Brown University News Bureau

The Brown University News Bureau

1995-1996 index

Distributed March 18, 1996
Contact: Linda Mahdesian


Conference to explore `Americanization' of Western Europe and Japan

"The American Cultural Impact on Germany, France, Italy and Japan, 1945-1995: An International Comparison" will examine how America's cultural imports have been received and resisted by Western Europe and Japan since World War II. The sessions will take place April 12-13 in the Crystal Room of Alumnae Hall.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University will present a two-day conference on "The American Cultural Impact on Germany, France, Italy and Japan, 1945-1995: An International Comparison" April 12-13 in the Crystal Room of Alumnae Hall, Meeting Street. This conference will bring scholars from the individual countries to discuss how America's cultural imports have been received and resisted by industrialized European countries and Japan since World War II. The conference is sponsored by the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies at Brown.

Sessions will examine Hollywood and the mass media, urban spaces and architecture, music and youth culture and Americanism vs. anti-Americanism. The conference will explore how the indigenous traditions blended with American cultural imports, and how that mix differs from country to country. Panelists will also explore whether the current cultural changes in Germany, France, Italy and Japan are the result of a broader process of "modernization" or "Americanization." The sessions are free and open to the public.

The questions to be raised by experts from five countries are familiar from recent public debates in this field, according to conference coordinator Volker Berghahn, professor of history at Brown. He cites the 1993 GATT negotiations during which the European film industry and French intellectuals in particular rebelled against Hollywood's monopoly of the mass media. Anti-Americanism seemed on the rise again, and French state radio was directed to increase the content of French popular music in its programs to 40 percent. The controversy over the building of the Disney World theme park north of Paris also underscores what one prominent French politician called a "cultural Chernobyl."

In short, there is much opposition in Europe as well as in Japan to American cultural imports, says Berghahn. In his proposal for the conference, he writes that "many people feel threatened by these imports not just in their material existence, but also in their cultural identity which they argue is getting `swamped' by `cheap' and `vulgar' American consumerist and mass entertainment culture." Berghahn adds, "At the same time there are others who are mesmerized by Hollywood-style sitcoms, talk shows, rap music and comic strips. They happily consume McDonald's cheeseburgers, wear Levi jeans and Dallas Cowboys T-shirts, and speak a native slang that is heavily laced with English-language terms. So, there is much fascination with America."

The panelists will also examine the generational factors that play a major role in how a society absorbs or rejects American culture. In Japan especially, as Berghahn points out, "the younger generation is attracted by American cultural imports and sees them as a way of undermining the traditional lifestyles and behavioral codes of their elders who often harbor deep reservations about the United States."

Linguistic imperialism will also be discussed, says Berghahn: "As we approach the 21st century and the global village, English is becoming the world language. Many perceive that as a threat, not only because their own language will be `polluted' with Americanisms, but that their language will disappear because of the English-dominated World Wide Web."

A complete schedule of sessions follows.

Friday, April 12

1:30 - 2 p.m. Arrival and registration (free admission to sessions)
2 - 2:15 p.m. Welcome and introduction
2:15 - 4:15 p.m. Panel I: Hollywood and the Media

Panelists: Heide Fehrenbach, Colgate University (on Germany); William Kelly, Yale University (on Japan); and Richard Kuisel, State University of New York (on France). Moderator: Volker Berghahn, professor of history, Brown.

4:30 - 6 p.m. Brauer-Swearer Lecture by Mary Nolan, New York University, titled "America in the German Imagination." Introduction by Duncan Smith, professor of German studies, Brown.

Saturday, April 13

9:30 - 11:30 a.m. Panel II: Urban Spaces

Panelists: Botond Bognar, University of Illinois (on Japan); Peter Krieger, University of Hamburg (on Germany); and Bruno Vayssiere, University of Paris (on France). Moderator: Dietrich Neumann, assistant professor, history of art and architecture, Brown.
1:15 - 3:15 p.m. Panel III: Music and Youth Culture

Panelists: Franco Minganti, University of Bologna (on Italy); James Patterson, Wellesley College (on France); and Uta Poiger, University of Washington (on Germany). Moderator: Marilyn Rueschemeyer, professor of sociology, Rhode Island School of Design.
3:45 - 6:00 p.m. Panel IV: Americanism and Anti-Americanism

Panelists: David Ellwood, University of Bologna (on Western Europe); William Miles, Northeastern University (on France and French Caribbean); and Takayuki Tatsumi, Keio University (on Japan). Moderator: Ugo Volli, professor of literature, University of Bologna. ######