Tag Archives: United States

Week 9 – Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

My favourite quote in this week’s readings is from “From the Noble Savage to the Third World.” Dorfmann and Mattelart write: “There are two forms of killing: by machine guns and saccharine.” The United States was not only a military overlord, but a cultural influencer on the largest scale. The US infiltrated Latin America, and much of the world, without using guns or even sending soldiers to these places. The US created media that was so appealing, so glamourous, that the whole world desired to be a part of the club. It didn’t matter that other cultures were ruthlessly stereotyped. The world devoured American media. Local celebrities could be lured to America when it suited America, leaving behind their own communities for the lights of Hollywood. Then the US could mold them into whatever image they wished, while the transplanted celebrity remained overjoyed at his or her good luck.

Disney capitalised on this idea by selling stereotypes. Cultures from the Third World were portrayed almost as children, dazzled by American ingenuity, innocent, and easily influenced. This accomplished a cultural victory that was far more profound than a simple military takeover. In the mind of Americans and the larger world, these cultures were reinforced as primitive and non-threatening. This form of conquest is a powerful way to ensure that everyone is aware of their place in the world order, and that no one group attempts to dominate America. Killing by saccharine. Evoking sentimentality in the depictions of Third World cultures ensures that these non-threatening stereotypes continue in America and the world.

America became a master at marketing, not only stereotyping other cultures to sell imported goods to Americans, but rebranding American goods to suit local communities elsewhere. The example Dawson gives is the selling of Belmond cigarettes in Mexico. By incorporating local elements into an American advertisement, the US could appeal to Mexicans by maintaining the allure of the American product but appealing to local sensibilities, a plan that was resoundingly successful. In America, the image of Carmen Miranda on bananas appeals to the American desire for the exotic romanticism of Central America. Though Miranda’s image is a way of flattening the real cultures of Central America, to many American’s this image is the only association they have with Central America. The reduction of a culture to one sexualized image was an effective way to sell bananas a century ago, and it remains the case today.

1 Comment

Filed under Week 9

Research Assignment – The Language of Jose Marti’s “Our America”

The stylistic language of José Martí’s “Our America”, one of the most famous texts written by a Latin American, is as important as the text’s content. Martí’s plea to Cuba, his home, and more generally to the people of Latin America, to beware the seemingly unchecked imperialism of North America, and unite as a unique American culture separate from the northern continent, relies heavily on vivid imagery and metaphor. Understanding that “barricades of ideas are worth more than barricades of stones” (para. 1), Martí needed to encourage his readers to generate ideas through the guidance of his text. When urging the people of Latin America to embrace those aspects of culture that set them apart from the northern British colonies, he writes, “Make wine from plantains; it may be sour, but it is our wine” (para. 10). Martí compares the nurturing of the Latin American culture to a community of bakers “rolling up their sleeves and plunging their hands into the dough, and making it rise with the leavening of their sweat” (para. 10). This animated prose is meant to appeal to the people on a level beyond academic contemplation or political discourse; Martí’s primary motive is to “awaken the inhabitants of Our America to the fact that the United States—the country that Martí allegorizes as ‘the giant with seven-leagued boots’—stood poised and ready to expand” (Belnap and Fernandez 5). Since the publication of “Our America,” generations of scholars have explored the rhetorical dimensions of Martí’s text.

The term rhetoric has been reduced in modernity to mean simply “inflated words.” The historic meaning of the term, however, is broader: it is the art of persuasive communication. Moreover, classical rhetorical principles acknowledged that discourse is transactional, meaning that the reader’s interpretation is as important to the message as the author’s words (Deer 4). Martí’s use of metaphor and imagery, particularly imagery that is distinct to the nations of Latin America, comprised heavily of the indigenous, is designed to encourage active interpretation in his readership. In reference to American-born mestizos, Martí claims that they are “ashamed of the mother that raised them because she wears an Indian apron”, and he uses similar but contrasting imagery to describe North America, who “drowns its own Indians” (para. 3). This imagery is intended to engage the Latin American people in individual and collective reflection so that they come to the desired conclusion: Our America is neither Spain nor the United States, but something distinct. Martí calls for the celebration of the diversity of Latin America, the embracing of the blend of colonial and indigenous roots, and a rejection of the idea that the United States is the sole, defining example of progress. “Our America” is a call to the people of Latin America to unite, recognize the diversity of their rich culture on its own merits, and guard against the imperialism of the United States. The rhetoric of the text accomplishes this goal by engaging the reader’s active interpretation of metaphor and imagery.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized