In 1917, we thought that the American responded only to higher ideals. We considered them "knights," "crusaders," and "saviors of civilization.". . . Several years later, we considered Americans a race which hungered after profits, wallowing in comfort, and deaf to nobility.
-- Robert de Saint-Jean, 1934
The hostility of French observers to developments in American society and foreign policy inevitably influenced their judgments about the culture as a whole. However, it would be misleading to assume that Frenchmen sought to define American civilization by combining their impressions of the particular events of the twenties. The formation of the new image was a selective process. French observers recognized Prohibition, immigration restriction, and the rise of the Klan as important developments in the United States, but their conception of American civilization was based almost entirely on the various elements of mass culture. It was the assembly line rather than racial intolerance, urban life rather than the Main Street of Sinclair Lewis which characterized America for most Frenchmen in the late twenties.
There is no doubt that French observers were correct in assessing the rise of mass culture to be the most important development in American life after World War I. However, their insistence on defining the civilization of the United States in such narrow terms was a reflection of their own concerns as well. The movie and the assembly line were making their debuts in France. Moreover, it was especially disconcerting to Frenchmen that these cultural changes