When it comes to the production and distribution of mass culture, no country in modern times has come close to rivaling the success of America. From the revolutions in central Europe and the Soviet Union that drew heavily on distinctly American symbols like blue jeans and rock 'n' roll to former president Bill Clinton's image juxtaposed with Elvis Presley's on a Republic of Chad postage stamp, the reach of American mass culture extends into every corner of the globe. Most believe this is a twentieth-century phenomenon made possible by cinema and television, but in the masterful Buffalo Bill in Bologna, Robert W. Rydell and Rob Kroes show that its roots are far deeper.
Buffalo Bill in Bologna reveals that the process of globalizing American mass culture began as early as the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, as the authors show, by the end of World War I, the United States already boasted an advanced network of culture industries that served to promote American values overseas. They narrate how the circuses, amusement parks, vaudeville, mail-order catalogs, dime novels, and movies developed after the Civil War-tools central to hastening the reconstruction of the country-actually doubled as agents of American cultural diplomacy abroad. As symbols of America's version of the "good life," cultural products became a primary means for people around the world, especially in Europe, to reimagine both America and themselves in the context of America's growing global sphere of influence. Paying special attention to the role of the world's fairs, the exporting of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show to Europe, the release of The Birth of a Nation, and Woodrow Wilson's creation of the Committee on Public Information, Rydell and Kroes offer an absorbing excursion through America's cultural expansion at the turn of the century.
A tour de force that recasts what has been popularly understood about this period of American and global history, Buffalo Bill in Bologna will be viewed as a major contribution to our understanding of American mass culture's rise to prominence.
"The book demonstrates decisively that American popular culture had a significant international presence well before the First World War and that its ideological meanings were always mediated by the ways in which it was apprehended, resisted, and appropriated by global audiences. . . . A deft and suggestive contribution to the emerging field of global cultural studies."
Joy S. Kasson