Recently on a long flight, I opted to watch “Robocop 2014,” which started with Samuel Jackson, as a TV personality, challenging America as to why every other country in the world was taking advantage of the latest law enforcement technology (robots in various sizes and shapes) to fight crime – while America was not. He then went to a reporter “on the streets of Tehran (Iran)” as the scene played out with a military-style “sweep” by ground and airborne robots as local men (arguably true “freedom fighters”) were preparing to fight this horror that had taken over their streets. About ten minutes into the film, I turned it off, pondering just how this plays with non-Americans scattered around the world as they see this vision of American-made robots bringing “peace and stability” to their communities and homes. Egad. I might also note that “Hollywood,” and its various TV shows, movies, and violent video games, has consistently gotten a pass when it comes to violence in our own country and the myopic focus solely on calls for gun control. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to our image around the world.
An Afghan friend tells me that his fellow countrymen are always looking into the sky, wondering when the next American drone was going to fire a Hellfire missile or otherwise bring death and mayhem upon them from the skies. In October 2001, he was there as the Afghan people welcomed America and the removal of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Since that time, when 80% of the population approved of and welcomed Americans, that welcome has been worn down to about 20% – much of that reversal being attributed to drones. I can only imagine how “Robocop 2014” would play in the theaters of Kabul or Kandahar, Karachi or Lahore – or in any other country where people ponder whether we are a friend or an enemy.
Between this reality in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Hollywood’s various “exports” throughout much of the globe, America’s image around the world has steadily declined – and we are doing it to ourselves. America’s foreign policy needs a profound makeover – and Hollywood needs to be a proactive collaborator in that effort. Of course, that brings us to the First Amendment (free speech)… a right we hold dear. “With rights come responsibilities” is a quote that comes to mind, but how do we find that “sweet spot” between our liberties and responsibilities regarding our products and behavior?