Selling Amrika

Classic American values will soon be coming to a newsstand near you, courtesy of Hi! Magazine, a product of the US State Department and among the latest in a multimedia, multi-pronged approach to win the hearts and minds of the Arab world.

Hi!’s self-proclaimed mission: to “address issues of universal appeal to young adults — such as family, education, entertainment, technology and sports.” State Department spokesperson Christopher Ross has deemed its goal to “introduce the real face of America.”

In a time of nasty rumors about (gasp!) dubious American foreign policy goals and the like, the time has never been so ripe for such intervention. It seems that in Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo and beyond, misinformation about America and Americans abounds.

Substantive issues taken on by Hi!’s staff include sandboarding, yoga, the Atkins diet, trendy “ethnic” eateries and spa culture. Hi! even boasts of a special section reserved for relationship advice. This is journalism at its best. Eat your heart out, People magazine.

Past features have included portraits of famous Arab Americans, from former NBA player Roni Seikaly to actor Tony Shaloub. The message? Arabs call us cultural imperialists? People like you can make it here, too! Yes, Hi! says, the tables are turned.

Spurred on by an influential 2002 report issued by the Council on Foreign Relations espousing the need to invest in public relations campaigns in the region, the State Department has hired a private Washington-based company, The Magazine Group, to initiate the mission at hand. The (hefty) price-tag has been an initial investment of $4.2 million alone.

But it’s worth every penny.

Hi! continues: “With its vibrant editorial and eye-catching format, we hope the magazine can serve as a springboard for greater dialogue and understanding between young Arab readers and young Americans.”

And this is dialogue without a mention of all of that heavy political business. According to Hi!, building the basis for dialogue begins with yoga and Atkins. It seems that some social phenomena know no borders — and that’s a beautiful thing.