The Soft Power of Whitney Houston

Juan Cole:

Houston’s death was front page news in many Arab dailies, and elicited an outpouring of grief from her fans. Arabic newspapers said that the suddenness of her death magnified the shock. Her passing was also commemorated in Arabic on Twitter and Facebook.

Yemeni political activist and dissident Hind Aleryani ( @Dory_Eryani ) tweeted, “When I was a teenager in my room in #Yemen wondering what’s love, #WhitneyHouston was the voice that introduced Love 2 me #IWillAlwaysLoveYou.”

This recollection is a powerful reminder of the reach of American popular culture, and its influence in shaping ideas about, e.g., romantic love in the global South, including the Arab world.

The tragedy was marked in Beirut, the center of Arab pop music. …

Egyptian director Khalid Hagar went political, expressing his grief that Whitney is no longer with us, but Egypt’s military dictators still live. “We will always love you, Whitney, and we will always hate them.” Houston thus stands, for this supporter of the Arab Spring, for beauty and potential cut short.

Houston’s meteoric career made her part of what Joseph Nye has called American “soft power.” The love of world publics for American popular culture translates into favorable views of the US among many people who otherwise would be tempted by anti-Americanism. Nye cautions that the militarism and torture of the past decade threaten that soft power, creating a negative image of the US in the place of the one creative artists often project to the world.

Arab World Mourns Whitney Houston | Informed Comment.

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