One is the main reasons that I decided to pursue a masters’ degree in International Communications is that I had a desire to learn about public diplomacy. Proud American that I am, I was eager to learn how to explain American culture and US policies to the world. I was particularly interested in our radio efforts as it is a means of speaking to people in areas where there may not be internet or the media is censored. I must confess that I have been a bit disheartened by the view some of my professors have presented of US public diplomacy. Despite the technical “firewall” between the executive branch of government and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, many foreign nationals see the programming produced by the BBG (such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe) as a tool of American propaganda and inherently untrustworthy.
So I was intrigued when I saw mention on John Brown’s Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Review (great resource for PD news, by the way) of a new online sensation created by none other than Voice of America! “OMG Meiyu” is a series of web videos created by VoA employee Jessica Beinecke, a Caucasian American who learned Chinese at college. In her videos, which she produces herself in her DC apartment, Jessica explains American slang and other terms that may not be taught in English classes in China. Particularly popular is her video for “Yucky Gunk” (see video above), where she teaches her audience the English words for bodily fluids. While the Chinese government blocks many Voice of America programs, it has allowed “OMG Meiyu” to remain posted on Weibo, a Chinese version of Youtube. On the site, Jessica interacts with her 100,000 and growing followers and takes suggestions for new videos.
I have mixed feelings about the popularity of this web series. On one hand, teaching Chinese youth expressions like “BFF” or “TTYL” is not likely to create social change in China, nor does it do much in the way of explaining US policy. But perhaps it can be a means of creating a connection between American and Chinese youth, allowing them to share the same language, the language of (American) pop culture. So perhaps the videos, which seem to be the work of a normal American girl and not the monolithic American government (I wonder how many fans know who funds it), will be able to reach out to a foreign audience in ways that our more traditional (stodgy?) forms of public diplomacy do not.