“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience, but where
he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The American values evolved from the historical background of the United States and its inhabitants. The first colonizers, who arrived to “the land of the free”, the gold miners, embodying the “American dream”, the anti-slavery and minority rights’ movements – have all contributed to the list of the basic American values. The latter have not been stated as such and each U.S. inhabitant would probably name a slightly different list of values, due to the subjective nature of the issue. Nevertheless, the basic list of the most important things: freedom, equality, democracy and humanity, individualism (privacy), wealth, time – remains the core of the values system of any American. Certainly, the set of values has somewhat evolved in the course of centuries, especially due to the XXth-century revolutionary changes in politics, human rights, ecology, financial spheres, technologies, etc. The rapid changes in most parts of life has made the Americans become more flexible and compromising in their attitudes and values. And mass media has played an important role on this “evolution of values”.
The things we hear, see and read through the mainstream media basically question the validity of the political, economical, ecological and social activities through the prism of the core American values. Let us now take a closer look at the degree, to which the U.S. media reflects the mainstream values of the U.S. nation.
Numerous cases of human rights violations are being reported daily in the mass media. Such cases take place both in the United States and abroad, where the incidents are often punished not so strictly, as they are under the U.S. legislation. Nevertheless, due to the overall expansion of the American businesses abroad – the violation of rights often deals with the U.S. representatives even indirectly. To illustrate the case of media fussing over the violation of human rights – embodied on the core American values of freedom and equality – I would like to mention the child labor case with “GAP” – the U.S. clothes company. This incident created a mass upheaval of negative judgment towards businesses using cheap labor force abroad to minimize the production costs and increase profits. But what is such behavior rather than exploitation? The extent, to which the modern businesses differ from the slaveholders from the past, has been discussed over and over in all kinds of media. But these values conflict come up against another commonly accepted American value- the materialism.
A more positive example of the media reflecting the mainstream American values is the focus on the success stories of the individuals and enterprises. The ratings and rankings that have become so popular in the recent decades – reflect the achievement and success as the major personal goals (Williams) of the Americans. The possibility to become rich and famous (being ranked in the top-50 in the Forbes magazine or any other honorable edition) reflects the “American dream” so cultivated over decades. The ways of making fortune have no doubt evolved, but the essence remains the same – “in the U.S. everyone has equal opportunities and YOU also can become the tycoon” – this is the message the media gladly delivers us.
There U.S. foreign policy is often discussed in the mass media, especially since the 9/11 and beginning of War in Iraq. The essence of the messages is, though, rather informative than analytical. It seems that the journalists have rather liberal views on the events that take place both in the US and abroad in that context. Hardly anyone tends to analyze the violation of the core American values of freedom, democracy and humanity from that perspective – even despite the shameful cases of violation of human rights, like the infamous Guantanamo “interrogation” of Mohammed al-Qahtani, the currently alleged “20th hijacker” oê the armed forces occupancy of the foreign territories, “in the name of freedom and democracy”, though in fact it is only “motivation for more terrorism is being provided, for more violence and counter-violence”.
“I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land” – wrote Mark Twain in New York Herald, Oct. 15, 1900(.p. 4) on the post-war military occupation of the Philippines committed by US forces it is obvious that not too many things have changed in a century.
It is interesting, how Thomas E. Grouling, Ph.D., Assistant Director of the International Center at Drake University explains the essence of the need to interfere with the activities of other countries: “The belief that Americans should “be all that you can be” emanates from our Protestant heritage. Since the majority of the early settlers were Protestant, they believed that they had a responsibility to improve themselves, to be the best they could be, to develop their talents, and to help their neighbors. These convictions have not only influenced our educational system, but are often reflected in U.S. foreign policy. What some might consider meddling in other people’s affairs, others believe is fulfilling a moral obligation.”
This is the example of the unlawful behavior justification, which is nonetheless quite reliable – an example of journalism supporting some values and passing over in silence the violation of other ones as a compromise for the given conditions. But in the end, we shall all be judged not for what we support in moments of comfort, but for what we defend and value at times of challenge, won’t we?