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Seducing The French: The Dilemma Of Americanization

by Richard F. Kuisel

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From Publishers Weekly
In this selective study of American influence on postwar France, Kuisel ( Capitalism and the State of Modern France ) capably, if dryly, analyzes a few major points of encounter. A review of anti-American attitudes prevalent before WW II is followed by French leftist criticism of U.S. Cold War efforts such as the Marshall Plan and even a bizarre attack on Coca-Cola when it was introduced in the late 1940s. The spread of American consumerism forced the French to debate the standards of their own civilisation . Although the French view of America softened after the 1956 Soviet intervention in Hungary, Kuisel notes that in the 1960s, De Gaulle expressed antipathy toward this country even while his economic model Americanized France. By then intellectuals had begun to criticize consumer society in general without targeting the U. S. Kuisel suggests that since the '70s, arguments with Americanization center around mass media and culture. While anti-Americanism may have quieted by the 1990s, he observes, "the rivalry is latent and potent." However, a study that fails to discuss the French fascination with Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen has missed an opportunity to lighten up. Illustrations.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
Kuisel proposes an examination of French cultural preconceptions and of how the French response to American culture reveals what France thinks of itself. But what is promised by the leading questions, and by the sexy title, is not delivered. Instead, we have a dry history of the waning of French anti-Americanism based largely on the voices of leading French intellectuals, politicians, and journalists. The result is thorough and useful but perhaps not as interesting or incisive as the cultural analysis that might have been. For instance, the most thorough chapter, based extensively on primary sources, recounts the reactions to American affluence of French businessmen brought over under the auspices of Marshall Plan administrators. These reactions shed light on the French response to the imperatives of modernization, but the topic does not make the heart leap.
- Timothy Christenfeld, Columbia Univ.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Book Description
When Coca-Cola was introduced in France in the late 1940s, the country's most prestigious newspaper warned that Coke threatened France's cultural landscape. This is one of the examples cited in Richard Kuisel's engaging exploration of France's response to American influence after World War II. In analyzing early French resistance and then the gradual adaptation to all things American that evolved by the mid-1980s, he offers an intriguing study of national identity and the protection of cultural boundaries.
The French have historically struggled against Americanization in order to safeguard "Frenchness." What would happen to the French way of life if gaining American prosperity brought vulgar materialism and social conformity? A clash between American consumerism and French civilisation seemed inevitable.
Cold War anti-Communism, the Marshall Plan, the Coca-Cola controversy, and de Gaulle's efforts to curb American investment illustrate ways that anti-Americanization was played out. Kuisel also raises issues that extend beyond France, including the economic, social, and cultural effects of the Americanized consumer society that have become a global phenomenon.
Kuisel's lively account reaches across French society to include politicians, businessmen, trade unionists, Parisian intelligentsia, and ordinary citizens. The result reveals much about the French--and about Americans. As Euro Disney welcomes travellers to its Parisian fantasyland, and with French recently declared the official language of France (to defend it from the encroachments of English), Kuisel's book is especially relevant.

About the Author
Richard F. Kuisel is Professor of History at the State University of New York, Stonybrook and the author of Capitalism and the State in Modern France (1981).



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