24 October 2009

American Studies

The lecture that I gave in a grad-level American Studies course went well. I talked about Cold War media and Postmodernism for a bit, and then I gave a bit of a history lesson in terms of the popular culture of the forties and fifties in the U.S. After that, I opened up a dialogue with the class about the kind of rhetoric they grew up with in their mass media.

To my surprise, many of them said that they were inundated with American movies as kids, so much of the "Us versus Them" mentality that they were exposed to was coming primarily from our side of the planet. In particular, they saw a lot of the overtly pro-Western media from the 1980s, such as Rambo movies and the like, even before 1989, and I couldn't help but wonder if this massive influx of American pop culture had any discernible influence over the eventual fall of the Soviet empire.

I know David Hasselhoff claims that his music is at least partially responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I'm not saying that the influence of Western media was necessarily this direct by any delusional stretches of the imagination (I'm talking to you, Hoff), but I do wonder if the dominant discourses of American mass media were enough to help plant the basic idea that in the Cold War, which was continuing to isolate the U.S.S.R. from the rest of the world, maybe the Soviets were in fact the bad guys. At the very least, our propaganda was more convincing, anyway. Then in the late eighties, when there wasn't any food and their economy was falling apart, people knew who to blame because their nationalistic rhetoric had already been undermined by that which they saw in these American movies that had found receptive audiences within their culture. This was a truly fascinating insight into what it was like to grow up in an outlying state of the former Soviet Union, at what was in many ways, the cultural faultline between East and West.

As the class continued, I asked them if they thought of Moldova as associated more with the East or the West, and they told me that the division here is primarily ethnic. People with familial ties to Russia tend to associate themselves more with that culture and are therefore more likely to be adverse to American influences, whereas Moldovans with ties to Romania tend to more readily embrace Western culture. This fits what I've seen with the language divide here that seems to also correspond with some kind of social hierarchy. Russian speakers tend to look down on those who speak Romanian. I've even heard it referred to as a "peasant's language."

All in all, it was indeed educational for me, and I hope that the students were able to get something out of it as well. They seemed genuinely interested in the topics that we discussed, and time permitting, the class probably could have gone on for much longer. I always consider that a good sign of an engaging lecture: when you go past the allotted time and no one in the class seems to mind or even notice.

I only wish my Romanian was as good as their English.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. It appears that there has to be at least an awareness of a different reality. In North Korea, for example, the general population doesn't seem to be aware that there could be a better way to live. That's why I've always advocated an open relationship with Cuba. The more they know about the U.S. the better for them.