European countries have absorbed a great deal in the way of material and culture from the United States, they have not become "Americanized," and that each country has incorporated what it takes from the United States into its own nationalism. In addition, the author argues that American culture has been influenced by European countries, although our culture has remained distinctly American. Finally, he makes the point that "Europe" is not one culture -- and that the United States is made up of many cultures as well. While European countries are "not like us," Europe and the United States have the presence of multiple cultures in common.
The book is organized into two sections. In the first three chapters, the author gives an overview from prior to World War II and continuing through the end of the Cold War. Then the author looks at specific cultural components affected by American influences in Europe as well as European influences on American. He ends the book with a discussion of globalization and how it affects all.
Historically, Pells marks America's participation in World War II as the event that positioned the United States as a superpower as well as putting us in a place to have significant effects on the cultures of European countries (1). While "cross-pollenization between the United States and Europe occurred before then, the influence reached a critical mass in the post World War II years that caused concern among Europeans. However, he notes that some Europeans were concerned with the creeping influence of America in the 19th century, and cites a book written in 1901 titled The Americanization of the World as an example of concern over seas regarding American influence abroad (7). Pells notes that the precursors to American economic domination began after World War I when American companies began expanding to other companies through such actions as buying European factories (9). That, coupled with increased exports, began a pattern of strong U.S. influence on other countries.
The United States also actively exported its culture, both informally as American artists and performers found venues for performances there or actually moved to European countries to live as American ex-patriots. He notes that World War II substantially broadened the cultural exchanges and especially as it came to people, made the exchange strongly two-way as the United States received war refugees, including not only Jews freed from concentration camps but scientists fleeing Nazi influence before the war or choosing to leave Germany afterwards (pp. 32-34). The book gives extensive examples of such exchanges. Scientists from other countries played an important role not only in the development of nuclear energy but in the rocket research that led to our space program.
The author also makes note of the effect of the Cold War on America's European influence. It could be argued that the Cold War began in earnest with the blockading of East Berlin and the construction of the wall separating East and West Berlin. Berlin was divided into four areas of control at the end of World War II, including a section controlled by the U.S.S.R. Germany itself had been devastated by World War II and needed extensive help rebuilding (43), and the United States was the leader in that effort. Part of that process involved re-forming the German educational system to something more resembling an idealized vision of American education (45). This attempt to change German educational models is an excellent example of the United States government attempting to make other countries more in the American image, an effort resented in other countries and successfully rebuffed in the case of German schools. The author also notes that The U.S.S.R. was doing the same thing in its sector, eliminating all private schools as "elitist" (47).
Europe became a cultural battleground of sorts during the Cold War due to a variety of factors including the United States' need to have allies both in the population of other countries as well as in the government. The U.S. government believed it was important to indoctrinate the citizens of other countries against Communism (66). Cultural events were included in this anti-Communist propaganda campaign, including a month long series of concerts in Europe that prominently featured Russian composers out of favor with their government as well as Russian emigres to the United States such as Igor Stravinsky (75).
The author points out that by the mid-fifties, most of the major powers were using culture to export philosophies or political agendas, including Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy (p. 83).
On page 136 Pells writes, "The Americans were everywhere, and everywhere they went in Western Europe they created tiny replicas of the United States ... American newspapers and magazines; posters advertised American movies ..." However, this comment might only reflect simple realities that a market existed for American items where Americans congregated. We see it in the United States today: Chinatown in San Francisco has newspapers, magazines, and movies for sale in Chinese and caters to the Chinese population. Marketing to the customers, no matter what language they speak or where they are from does not seem as insidious as government attempt to manipulate other countries into being more like the United States.
As Pell moves through the history of cultural exchange between the United States, he makes specific notes of certain industries and companies. He notes that when a country becomes so prominent in world culture and economy, it becomes an easy target simply because it is so familiar (162). The United States was blamed for all sorts of things. If American movies sold better than a country's own movies, the American movie industry was accused of manipulating the movie industry to bring that result about (162). In fairness to those critics, the United States brought some criticism regarding manipulation on itself since the government did attempt to manipulate other countries on occasion. However, the American film industry did affect the film industry of other countries through selective investment (p. 226). American producers were interested only in funding movies that would do well in the United States, which had an effect on foreign films. American publishers were criticized because they aggressively marketed U.S. books overseas but did not do anything to make it easier for foreign authors to sell their books in the United States (p. 267).
Three companies in particular epitomize American trade influences on European countries: Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Disney. The publisher emphasizes this point on the cover of the book by showing a picture of the Eiffel Tower with a McDonald's in the background.
Coca-Cola's trademark may have been one of the first to universally represent American influence. Europe's beverage industries had traditionally been made up of beer and wine manufacturers along with fine bottled water. Coca-Cola was quintessentially American, and widely resented when it first appeared in Europe. The company kept the recipe for the soft drink a trade secret, thus shutting European manufactures out of any hope of manufacturing the product and thus participating in the profits in any significant way (199). In addition, Coca-Cola competed with local products for the finite money spent on beverages (200).
McDonald's hamburger chain was greeted with even less enthusiasm. "Fast food" was an American response to a hectic life style that many Europeans did not want to see develop in their communities. Not only McDonald's but Kentucky Fried Chicken and Burger King followed, along with restaurants with in-your-face American names like "Planet Hollywood" (302). Many European countries looked at their national cuisines with great pride and were appalled to see McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken competing with the styles of food that had developed in their countries over hundreds of years. Ironically, a McDonald's near Lenin's Tomb in Moscow became the busiest McDonald's in the world (p. 303).
Euro-Disney, the "Disneyland" built outside of Paris, might be viewed by some as the epitome of Americanization transported and plopped down in the middle of a European landscape. However, it was just the end result of the growing influence of the movie industry in Europe (p. 212). Disney movies were highly popular in Europe resulting in an interest in other things related to Disney.
Television has also had a big influence on European culture. Some shows had particularly strong impact. The show Dallas represented, to some Europeans, everything that was most wrong with the United States (259). The show was particularly popular in Holland, where 50% of the population watched it. Interestingly, viewers reported that they recognized that Dallas represented an extreme example of fictional American life. Nonetheless, many European spokespeople were outraged by the show (260). Mega-broadcasting systems such as Viacom, which owned MTV and Nickelodeon, specifically targeted European customers (233).
Near the end of the book, Pells begins to explore just how Europeans integrated American influence into their lives. He points out that the fans of Dallas in Holland appeared to enjoy the show because in spite of its almost parody-like qualities, they saw things in the characters and their problems to…