Monday, February 22, 2016

Core Post #1: American Perception of a mid-20th Century Europe

I'm of the belief that most young American girls fall into two camps of self-identification at some point of their lives: Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe, two women whose faces we see and quotes we hear on merchandise everywhere even today. In my youth, I was an Audrey girl. Although I had a penchant for loving the subtly vulgar, I found myself drawn to Audrey's ambiguously boyish and European nature. In "Audrey Hepburn: A Film Star as Event", William A. Brown touches on how Audrey Hepburn's ambiguous national status helped form her appeal to success and how Europeanness was being promoted through Hollywood at the time. Her European appeal and dress were considered appealing and glamorous. Additionally, her experiences in the second World War drew audience appeal and favor towards her. However, I would like to question if American perception of post World War II Europe may have been skewed. Was Europe as glamorous as it seems, especially after the horrors of the second World War. 
 Brown explains that the promotion of Europe as a site of American tourism was an attempt by the US government to persuade Americans to spend their money helping to rebuild Europe. During this period, American cinema saw a number of films set in Western European cities, like Hepburn's Roman Holiday or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Although it is said that one of America's largest exports is the American cinema, it is often easy to forget how intertwined our entertainment and politics are. During this period, much of Western Europe had been decimated by acts of the second World War. America emerged as the new hegemonic power and attempted to rehabilitate Europe through financial assistance. Yet this distress is often not seen in American films of the period set in the continent, despite its existence in European Cinema (ie the great Italian Neorealist films of the period). Often we see (Western) European cities portrayed as centers of shopping, culture, and cafes.  It would be of great interest to me to cross examine how American cinema represent post-WW2 Europe to that of Allied Europe's various cinemas. Were our perceptions of Europe based on our fantasies or a representation of actuality? 
Additionally, during this time, many of the European power's maintained some semblance of empire, but once again we rarely see this reflected in American representations of Europe at the time. While I was watching Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in class, I noticed two random children in fezzes in the cafĂ© scene where Lorelei and Dorothy find their calling as performers in Paris. They are most likely children from a country France has colonized, likely in Northern Africa. There roles are racialized, admiring the white American women and carrying their bags. I immediately wondered how American audiences of the era would have viewed the brief exchange. I also wondered if any of my classmates caught the reference as well. So I purpose that we as a class examine 20th century colonialism in American film. How was It represented in our films and for what ends? 

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