Past Program

Oct 02 - Oct 09, 2002

The Politics of American Popular Culture: Here, There, and Everywhere


The success of American popular culture constitutes one of the most decisive cultural, economic, social, and political causes for change during the 20th century. The American Century was, without a doubt, at least as much the century of the global attraction of jazz, American popular music and Hollywood as that of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue. However important the military power and political promise of the United States were for setting the foundation for American successes in the Cold War, it was the American economic and cultural attraction that really won over the hearts and minds of the majorities of young people for Western democracy. It could easily be argued that the products, icons, and myths of American popular culture represent the single most unifying and centripetal cultural force for the global triumph of the American Century. On the other hand, in many areas of the world, American cultural products are potentially among the most disruptive and centrifugal cultural forces of the early 21st century.


The session will address the question of why the popular culture of one country has spread so rapidly and captured the imagination of peoples around the world. One explanation for the power of American popular culture is the diversity of American society; another is the might of American capitalism. Whatever the engine of this diffusion, it is clear that American cultural products change their meaning whenever they cross international borders. Bringing together scholars of American culture, sociologists and journalists, participants will consider the debate over American cultural hegemony, and look at the global power of American cultural products and their impact and reception in various countries. The focus of the session will be on the years since the Second World War, with a particular spotlight on the Cold War and the implications of the end of the Cold War. The session will examine the global impact of Hollywood films, debate issues of American consumerism and "lifestyle", particularly in the context of gender and family issues and their presentation for global export, explore the complex issues concerning jazz, race, and urban culture, and study the extraordinary impact of American popular music. This session will also have an eSession component, including electronic discussions with scholars of American popular culture located around the world, an in-depth look at the impact of the Internet on the export of American culture, and hands-on work in the Seminar’s computer lab.