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The Americanization of the World: Myth or Reality?

From Baripedia


We will formalize a reflection on the theme of the Americanization of the world. First, there are a number of notions about what the Americanization process is, which is understood as a long-term process in which the United States attempts to shape a whole part of the world in its image and succeeds in exporting a number of social, political and cultural principles. Relationships between the United States is the world must be understood as the world being the extension of the United States. Shaping the rest of the world in their image is like projecting the United States beyond its borders.

When we talk about the Americanization of the world, we have to work on the nature of this phenomenon. Susan Strange speaks of non-territorial imperialism, which is the idea that the United States had begun to invent at the end of the 19th century a mode of domination distinct from the European powers. It is necessary to reason in a transnational perspective with the Americanization which is not a process of raw export, but an import-export system. There is a permanent back-and-forth between the United States and the rest of the world. Americanization is not an American model built within the United States and exported, but it is an import-built model. Americans are globalizing at the same time as they are Americanizing the world. There is a connection between what happens inside the United States and what happens outside the United States. Foreign policy is multipolar, there are multiple actors: there is the State, but also a host of private actors that can be found in the Americanization theme.

World Americanization or Globalization of the United States?[edit | edit source]

Roots: American Exceptionalism[edit | edit source]

We cannot speak of Americanization without considering the United States as a country of emigration because it is through these continual migrations over the course of American history that the import of what will be exported is being set up. Initially, the term "Americanization" does not refer to the American projection, but first to the Americanization of migrants coming to the United States. They are people who import social and cultural practices that are important in shaping an American model that will later be exported to the world.

1986 U.S. Dollar, limited edition depicting Ellis Island's Statue of Liberty and Main Building.

American exceptionalism is the basis of the Americanization process. The United States would not consider Americanizing the world if it did not have the idea of having an exceptional destiny. In the 19th century, the United States acquired the status of "New World" and "Free World" from part of the world's population already in the mid-19th century among people who had suffered repression, particularly during the 1848 revolutions. Finally, from the middle of the 19th century onwards, it was a country that appeared to be an exception, embodying freedom and modernity, on the one hand, through its political system and its way of exploiting nature and mobilizing its technological resources in the service of the economy. In the 19th century, with the Destiny Manifest, the idea was formed that the United States had a special destiny that it had to share with the rest of the world. In Americanization, there is the perpetual quest for a border. The United States is built by rejecting the border westward and from the moment the American territory is unified, the next step is Americanization. Theodore Roosevelt said:"the Americanization of the world is our destiny. Americanization cannot be understood without considering the notion of American exceptionalism.

Import - intellectual export[edit | edit source]

There is an American model, which is not built entirely within the American borders, but by permanent exchanges since the 19th century. When we look at the exchange between the United States and the rest of the world, if we look at the social reform circles that are social movements, philanthropists who will reflect on what is going to become the welfare state, who have advanced reflections and practices by the end of the 19th century, these people work, correspond, write books, go to the United States. Between 1870 and 1930, the social reform milieu was actually born out of European imports. New Deal ideas are also imports of European ideas. There is a process of transnational exchanges.

A host of exchange programmes were set up from the mid-twentieth century onwards, and above all from the First World War onwards. Hundreds of universities in the United States are developing university exchange programs. Nearly 500 programs were created during the 1920s or through private actors such as philanthropic foundations through the Carnegie, Rockefeller and Ford foundations. The Rockefeller Foundation set up the Fellowship program which benefited 12,000 Fellows between 1917 and 1970. These programs will help fuel exchanges between the United States and the rest of the world. When we look at how the American university system grew in strength between the two World Wars, it came about through the exchange of foreign students and scholars. A whole series of intra-European flows with the First World War were gradually captured by the United States during the inter-war period. Events such as the arrival of Nazis in Germany with the flight of German Jews accelerated this process. The American academic community feeds off the outside world. Before considering export issues, we need to look at how this is done from an import perspective. The diffusion of scientific flows after the Second World War was preceded by the capture of scientific flows between the two World Wars. These flows will feed the American model.

This increased in the 1930s and became more pronounced after the Second World War, such as with the Foreign Leader program set up in 1950 and the Full Bright program, which was set up in 1946 and will become a symbol during the Cold War. It's a program to send American students and researchers out of the United States and to bring students and researchers into the United States. There is always this two-way process. These exchange programs are considered to be the manifestation of Joseph Nye's concept of "soft power". This is the idea that illustrates the fact that the American model is imposed not only by military force, but also by persuasion and the conquest of minds. In this process, exchange programmes play an important role. The notion of "soft power" is difficult to handle in political science because it is a recipe for foreign policy given Nye's involvement in the development of American foreign policy. There is a set of important trade networks in both directions, but not a crude export of the American model.

The first promotion of the Full Bright program is organized with Greece, which in 1948 was one of the fronts of the Cold War being considered as one of the first countries that could tip over into communism, especially since the Strike was presented as the symbol of universal civilization. Between 1948 and the 1980s and 1990s, this program benefited thousands of students and researchers.

Cultural industries: the case of cinema[edit | edit source]

Le panneau Hollywood sur le versant sud du Mont Lee.

Cultural industries are a strong force to be reckoned with in the Americanization process since they are a symbol of American culture and one of the most flourishing industries in the United States between the two World Wars.

When we look at the birth and development of the film industry, there is the establishment of an industrial conglomerate with large studios. The first studio was created in Hollywood in 1911. At that time, the world cinema major was Pathé and the centre of world cinema was France. The studios will take possession of the American market during the war, putting a very specific cinematographic system with systematically mainstream films, the importance of stars and big budgets in an industrial construction process. This system grew quite rapidly between 1910 and 1920. This Hollywood industry will rely on an extremely important domestic market and American cinema is an instrument for the Americanisation of migrants. It is a patchwork of myths from a variety of countries that are myths arranged according to the American vision.

Hollywood is not an American product, but a condensed version of the world. From the moment the film industry becomes powerful, it is Hollywood that makes American cinema, but with actors and directors who are not American. The Hollywood industry is a melting pot of people who have migrated. Among the directors were Charlie Chaplin who arrived in the United States in 1910, Friedrich W. Murnau from Germany in 1926, Josef von Sternberg from Germany in 1930, Fritz Lang from Germany in 1933, Billy Wilder from Austria in 1938 and Alfred Hitchcock from Great Britain in 1938. As actors, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich arrived from Sweden in 1924 and Marlene Dietrich from Germany in 1930. Today Alfonso Cuaron has emigrated from Mexico, Mel Gibson from Australia, Nicole Kidman from Great Britain and Antonio Bandeiras from Spain. The transnational dimension is essential in order to understand the American cinema which will feed on the stories that will become American from the moment they are produced by the American system. It is an import-export system that began to conquer world markets in the 1920s. The western is a reconstruction of the American epic.

Artistic circulations: the case of jazz[edit | edit source]

Jazz, which was officially born in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century, has a strong black core of American origin, but there are musicians from Latin America and the Caribbean. One realizes that it is a music that is built by permanent fertilization of style coming from different countries. Many musicians came from the Caribbean in the 1930s and 1940s, Latin America and Africa in the 1950s, but also from India in the 1960s. The first accents of jazz are heard in Europe with the American army arriving in Europe.

Gauche à droite, 1° rang- Cab Calloway, Benny Carter, Jimmie Lunceford, Ben Webster, 2° rang Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, 3° rang, Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Lester Young 4°rang Django Reinhardt, Lionel Hampton, Earl Hines, Billie Holiday.

It is a music that is built by import - export and is exported with the Second World War becoming one of the symbols of American culture. From the moment when jazz was exported with the American label, it was once again interpreted by musicians from Europe and Asia who created something else, especially with "European improvised music".

An expansionary dynamic[edit | edit source]

Synergy of national actors[edit | edit source]

There are a number of vectors and international projections of what becomes and embodies an American model. This is an important aspect of the Americanization process that is a "reality" from this point of view.

Above all, we must consider that, in fact, there are a multitude of actors that are important in American foreign policy in general, but even more so in the projection of an American model. These actors operate in different sectors, but their actions are synergistic.

Buffalo Bill's wild west and congress of rough riders of the world - Circus poster showing cowboys rounding up cattle, c. 1899.

There are fairly large sectors of American society and American elites involved in this process. There are moral reformists in particular, all these religious or parareligious associations from the end of the 19th century onwards, whether they are temperance leagues such as the Women Christian's Temperance Union and organizations that advocate the abolition of colonial legislation, allow the use of alcohol and opium or the YMCAs that project themselves in Africa and Europe in order to promote religious values. A second category is entertainment entrepreneurs such as the Barnum Circus and Buffalo Bill, who is an actor in the conquest of the American West who becomes a show entrepreneur by staging his adventure in the Wild West Show. Performances will help export American myths and turn them into global myths. It is an American element that has become a global myth. Entertainment companies are a very important export vehicle.

The Peking Union Medical College was founded in 1906 by the American and British missionaries and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It remains one of the finest medical schools in China today.

Philanthropic foundations are among the actors who project themselves abroad, in particular with the Rockefeller Foundation, which implements global policies in certain fields such as public health and medicine, which in 1921 founded the Peking Medical College, which cares for the Chinese nomenklatura. The Rockefeller Foundation has established medical schools in different parts of the world.

Sports movements developed considerably from the inter-war period through the Amateur Athletic Union[AAU] and the organisation of sports tours in the 1930s. A whole series of impresarios exported American shows after the Second World War, while the government financed the Jazz at the philharmonic orchestra in 1944. Norman Granz was a jazz impresario who ended his life in Lausanne.

There is a synergy between private actors, but also between private and public actors. From the 19th century onwards, there was a synergy between Hollywood and the American state. In 1890 the Sherman Act prohibited cartels in the United States, but they were allowed abroad under the Webb Pomerene Act. Competition within US borders is preserved, but outside the United States they may form oligopolies or cartels to expand. In 1922, the Motion picture producers and distributors of America[MPPDA] was formed to agree on the export of American cinema abroad. The MPPDA quickly won the support of the US government. Beginning in the 1920s, the American government systematically supported the conquest of foreign markets by Hollywood cinema. This was done in the particular context of the automotive industry's constitution and that of a Europe in debt between the two world wars, which allows governments to rely on interallied debts to open up markets. The countries of Europe will try to implement quota policies, but they will be systematically dismantled under pressure from the American government. The spread of American cinema from the 1920s onwards owed much to the synergy between the American government and Hollywood cinema.

Cultural Diplomacy[edit | edit source]

Seal of the U.S. Information Agency.

Private actors act independently where, together, public and private actors act in synergy. The state became an important actor in the diffusion of the American model and this became even clearer after the Second World War. With the conflict, American cultural diplomacy is taken over by private actors. After 1945, the American state built, established and developed cultural diplomacy as part of the Cold War and the struggle against the Soviet model. From a legislative point of view, this was identified by the Smith-Munt Act of 1948, which was introduced in the United States to promote the American model abroad. There is the United States Information Agency[USIA] which is the federal agency that centralizes American cultural diplomacy, there is a series of more specialized organizations such as Voice of America, but there is also the CIA which participates in the financing of intellectuals, journals and abstract art exhibitions.

Cultural diplomacy is a whole series of actions within the framework of a voluntarist diffusion of American cultural products. American cultural diplomacy has two objectives: to counter the communist model, but also to convince American allies that American culture exists. It has been said that the United States was waging two cultural Cold Wars, one against the USSR and the other against its own allies. This diplomacy is expressed in the grant of a whole series of budgets for the creation of American studies departments in universities. Radio also plays an important role. Voice of America produces programs in dozens of languages that broadcast in many countries and broadcast programs related to American culture. There is also a huge network of American cultural centres. From 1956 onwards, the State Department organized a series of tours of jazz musicians in a whole series of countries considered to be at risk in Africa, Iran and India, such as with Dizzy Gillespie in 1956 or more recently, in 2011, the Ari Roland Jazz Quartet. Transatlantic intellectual encounter programmes are being developed. American painting was to become internationalized with the rise of the abstract expressionist school, especially with Jackson Pollock. Abstract expressionism will be used by the State Department and the CIA as the quintessence of individual freedom. American painting is used as a propaganda tool to differentiate the American model from the Soviet model.

The international system: a relay of Americanization?[edit | edit source]

When we talk about Americanization, we are not necessarily talking about culture, it is something that needs to be seen in a more global context requiring the question of the international system to be integrated into our thinking, since the United States plays a fundamental role in the overhaul of the international system, particularly after the Second World War. We must ask ourselves whether the international system is a relay of American power.

Portrait de Elihu Root.

This question arises from the very beginning of the League of Nations because we realize how much part of the American elite wants to make international institutions a springboard for American standards. The intention is the project is clear from the inter-war period, which is one of the reasons why the American foundations participate in the League of Nations, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, which participates in the hygiene section in order to establish standards that most closely resemble the American standards. When we talk about Americanization, we are talking about a battle for standards in a whole series of areas. Elihu Root conceived the Permanent Court of International Justice, he was a republican, opposed to the League of Nations considered that it was necessary to join the League of Nations, to participate in order to Americanize it. As such, Elihu Root was a supporter of U.S. membership of the League of Nations to renegotiate the treaty.

The reorganization of the world after 1945 brought a project of internationalization of a social and economic project through a global New Deal through the intervention of new-dealers who are people who intend to internationalize the American New Deal even though the New Deal is disallowed within the American society. In the spirit of some of the tenors of the U.S. federal administration, the United Nations is the system of international organization must be one of the relays of the worldwide dissemination of U.S. standards in a number of areas. The American influence at the UN was strong during the first years of the UN, but from the 1960s onwards, the balance of power changed. Americanization is often thought of in national terms, but it must also be considered in a global way. We clearly have a proactive enterprise that involves a whole series of players in a whole range of sectors, but also at a whole series of levels.

Cultural domination[edit | edit source]

American Modernity[edit | edit source]

A man working on a steel girder high about a city skyline.
A construction worker on top of the Empire State Building as it was being built in 1930. The Chrysler Building is below and behind him.

When we ask the question of Americanization, we ask the question of hegemony. When we talk about Americanization, we are referring to a process of cultural domination whose many signs bear witness to reality. The United States succeeded at least partially at the end of the 19th century in incarnating modernity, which is at the same time a political and technological modernity that makes the United States think of itself and is perceived from the beginning of the 20th century as the country of modernity. This is one of the elements that makes the American model attractive. What makes a series of people attracted to the American model as early as the end of the 19th century is because the United States is considered as a model. In the import - export process, the question of modernity is always present. The productivity missions within the Marshall Plan are carried out as a transfer of technology, but also an implementation of management methods. The same is true when we look at the attraction of a whole series of American audiences for American culture, whether for music or cinema. Loving jazz in the 1940s is modern. The symbolism of American modernity always comes back to the actors of the time. When you look at the geopolitical geopolitics of culture, you realize how far between the 1930s and 1940s, the places of artistic legitimation moved from Europe to the United States. The centre of world art was the school of Paris until 1914. In the aftermath of the First World War, everything passed on to the other side of the Atlantic, particularly through art markets that exploded in terms of value. American gallerists are taking over the art market, helping to make New York the legitimation centre for abstract art and American art, making New York the capital of modern art.

Anti-Americanism[edit | edit source]

Bannière anti-USA lors d'une manifestation au Brésil.

Anything that makes American culture fascinate a certain number of people can make them hate it. While for some it is a sign of modernity, for others it is only a cultural industry. The same applies to the use of technology in the American production model, which is not necessarily a sign of progress, but a sign of dehumanization. Modernity arouses admiration, but also repulsion. In the representations of the people of the time, that's how it manifests itself.

When looking at the anti-American issue, anti-Americanism began well before the international diffusion of the American model. A whole series of countries are developing a critical discourse on modernity. Baudelaire saw in the United States everything that went wrong in modern civilization. Anti-Americanism developed after 1945, when for about twenty years the American model was at its peak, but it was also the years when anti-Americanism became extremely strong. In a way, that's kind of what happened in the 1990s and the 2000s, when their prestige is strong, but the United States is highly hated. Anti-Americanism bears witness to an extremely ambivalent relationship.

Unequal hegemony[edit | edit source]

If we are interested in the question of cultural domination, we must take into account that this hegemony is not univocal, integral or universal. There are sectors where American products sometimes dominate overwhelmingly, but there are other areas where there is no hegemonic domination.

Post-tonal contemporary music highlights that the most important countries are Germany with Karlheinz Stockhausen, France with Pierre Boulez and Italy with Luciano Berio. Contemporary music is not necessarily Americanized.

The Comics Code seal.

The comic strip world in the 1930s is quite Americanized. In fact, the spread of American comics was slowed down after the Second World War because, on the one hand, it was considered violent, and from the 1930s and 1940s onwards there was a strong criticism from family associations that lobbied either in the United States or in Europe to have these publications banned. This will lead to two things. In 1949, in France, the law on publications aimed at young people was passed, supported by Catholics and Communists. This law led to a complete halt to the importation of American comics into France. In the United States there is the Comics code in 1954. It is interesting to see the concomitance of the 1949 legislation at the same time as the Belgian school arrived on the international scene with the Franco-Belgian comic strip model. The halt to the spread of American comics in Europe goes hand in hand with the founding of an alternative model in Europe. In the field of comics, there is a case of deamericanization. In the 1970s, the Japanese comic strip also developed with the globalization of the manga in the 1970s, which shows that this is not a sector where there is hegemony.

On the subject of cinema, which is also a very large sector, one can wonder whether there is no question about the dominance of Hollywood cinema. On the one hand, there was a worldwide distribution of American cinema from the 1920s onwards, and this continued after the Second World War, leading to the crushing of German, English and Italian cinema until the 1980s and 1990s. The only cinema that resisted American cinema was French cinema, which set up a legislative system that protected French cinema with the creation of the national cinema centre, which set up a subsidy system allowing French cinema to survive. The model of public funding for cinema has been replicated in different countries. With Indian cinema, we are entering another dimension, since Bollywood cinema is a huge industry. The Chinese market targeted by American cinema remains impermeable to the Hollywood industry with strict control of the market since foreign cinema is limited to 50% of box office. The dominance of the world film market is to be put into perspective.

Annexes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]