American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination

American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination

A talk by Prof. Barry Sanders from the UCLA Dept. of Communication Studies, about his new book, "American Avatar: The United States in the Global Imagination."

Please upgrade to a browser that supports HTML5 audio or install Flash.

Audio MP3 Download Podcast

Duration: 58:40


Since September 11, 2001, the extensive literature on the United States’ image abroad, by popular pundits and academics alike, leaves the reader with a false impression that foreigners’ views of America are normally negative and impervious to change. In fact they are complex, emotional, frequently internally contradictory, and often change quickly.

Barry A. Sanders corrects this misimpression with a rigorous and insightful textual analysis of the roots of people’s views of the United States and what can be done to alter them. According to Sanders, the attitudes a person expresses about the United States consist of two separate components: the person’s memory bank of images (informed by American geography, people, philosophy, history, and foreign policy) and a predisposition or bias that influences which images are called forth from memory. Opinion surveys, such as the Pew Global Attitude Survey, only record the spoken result of this two-step process in their tabulation of “favorable” or “unfavorable” comments. They necessarily fail to see the underlying complexity.

Examining the biases or predispositions that guide people in selecting among the myriad stored images to express an opinion on a given day, Sanders analyzes both anti-American and pro-American biases but focuses on the former, explaining which criticisms should be heeded when crafting foreign policy and communicating national objectives to friends and foes alike.


Barry A. Sanders, is an adjunct professor of Communications Studies at UCLA. He is deeply involved in the foreign affairs community as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pacific Council on International Policy. He honed his international credentials in a career of extensive travel and cross-border negotiations as a well-known international business lawyer for the global law firm Latham & Watkins. He chaired both the State of California and Los Angeles County Bar Associations' International Law Sections. Sanders was the principal lawyer for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, and remains deeply involved in the Olympic movement as Chair of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games. He lectures and writes often on topics of international law and civic affairs.

In Los Angeles, Sanders is a civic leader. He is President of the Board of Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, and the Board of Commissioners of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Los Angeles Opera. He has served as chairman of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Public Library Foundation, and Rebuild LA--the public-private organization created after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, as well as several other charitable organizations. Sanders has a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and a J.D. from Yale Law School.