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Weapons of Mass Distraction: Soft Power and American Empire

by Matthew Fraser

Weapons of Mass Distraction ends with the words “yes, things really do go better with Coke.” That sentence sums up both the thesis and the moral of National Post editor Matthew Fraser’s most recent book. His thesis is that the export of American popular culture is an essential component of American foreign policy. Cultural exports constitute “soft” power (as opposed to the “hard” power of American military and economic force) and are collectively a key strategic resource that has become increasingly instrumental in a world dominated by “the American Empire.” His conclusion is that this is a good thing.

Weapons of Mass Distraction is divided into four sections, each of which details the international history of, respectively, American movies, television, music, and fast food. Entire books have been written on each of these topics, but within the space constraints of dealing with them in one work, Fraser has provided good historical sketches of the inter-relationship between U.S. foreign policy and the interests of representative players in each area.

Although he doesn’t hide his own biases, Fraser never beats the reader over the head with them. However, the strength of his opinions does limit his powers of analysis. For example, Fraser is quick to attribute most foreign opposition to American cultural imports to base economic motives, especially in Europe. He barely considers that these opponents might perceive American culture as a genuine threat to their own cultural values. And even if the opposition is primarily economic, one is tempted to ask: what’s wrong with that? Fraser no doubt has an intelligent and thoughtful answer to that question, and Weapons of Mass Distraction would have been a stronger book had he shared that answer with us.