How Useful Is the Term Americanization When Discussing post 1945 Western European Popular Culture?

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How Useful Is the Term ‘Americanization’ When Discussing post 1945 Western European Popular Culture?

American influence on European popular culture was undoubtedly considerable in the postwar period. This said, historians are often keen to explain the process by which European culture was adapted as more complex than the term ‘Americanization’ suggests. One can view the ‘Americanization’ of popular culture as part of broader trends emerging in that period; those of convergence, consumerism, and the rise of a new generation. ‘Americanization’ has often been employed as a metaphor for these trends, and in many ways they were vital characteristics of American culture. Historians have, however, reached a general consensus in that they recognise American influence while also acknowledging the limits of the term. Not only did the degree to which ‘Americanization’ occurred vary from region to region and even industry to industry, it also often added to, and mixed with, the cultural traditions already in place. This mixing of cultures, in the words of Petra Goeda, ‘followed its own dynamic.’ I will argue that a consideration of post 1945 popular culture in terms of ‘Americanisation’ is dangerous; it was not specific to the period, runs the risk of generalisation, and it not the most useful idiom with which to work.

An initial discrepancy with characterizing post 1945 European popular culture as ‘Americanized’ is that American influence had been happening long before the end of the war. As early as 1930 the influential British literary critic F.R Levis had bemoaned that ‘it is common place that we are being Americanised, but again a common place that seems, as a rule, to carry little understanding with it.’ Here Levis expresses the typical problem of employment of the term. Indeed it is often hard to distinguish Americanisation from the international process of modernisation, which again was in place well before 1945. Bigsby comments that ‘Americanisation frequently means little more than the incidence of change.’ In addition, both the Nazi’s and Communists of the inter and war-time period had complained about the growing American influence, nicknamed ‘admass’ by J B Priestly, and had presented themselves as the preservers of culture. This reveals the source of the ‘Americanisation’ debate, showing how European society used it as a means of discussing modernity. As we can see, so called ‘Americanisation’ was not particular to the postwar period but was instead something that had been developing for many years prior; it is certainly not the single most useful paradigm within which to describe post 1945 European popular culture.

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This rejection of American culture found centre stage in elite strata’s in specific areas of Europe in the 50s and almost globally in the 60s. A re-enforcing of the term in this context is very much part of the reason it was thrust into the historiographical debate. This fear of ‘Americanisation’ was overtly linked to fears of economic, political and cultural imperialism. Fears that were not unfounded. After all, as Richard I Jobs suggests ‘America did seem to be everywhere; from GIs in France, to Marshall Plan advisors, to NATO diplomats, to American products and businesses.’ Indeed, following the war, US ...

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