America’s unparalleled soft power

The red M & M's chocolate cartoon character climbs the Empire State Building. All displayed on a huge video screen at the M & M's World in Times Square, New York City

On my recent visit to New York City, I was captivated by this gigantic video screen outside the M & M’s World in Times Square. I stood gawking at it for 15 minutes as the green, then the blue, then the red M & M’s character took turns to prance around and show off his or her antics. It was then that it struck me — no one can brand, package and sell a product (or an idea) like the Americans can. M & M’s started as just a chocolate in 1941. But the Americans personified and animated the chocolates into delightful cartoon characters and now use them to sell M & M’s bags, mugs, toys, cushions and all kinds of paraphernalia at a spectacular store in New York City. It is doing a truly roaring business.

It was then that I realised — all the talk of the decline of the United States is grossly exaggerated. Can China ever match the soft power and the ingenuity of the United States? Can they produce a Madonna, Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga or Transformers movie? It was deeply ironic that the Americans took a Chinese animal — the panda — and turned it into a hit movie around the globe: Kung-fu Panda. The collective Chinese ego suffered a major blow from this, and it prompted much soul-searching in China over why they could not make a hit cultural product out of their own animal, but the Americans could.

Walking through New York City, you can’t help but feel the sheer verve, swagger and inventive genius of America. Of course it’s easy to focus on the debt problems in the country, the gun crime, the constant political bickering. However, no country is without problems; a country as vast and diverse as America is sure to have many issues. But it remains the greatest nation on earth, with strengths that other countries will find very difficult to replicate or match.

From this, I drew another lesson: we must always look at something holistically, instead of only focusing on its positives or negatives.

I shall reflect further on my American experience in my next post.

The Red M & M's climbs the Empire State

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About gptuitionsg

A dedicated English and GP tutor with First Class Honours from the National University of Singapore, Steven Ooi retired from the profession after a 14-year career during which he was one of the most sought-after private tutors in Singapore. He is the recipient of the Minerva Prize from NUS, which is awarded to the top English Language honours student of each cohort. This website, which has consistently ranked among the top 10 on Google and has received over 530,000 hits, has now been converted into a GP resource site cum listing of recommended tutors. If you are a GP or English tutor who wishes to be listed here, please email Steven Ooi at stevenooi18 @ (remove the spaces). Interested parties will be assessed and interviewed by him, and qualifications will be checked. These procedures are necessary to uphold quality standards. DISCLAIMER: While every reasonable effort has been made to assess the competence and verify the qualifications of recommended tutors here, no guarantees are made and you engage them at your own risk. By using this website, you agree that you will not hold the webmaster Steven Ooi responsible for any consequences — direct or otherwise — that occur in relation with your use of this website.
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2 Responses to America’s unparalleled soft power

  1. Caleb Khoo says:

    Hey Steven, just happened to pass by and saw this very interesting post which I too have been musing about.

    Would you consider Facebook and the Internet to be soft power? Or has it shifted from a cultural force to a corporate business force (which I personally deem to be hard power, for the strength it wields is comparable or perhaps even surpasses military might).

    • gptuitionsg says:

      Hi Caleb,

      Thanks for visiting! I think Facebook, Google, Twitter and their ilk involve a dynamic interaction of soft and hard power. They use their brand and cool factor to attract and co-opt, and through that make profit which can then feed through to the US government in the form of tax revenues and strengthen the country’s hard power. This hard power ie coercive military and economic might can then be used to compel other countries to open up their markets for more US products and services, which will in turn make these countries more receptive to American persuasion i.e. soft power.

      Perhaps America’s great strength is its ability to marry hard and soft power so effectively.

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