Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Jazz Strategy: Dizzy, Foreign Policy, and Government in 1956

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Jazz Strategy: Dizzy, Foreign Policy, and Government in 1956

Article excerpt

1955: Legendary Radio Corporation of America chairman David Sarnoff calls a conference in Midtown Manhattan. He presents a ten-ounce turntable, which seems ordinary except for its portability and the fact that the United States government has already tossed several of these record players out of military planes. Sarnoff's introduction is serious. There is no dispute over sound theory. Packaged with various pro-American recordings, some members of the federal government believe that lightweight phonographs can help win the Cold War. The self-powered players are the latest device to further American empire (James).

Sarnoff, the visionary who helped launch television in 1939 - "Now we add sight to sound," he said - was, in 1956, more a stargazer than a prophet when adding flight to sound (qtd. in Casey and Werner 88). The conference on the skydiving phonograph, though, pointed to a much larger postwar theme: the emphasis on sound in foreign policy. Long before the American military serenaded Manuel Noriega with ear-splitting rock tunes, the government spent millions blanketing foreign nations with more soothing sounds of America through radio programs, live performances, and library recordings.

The sudden jump in funding for government sponsored cultural programs showcased a new commitment made after World War II. From 1947 through 1951, an average of $37 million was set aside for cultural endeavors, with a 1951 high of $57 million and a 1948 low of $14 million. The average from 1952 through 1956 was $109 million. These figures, while calculated separately as budget items, represent part of a broader foreign policy that included military and diplomatic resources. The increased funds available for government sponsored cultural events reveal a great concern with how other nations viewed the United States. "In recent years," wrote Franz Joseph in As Others See Us, "the social scientists have given much attention to the 'images' that each nation has of other nations" (vi). 1.

1955: "Coke, Boogie-Woogie, and Gum Not So Bad" states the New York Times (Raymond). An official visit to the United States by a Polish observer appears to work. Jerzy Putrament publishes a popular article in Poland saying that the widespread denunciation of American goods is misguided. He thinks that many commercial items in America have no connection to a capitalist conspiracy (as he had been taught) and everything to do with their pleasurable effects. The Pole proposes that Coca-Cola be used in his nation's campaign against alcoholism. "It Isn't the Gum" - a tongue-in-cheek, op-ed piece printed a few days later hopes that gum users in New York and in Moscow will build on Putrament's enlightenment and stop leaving their non-conspiratorial chewing gum around the subways.

Inviting foreign nationals to witness the evils of capitalism first hand was part of changing the international view of America. Following the collapse of the anti-fascist alliance and the onset of the Cold War, the Soviet Union restarted its criticism of America which had been suspended during the two countries' war coalition. In 1945 and 1946, L'Humanité, the official organ of the French Communist Party which was faithful to the Soviet stance, portrayed the promise of Hollywood with extensive coverage of the visits of Rita Hayworth and other American icons. Abruptly, in 1947, the United States appeared in the paper's pages as a failing imperial power on the precipice of social and economic upheaval. All things American were derided and, according to Cora Sol Goldstein, "American cinema and the American film industry were a particular target, and Hollywood was accused of introducing American ideology and values through entertainment" (19-20). 2.

The relentless Soviet criticisms of the capitalist country were, by and large, dismissed as propaganda and Putremant's revelation, while entertaining, did not signify any great victory. It was taken for granted that communist and capitalist countries fundamentally disagreed on basic social issues. …

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