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Unformatted text preview: media, popular culture, and the american century Edited by kingsley bolton and jan olsson den här boken är utgiven med en creative commons-licens: Erkännande, Icke-kommersiell, Inga bearbetningar 3.0. media , popular culture , and the american century Edited by kingsley bolton and jan olsson national library of sweden p. o. box 5039, 102 41 stockholm, sweden © the authors & national library of sweden 2010 designed by jens andersson/ printed in sweden by fälth & hässler, 2010 issn 1654-6601 isbn 978-0-86196-698-1 MEDIEHISTORISKT ARKIV 20 contents 7 introduction: Jan Olsson and Kingsley Bolton (eds.) mediated america: americana as hollywoodiana part 1: cinema and americanization 35 Jan Olsson, italian marionettes meet cinematic modernity 62 Joel Frykholm, “a red-blooded romance”; or, americanizing early multi-reel feature cinema: the case of the spoilers 101 Meredith C. Ward, song of the sonic body: noise, the audience, and early american moving picture culture 125 Kingsley Bolton, constructing the global vernacular: american english and the media Part 2: Americans at the Margins 155 Esther Sonnet, you only live once: repetitions of crime as desire in the films of sylvia sidney, 1930–1937 185 Peter Stanfield, punks! topicality and the 1950s gangster bio-pic cycle 216 Ann-Kristin Wallengren, importing evil: the american gangster, swedish cinema, and anti-american propaganda Part 3: American Dreams/American Nightmares 227 Corrado Neri, sun yu and the early americanization of chinese cinema 249 Gregory Lee, if america were really china or how christopher columbus discovered asia 270 Michael Renov, civil rights on the screen Part 4: America Goes Digital 285 Lisa Parks, goodbye rabbit ears: visualizing and mapping the u.s. digital tv transition 301 Pelle Snickars, archival transitions: some digital propositions 330 Evelyn Ch’ien, are americans human? 363 afterword: William Uricchio, rethinking the american century 376 contributors 378 bibliography 405 name and title index INTRODUCTION MEDIATED AMERICA: AMERICANA AS HOLLYWOODIANA ------------------------------- Jan Olsson and Kingsley Bolton “All civilization is the product of fenced-in lack of freedom.” ­— Haruki Murakami there are no fencings-in here, no ground rules, nor any territorial claims. Instead this volume started out as a road map for exploring avenues of shared scholarly interest. In broad terms, we envisioned synergetic overlaps across fences and unaccounted-for connections between the global spread of American popular culture and the mechanisms for language change in the age of modernity. As an example, a particular case in point that provides an emblematic discursive backdrop is the inventive study of national cinemas—in terms of the vernacular in relation to Holly­ wood’s classic idiom—by Miriam Hansen and Zhen Zhang.1 Hansen’s ­influential essay takes stock of the market value of classic Hollywood and how its domineering storytelling regime has been appropriated, inflected, and negotiated in national film contexts. In her magisterial work on the emergence of Chinese cinema in Shanghai, Zhen Zhang elegantly mobilizes vernacular perspectives as the key critical pivot for the celluloid encounter between West and East. In this spirit, Hollywood’s styles, genres, and codes—linguistic and otherwise—loom large for our project. With different, more consciousness-related emphasis, one could have invoked Roland Robertson’s usage of the original Japanese term, glocalization, when referring to the practices of local embodiments, reverberations, and mise-en-scenès of global templates.2  introduction Figure 1: Burlesque poster from 1897. Courtesy of the Theatrical Poster Collection, Library of Congress.  introduction UNFENCING AMERICAN STUDIES The editors’ academic habitats are Cinema Studies and English, with our respective research interests the consolidation of American film culture in the silent era and the many Englishes in Asia. Stockholm served as the point of departure for our road trip: a crossroads where our travel plans happened to intersect. To be sure, the Swedish academic geography bears some significance in that the study of English in Sweden traditionally pays minimal heed to popular culture, American or not, while Cinema Studies in Stockholm has been somewhat reluctant to fully engage with Hollywood cinema as well as American television. We therefore envisioned opportunities for novel excitements for a new generation of students and young scholars attuned to and symbolically milk-fed on the many guises and inflections of American popular culture. Our ambition was however not to start up a full-scale American Studies program from scratch in Stockholm, but to organize encounters, events, speaker series, workshop, conferences, and possibly a mobile research center—and to edit this collection as a first draft or travelogue. In order for us to get a grip on the role of Americana and its media and language practices—inside the U.S. as Americanization (a somewhat dated term) as well as in the form of hard and/or soft export—we have elected to invite a select group of both American and non-American scholars as contributors to this volume. Our team comes from a diverse humanities background and offers insightful responses to our call for critical reflections on mediated—as in media-filtered, media-messaged, and media-projected—Americana, American English, as well as current changes in the development of domestic U.S. media. By choice we have included neither historians proper nor political scientists. These two groups are otherwise the most prominent when it comes to an “external” research interest concerning American society in- or outside the banner of American Studies. As a teaser and preamble for a research field in spe, we’ve vouched for a differently pivoted area of expertise and an international team. On U.S. campuses, and half century or so after Henry Nash Smith’s classic study Virgin Land—in many ways a foundational work—American Studies is still not a clear-cut and fenced-in area of research. It is, instead, a highly productive and malleable field of inquiry traversing vast facets of American endeavors, experiences, and identities across centuries and  introduction in the process skirting multiple disciplines.3 In the 1940s and during the 1950s, according to Stanley Bailis’ historiographic sketch, the prime pioneers of American Studies came from literature and history and many preferred to stay put after occasional forays into new programs and seminars. Partly rooted in ideas of American exceptionalism and a realm of putative unique American experiences as a new nation built on immigration, scholars tried to capture salient traces of this special American condition, often in studies featuring grand historical sweeps. In the process, a focus on English literature shifted to American letters. Again the most influential studies were animated by the elongated lifespan of myths, images, and symbols for coming to terms with the American mind, imagination or some other broad category.4 Figure 2: Frame enlargement from Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (Universal, 1942). AMERICA’S TIME Emblematic for our approach to Americana in this volume is not only scholarly efforts, but foremost a non-academic text, namely Henry R. Luce’s landmark essay “The American Century” from 1941. H.G Wells, however, probably first used the phrase “American Century.”5 The intertwined nature of mediated Americana and the role of America’s position on the global political scene resonates with the backdrop for the analysis 10 introduction outlined by Luce, perhaps the most renowned American publisher of the 20th century. Discounting the daily newspapers tycoons, Pulitzer, Hearst, and Ochs, the American Editor-in-Chief was undoubtedly Henry R. Luce. Born in China to missionary parents, educated at Yale and ­Oxford, Luce became the most prominent publisher of his generation. Time, the first venture, emerged in collaboration with Briton Hadden in 1923, and after Hadden’s death Luce launched Fortune, Life, and Sports ­Illustrated, and on radio and screen two innovative news digests, both named March of Time. In 1941 Orson Welles effectively parodied the March of Time in Citizen Kane and the style Hadden and Luce had crafted for Time, which seemingly effortlessly spilled over to other publications and media. Prior to the opening of Citizen Kane in May and the attack on Pearl Harbor in ­December, Luce was ready to affix the label “American” onto the 20th century in a classic essay in Life straightforwardly titled “The American Century.” Here Luce waxed poetic on key facets of Americana as the sole common currency across the globe, namely: “American jazz, Hollywood movies, American slang, American machines and patented products.” Thus, he claimed, they are “the only things that every community in the world, from Zanzibar to Hamburg, recognizes in common.”6 To single out Hamburg was of course a calculated move in the middle of the Second World War, just prior to the American entry that was to come after Pearl Harbor. For Luce, the ubiquitous cultural presence of Americana was a bridgehead and signpost for America’s inevitable ­political role in the 20th century. Non-visionary American politicians, he maintained, had dodged this role since 1919. Luce prime’s mission at this time was to convince the Roosevelt administration to abandon isolationism and to act according to America’s manifest purpose and bring leadership to a brave new world. The world, Luce argued, was in need of American civilization and values as a bulwark against totalitarianism at a time when Europe and Great Britain had been backed into a corner by tyranny. The attack on Pearl Harbor ten months later was to vindicate his argument, and, during the Cold War that followed, America’s role in the global arena expanded along lines first sketched by Luce. A son of a missionary with both an internal and external perspective on America, ­Luce’s publications were welcomed by a jazz-age America driven by business and consumerism and led by a generation of well-educated, young businessmen—tycoon was a term popularized by Time. Luce and Hadden 11 introduction reasoned that busy, modern people needed a new type of entertaining, condensed, and well-written information to keep abreast with the national and world affairs of the time. In the eyes of the public, traditional newspapers like the New York Times were long-winded and dull. Time was not the first news magazine to be published in the U.S., but its streamlined digest of topical events was to be successful beyond expectations— in spite of competition from the Literary Digest and Reader’s Digest. The time-savvy philosophy that underpinned Time resonated with the burgeoning culture of speed that was gaining hold in the U.S. during these decades, for which the automobile, cinema, Fordism, and Taylorism provide shared discursive links in the current academic literature. Figure 3: “Come To America.” Immigration poster from 1919. Courtesy of Getty Images. FROM MANIFEST DESTINY TO RONALD MCDONALD Luce’s overall vision of America’s larger mission in world affairs—his internationalist Manifest Destiny—is however not our concern. Instead, we have singled out Luce’s critical lines on American popular culture as an enduring strand of his analytical argument. His almost casual observations on the global spread of American popular culture still strike us a timely and 12 introduction timeless observation (at least for the time being) and are still pertinent decades later, even when the blessings of the American way are less obvious than they were before the assassination of the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Vietnam, and Watergate. More recently, prison-camp reports from Guantanamo Bay, renditions across Europe, and Abu Ghraib have further dampened the enthusiasm of even America’s allies worldwide. Following Luce, the overall rationale for this volume is that, crucially, “mediated Americana” (i.e. key aspects of U.S. culture filtered, ­interpreted and presented through the popular media) and its language together gain a singular presence across the globe after circa 1914. This did not occur in uniform fashion, however, because this very process itself was mediated by diverse geographical vernaculars in its reception across the world. At the point in time when the American feature film became conspicuous ­after years in the shadow of Europe, Hollywood simultaneously emerged as the epicenter of American cinema. This chain of events leading up to the prominence of the American feature film, or at least aspects of this process, is highlighted in Joel Frykholm’s essay on the writer Rex Beach’s cinematic endeavors. Apart from selling literary material to the film industry, most prominently his novel The Spoilers (Selig, 1914), Beach started his own film company. So did several other authors, but less successfully. With the gradual ascendance of the feature film as a dominant commodity, film culture was not only produced and programmed differently, but also marketed and experienced in novel ways in palace-like movie theaters. Not least the atmospheric architecture, often replete with exotic elements, encouraged and further sustained the flight of fancy of the story world. In its desire for middle-class patrons, the industry sought to establish a mass market by its diverse tier of exhibition venues and ­levels of run. After World War I, Hollywood’s reach was no longer domestic only, but global. Corrado Neri, in his essay on filmmaker Sun Yu, details how a young Chinese student, who witnessed the consolidation of film culture and its representational practices up-close in America, took his filmmaking insights to the fledgling film production in China. Negotiated by arbiters, embraced by fans, and despised by foes, the momentum of mediated Americana from this time has seemed unstoppable until the present. As early as the 1920s, England, for example, deemed it necessary to deploy a quota system for the import of American titles in order to safeguard the national production of films. Savvy Hollywood, however, elegantly bypassed the regulations by mounting the 13 introduction Figure 4: Hebrew poster in support for the allies cause. In translation: Food will win the war—You came here seeking freedom, now you must help to preserve it—Wheat is needed for the allies—waste nothing. Poster designed by Charles Edward Chambers in 1917. Courtesy of Getty Images. 14 introduction production in England of so-called “quota quickies” to secure the unhindered passage of its regular fare. French media later came up with schemes for rationing American tunes on radio to stem the tide of American lyrics, and France and many other countries still mute American voices on big and small screens by choosing to dub motion pictures, with original, sub-titled versions as the connoisseur alternative in select theaters. Such endeavors have only underscored the fact that mediated modernity and “modern life” generally have been projected beneath the banner of American mediated sights and sounds, ideas and ideals, to the accompaniment U.S. commodities and consumerism. Globalization is open to debate and interpretation, but for many it is unequivocally steeped in the shimmering light of U.S. brands. CocaCola, Nike, and McDonald’s are among the most symbolic global brands, along with Disney, Dreamworks, Paramount, and the other Hollywood studios. As Andy Warhol put it in 1975: “The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet.”7 Following the 1980s economic boom and political changes in the former Eastern Europe and elsewhere, the aesthetics of premier American brands are globally celebrated and buttressed to varying degrees by shared domains of popular culture, from cinema to fashion to hip-hop. This in turn has favored the spread of ­American English—alongside burgers, blue jeans and their accompanying aesthetics. FROM SOFT POWER TO HARD REALITIES The American export of complex patterns of popular culture has run its course parallel to the rise and expression of American imperial ambitions through military means, which, following Luce, has often been presented in terms of promoting the unrivaled benefits of American civilization. At the same time, another strand in the long American century has been the traffic in people to the U.S., which has occurred through a variety of means—through brute force on slave ships, through the enrollment of gullible colonizers and immigrants from Europe and Asia, and, currently, through the steady stream of people risking their lives in the hope of ­becoming an illegal alien in the U.S. Southwest. 15 introduction During his long tenure at CNN, Lou Dobbs hammered away on a ­daily basis concerning the allegedly eroding effects of the NAFTA tariff treaties, outsourcing, and illegal immigration, with all these issues subsumed under the catchphrase “broken borders.” For Dobbs the United States had reached a critical crossroads with grave repercussions for the American middle class, which was further imperiled by the so-called corporate greed of Wall Street. Eventually, Dobbs’ daily rants forced him out from CNN, but by then he had published a trilogy of discontents with titles unequivocally advertising his dismay concerning American politics.8 As we write, Arizona is now the battleground for issues of immigration that engage and contest very different interpretations of the American dream. The traffic across American borders has always been divisive and controversial. From inside and afar, America has stood as a symbol of freedom and opportunity. Internationally, U.S. ambitions, ideological missions, and power have sometimes been welcomed, but as often they have been feared and fought. The historical trail of blood, imperialism, and jingoism cannot be balanced or erased by the global embrace of American media and related commodities.9 Indeed, our enthusiasm for the discussion of media and popular culture in this volume should not be read as some kind of celebratory self-indulgence, but despite this it is a hard fact that, ironically, empire and media do make good dancing partners. And the attraction of that dance may explain the often love-hate tempo of the international intellectual reception of America as Fordian standardization, mass-consumerism, and popular culture from critics as diverse as the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga to America’s own Sinclair Lewis with his invention of the narrow-minded and eponymous “Babittism,” from the 1920s.10 At the same time, the freedom sought after in America was deeply ­entangled in a structural racism, which inspired self-contained urban ­colonies in the metropolises. Today, the dilemma of racism still persists, despite the establishment of the Obama administration. In many senses, America is unthinkable without the culture of violence that inspires the section in this book devoted to gangster movies, while Michael Renov discusses issues of racism and civil rights in the light of Barack Obama’s election to the Presidency, and Jan Olsson immigration politics from the perspective of Italian immigrants around 1900. The mass immigration of Italians and others powered U.S. industrialization and simultaneously 16 introduction Figure 5: Pitch for liberty bonds to support the allies in World War I. Poster designed by Z.P. Nikolaki in 1918. Courtesy of Getty Images. 17 introduction expanded its consumer base, which in turn led to the development of a mass-consumer society, prior to the eclipse of the cultural dominance of old Europe. The “huddled masses” yearning for a better life in America, and the export of media underpinning a wide range of American imaginaries, intertwine with hegemonic ambitions to secure markets and ...
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  • Fall '17
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  • Cinema of the United States, American Century, American popular culture

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