In her 2005 book Irresistible Empire, historian Victoria de Grazia chronicles the advance of the American empire in Europe in the twentieth-century. The ubiquitous KFCs and Starbucks of today are late symptoms of much more significant changes in Europe, a continent seduced, de Grazia argues, into accepting American-style consumerism and its attendant transformations of culture and society. What the United States exported through private and state-sponsored endeavors was not just an “immense...capacity to produce and sell standardized goods” but also a “cherished...belief that material comforts were an inalienable corollary to the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In Germany, one of the few commonalities among the Wilhelmine period, the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and divided Germany was the dubiousness with which Germans viewed American systems of exchange. As a result, various regimes sought to adapt certain modes of capitalist production and consumption by melding American productivity with German standards of quality.
Following de Grazia’s lead, this panel will explore the effects of American-style consumerism on visual culture in twentieth-century Germany. How did the importation of American modes of production and consumption affect the production and consumption of visual culture in Germany, including, but not limited to, fine arts, film, and design? How was the American influence felt, adopted, challenged, modified, resisted, ignored, or rejected? What effect did the two world wars and the Cold War have on the continued negotiation of German and American models of exchange in the sphere of visual culture? In what ways did East German artists encounter and respond to American cultural exports? How have Germans actively constructed their own conception of America, whether imagined or grounded in experience, and how has that conception changed over time? In light of the encroachment of American culture, what emerged as, or remained, distinctly “German”?
We are seeking case studies from across the twentieth-century that illuminate, on scales large and small, how German artists, designers, filmmakers, cultural producers, and audiences reacted to the steady rise of what has become known as the “American Century.” Please send abstracts of up to 300 words and a curriculum vitae to Samuel Adams (email@example.com) and Andrea Gyorody (firstname.lastname@example.org) no later than February 12, 2013.
University of California, Los Angeles
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