Boston U. study shows hatred of Americans

BBy Jennifer Small

The Daily Free Press
Boston University

bOSTON (U-WIRE) – Foreign teens around the world view Americans negatively, and these views will likely add to terrorist acts against the United States in the future, according to a study done by Boston University College of Communication professors.

Professors Melvin and Margaret DeFleur conducted the study, “The Next Generation’s Image of Americans,” on 1,259 middle and lower-class high school students in 12 different nations around the world.

The DeFleurs discovered students in nine of the 12 countries had an overall negative view of the American people. Nations surveyed included Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, South Korea, Mexico, China, Spain, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, Nigeria, Italy and Argentina.

Teens in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain had the most negative attitudes toward Americans, while Argentina was the only nation with somewhat positive views of Americans, according to the study.

One surprising finding was that students in Mexico had negative feelings only slightly lesser than those students in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Melvin DeFleur said there was an easy explanation.

“Very large numbers of Mexicans come to the U.S., both legally and illegally, but [Americans] don’t treat them very well, so they go home to Mexico and tell them that,” he said.

The study, which came out of the DeFleurs’ work with international graduate students, showed that 90 percent of the teen-agers surveyed had never been to the United States, and their only views of American society came from the American media, including television shows, movies, music videos and video games.

“Since most of the students surveyed are unable to travel to the U.S., they build their reality of Americans through media,” said Melvin DeFleur. “The media, seeking greater economic success, keeps pushing the edge of media content.”

“This study is another signal to those of us who produce media content, that it does have a global distribution,” said COM Dean Brent Baker. “What may seem appropriate to a national audience may not be appropriate to an international audience.”

According to the study, a majority of the foreign teens said many Americans were criminals, disrespectful of those unlike themselves, extremely materialistic and likely to dominate other people. American women, in particular, were viewed as sexually immoral. A majority of students in 10 of the 12 countries agreed that “there is little for which I admire Americans.”

These opinions are formed mainly through the American media, where movies and television shows may portray negative images, the study suggests. Both Melvin DeFleur and Baker specifically mentioned HBO’s “The Sopranos” as an example of a show that might produce unflattering images of Americans to foreign teens.

DeFleur and Baker both pointed out that while in the United States, “The Sopranos” is simply seen as a fictional drama series, viewers in foreign countries see accepted killing, drug use, successful extramarital affairs and associate these themes with all Americans, adding to their negative opinions.

International students at BU, however, do not seem to share the opinions of the teens surveyed. Harsha Chigurupati, a CAS sophomore from Hyderabad in South India, said he feels people whose only view of Americans comes from movies, television and magazines don’t have the opportunity to view what real Americans are like.

Chigurupati said he felt people could not make assumptions about Americans unless they have been immersed in the society. Chigurupati grew up in India and traveled to the U.S. for many vacations. He said he never harbored any negative feelings about Americans.

In contrast, Antoine Henry, a COM junior from Paris, France, said some of the French had negative opinions of Americans.

“There is definitely some truth that Americans are portrayed badly through the media in France,” Henry said.

The DeFleurs’ study indicates until the American media is able to portray Americans in a positive light, foreign teens will continue to have negative views of American people, and this will continue to add fuel to terrorism and other such negative acts against the United States.

Melvin DeFleur does not believe, however, that media producers are “an evil empire,” but are simply trying to make a profit and may not understand the unintended consequences of their product.

“We hope that at COM, we can educate people who will be a part of the solution, and not add to the problem,” Melvin DeFleur said.