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 Frenchand 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.
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. (Apr.)