What is soft power and how culture and art work as a country’s soft power
At its most basic, power represents “the ability to do things and control others, to get others to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do”. Joseph Nye of Harvard University wrote about it in his seminal work on the changing contours of American dominance after the Cold War. Nye, furthermore, discussed a different, or “soft” form of power, which is to freely attract others to your position by instilling in them empathy or jealousy, self-identification or desire.
Culture, both high and low, reflects and indicates the meaning and values of a society, which together with its practices and policies constitute its basic soft power assets. Nye had also said that with soft power, “the best propaganda is not propaganda”. Nye popularized the term in his 1990 book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power and explained it further in his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.
Power, according to Nye, is the ability to influence the behavior of others in order to achieve desired results. You can achieve this in different ways: by threatening them, tricking them into paying, or luring and co-opting them to get what you want. The soft power is in persuading others to want the same results as you.
How can art contribute to shaping the soft power of a country? One of the three important components of a nation’s soft power, according to Nye, is its culture, the way it presents itself and attracts other countries and individuals. This can include its history and the story it tells, as well as newer, more fluid aspects of culture like media, digital assets, and film. China and much of Asia have been instrumental in popularizing martial arts like Kung Fu, Wushu and Muay Thai around the world and have become an iconic East Asian art. Unlike in the United States, Europeans’ love of football reinforces their soft power on a global scale, while major US sports, such as baseball, are largely unpopular on the world stage.
Back in India, zero, logic, geometry, basic algebra, calculus, probability, astronomy and other concepts originated in ancient India and were later brought to the West by Arab mathematicians. One of the greatest works of art in history, the Taj Mahal, which is listed among the wonders of the world, contributes to India’s position in the soft power index.
In recent years, Indian films have played an important role in promoting Indian culture to the world. Since the release of Awaara, a huge success in Russia, Indian cinema has developed beyond its borders. Bollywood films are widely viewed throughout Central and Western Asia. Indian films have also found audiences in eastern societies and are now becoming more popular in the west.
Bollywood festivals now take place in a number of cities while Bollywood dance groups perform during New Year’s Eve celebrations, treatment that other non-English film industries do not receive. Another illustration of India’s soft power in the modern world is the popularity of the ancient Indian school of yoga in the world.
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