Impact of Cultural Exchanges: Jazz and Rock n’ Roll
Americans and Soviets both viewed popular culture as an important weapon in the battle to attain influence in Europe during the Cold War. Each thought that increasing the strength of its culture could play a crucial role in winning support for its side. The U.S. wished to limit the influence of the Soviet Union and prevent Communism from spreading over the world. Due to the USSR having significant control over Eastern Europe, the U.S. needed to formulate policies to keep allies and neutral countries from turning Communist. The U.S. also had to influence the Soviet Union without risking an open military conflict, therefore the government needed to be delicate about its propaganda. This led the American officials to choose the evolutionary concept of gradual cultural infiltration and cultural exchanges through the power of music. What did Americans consider as quintessentially American music? Jazz and rock and roll, of course. Propaganda is a powerful tool that has always existed in the world. It can be best described as information, especially of a biased type, used to endorse or publicize a particular political cause. The U.S. used culture for containment of communism in the Soviet because they wanted to “denounce communism, exalt the capitalist system, and promote democracy” (Hixson pg 122). Before the purge of Western influence in the Eastern Bloc, the U.S. already had its foot in the door on infiltrating the Soviet culture. The U.S and Soviet were allies during WWII and Joseph Stalin opened Soviet border to Lend-Lease aid, as well as to American music, films, and printed materials. Film became a popular medium for transmitting American culture, as well as magazine readings such as Amerika- magazine featuring reprints of articles from U.S. publications (Hixson pg 118). Much to the chagrin of the U.S. and after the war, the Kremlin launched a campaign to purge the USSR of foreign stimulus due to the concern of the impact of massive exposure to the Western culture. Due to numerous constraints and opposing views on how to approach the cultural infiltration, the U.S. government agreed that using cultural programs as opposed to hard propaganda could create positive results. One program that garnered attention overseas was the radio broadcast Voice of America (VOA). Those working at VOA understood the complexity of how music is a universal language and therefore knew American music could have a powerful hold on the people abroad. VOA broadcasted a variety of American music, the best-known efforts centering on jazz, which was celebrated as the music of freedom. The constant programming and efforts by the U.S. did show progress since the Soviet public became curious about the American way and mostly excited to copy from it. Despite all efforts by the Soviet government to dismiss and ridicule all attempts by the U.S., the damage was done and the minds of the citizens grasped onto developing a country they wanted. Music such as Jazz and Rock and Roll was a critical tool in this venture to free Eastern Europe and to present a positive light on the American way of life.
Extending jazz music worldwide became the launching pad for American culture influencing the Soviet Union. It quickly became the icon to the U.S for cultural tours, because unlike classical music, Jazz was uniquely and authentically American. It was a beacon of an art form that was able to surpass obstacles of all kind while also putting international matters in a complex cultural context. Jazz progressively appealed to people who have been emotional strained by Communism in the Soviet bloc and who were struggling for freedom. By the mid-1950s jazz was celebrated as a critical cultural weapon of the Cold War. The American government focused on projecting music onto the people overseas instead of information. It was through Willis Conover’s hour-long jazz program on VOA that led him to be the most...
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