Think about it for a moment: the book you're reading, the Netflix show you're watching on repeat, the default language on your cell phone, the music you're listening to. Are you aware that these everyday cultural essentials are indirectly vectors of soft power used to attract, seduce consumers and shape their beliefs and ideologies for the benefit of other actors? This may sound conspiratorial, but it's true. Soft power is the ability to captivate others and shape their prejudices and tastes. Soft power is used by global actors as an important tool in their foreign and political policies through many media outlets; it can take years to work. The most prominent and powerful actor in this field is the United States of America that cleverly utilizes Soft Power to promote its ideologies and policies.
Originally, the term was introduced and popularized by Joseph Nye in his book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. According to him, Soft Power is about "co-opting" rather than "coercing", about seducing rather than commanding. Nye identifies three main categories of soft power: culture, political opinion and policy.
Let's look at how America utilizes these categories to extend its influence and ideas, and what the main instruments are.
Culturally, English is one of the five most spoken languages in the world, making it a global language, and essential in many fields and jobs. When communicating with a stranger, we immediately switch to English first, believing that everyone speaks it. American culture is slowly making its way to us through social media, TV shows, movies and more. Without us even realizing it, many American ideas can be implanted in our brains, from fashion to food to lifestyle to the notion of Los Angeles as being the coolest city of all time to fantasies of success. This is not to say that they are false; they are, however, portrayed in a way that attracts and persuades us to believe in this perfect image of a country.
Politically, soft power has been used to promote the country since way back. It is essential to note how important propaganda is to the US on the international scale; A great example would be the aid provided by America to help rebuild Europe after the damages of the Second World War. Ultimately, it was seen as a show of progressiveness and generosity, and a demonstration of the power and development of the United States.
Policy wise, the US is considered the biggest promoter of democracy and human rights. Regardless of whether we think it stands for them or not, we cannot deny the effect of this advocacy on America's standing as the world's leading power. Its own liberal democratic capitalist system has made the state a blueprint and inspiration for other governments.
To say the least, Soft Power is a very powerful, intelligent and delicate tool used to indirectly intrigue targeted audiences, particularly through the media. The US has long used it and still uses it to "Americanize" and extend its influence around the world. At times they might’ve failed or shown their bad intentions; Nevertheless, there is no doubt that this influence is pervasive – We all have these American ideologies embedded in our minds without even realizing it. Not to dramatize it, but this really makes you reassess some things, and it’s actually fun and fascinating to catch these details… if not, then I might’ve just ruined your next movie experience.