Video Exercises

Watch the videos below and answer the questions that follow.

The U.S. State Department recently held a video contest that challenged participants to create a video short completing the phrase “Democracy is…” Winners of the contest were treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., New York, and Hollywood. They also enjoyed a screening of the winning videos, exposure within the American film and television industry, and meetings with democracy advocates from the government, the media, and civil society. The video contest was designed to encourage young people to think about the meaning of democracy and its expressions throughout the world.

Democracy Video Challenge

1a. How would you complete the phrase “Democracy is…”? What images would you use to explain your concept of democracy?
1b. Do you feel that your definition of democracy is visible in American political culture today? Why or why not?

American political culture has changed considerably in the past 20 years, particularly with regard to American foreign policy and its relationship with the rest of the world. Your textbook discusses the debates surrounding the issue of “exporting democracy” to other parts of the world; this debate encompasses the humanitarian, economic, and political ramifications of the spread of democratic regimes. The changes in American political culture over the last 20 years have impacted this debate and have affected the role that America plays in the world at large.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, is one of the foremost proponents of shifting the emphasis of American government and political culture to reestablish the country’s relationship with foreign nations whose economic and political power is expanding. In the following video, from a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in May 2008, Zakaria criticizes American political culture for ignoring global issues and for focusing on short-term political benefits at the expense of long-term prosperity.

Fareed Zakaria, the Commonwealth Club
May 27, 2008

2. Do you agree with Zakaria that American political culture needs to reconsider foreign policy in the future and change the way we interact with foreign countries? Does America engage with other countries enough or in a constructive way? Why or why not? Do you see America’s relationship with other countries changing in the near future?

Your textbook discusses the role of comedy television in shaping the political knowledge of young people, citing in particular a 2007 Pew Research Center survey indicating that the audiences of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report tied with the audiences of major newspaper websites as the most knowledgeable about politics and world affairs, with 54 percent of their audiences falling into a “high knowledge group.” While these shows have drawn criticism from journalists for not providing “real” news, they are good examples of how American political culture is reflected and shaped by American pop culture.

To illustrate this, recall that several candidates in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election discussed the changing nature of American political culture using a theme of different “Americas.” Most notably, John Edwards used his “Two Americas” theme early in the race to discuss growing economic differences and diverging political attitudes that he witnessed throughout the country, while the Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin famously remarked on the warm receptions that she and John McCain received in parts of “real America.” Palin’s remarks created a stir in the media and prompted further debate about the nature of American political culture.

Watch the following clip from The Daily Show and answer the questions that follow.

“Quiz: Are You a Real American?”
The Daily Show with John Stewart
Originally aired on Comedy Central, October 20, 2008

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Quiz: Are You a Real American?
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Do you feel that there are considerable differences in American political culture among different geographic parts of the United States? If so, briefly characterize those differences.
3b. How you would describe the political culture (in general) where you live?
3c. What does it mean to be “American”?

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