We will describe and discuss the nature and sources of the conflicting images, keeping in mind that the images of America are what they are perceived to be in the eyes of the viewer--no matter what the reality might be.

America, its policies and its people, are seen through many different types of lenses. Some of these lenses, such as the most popular television programs, movies, music and theater, strengthen stereotypes which are anachronistic and undesirable. In many parts of the world, however, Americans are most commonly thought of in connection with current issues emanating from foreign affairs or the use of power, whether political, military, economic or cultural, as well as historic and contemporary interventions and involvement.

Images are by their very nature an integral part of a country's soft power. Aspects of images and perceptions that the superpowers hold of themselves and of each other, and the image others hold of these nations, will be a part of our discussion about how a country shapes its image and develops its images of other nations. Whether accurate or impressionistic, favorable or not, the image of American culture outside the United States is a matter of great consequence to the conduct of foreign affairs, to international commerce and trade, to receptivity or resistance to all aspects of individual and institutional interaction. A primary goal of the program was to look at the conflicting images of America to better understand how America is perceived world-wide and to determine in turn how such images affect its involvement in world affairs.


Participant Profile

This program consisted of 58 participants from 25 countries around the world. They were academics teaching about the United States, from universities in Asia, the Middle East, Central, East and West Europe, as well as the United States. Others were post-doctoral students in the field of American Studies. We also welcomed other individuals working on issues related to America's image, such as journalists and diplomats.

Session Format

There were thematic presentations and panels by distinguished speakers, followed by plenary discussions, as well as topical panels that included participants. Afternoon sessions consisted of small theme-based discussion groups on various topics related to the symposium theme.

Key Questions

  • How do cultural exports such as visual arts, music, tv programs and movies, communicate stereotypes and shape images?
  • In what way do the export and import of universally watched TV shows like CSI Miami and The Simpsons affect the image of America? Why are they so popular, and what sort of image do they foster?
  • Whether myth or reality, how does the proclamation of the idea of American exceptionalism affect the image of America?
  • In what way might mis-representation of America's image for political purposes or from conflicting cultural, economic and religious values be dealt with?
  • To what degree and in what manner should considerations of image and attitudes of and about the United States play a role in the formulation and conduct of foreign relations?
  • How might we best explain the "love-hate" image that many people express about the United States?

Program Goals and Impact

  • The primary goal in this session is to foster intellectual analysis about the nature, origins and implications of the various images of America abroad for dialogue with and by those who teach about the United States
  • An additional goal is to initiate a broader public conversation with professionals, foreign affairs specialists and the media interested in how the image of America affects its relations in the world
  • A major outcome of this session is to foster critical thinking about how images and stereotypes contribute to or complicate relations with others