Americanization of Germany - The process of Americanization and the reasons referat

Americanization of Germany

1. Introduction

Everybody knows the typical subjects that we associate with America. Moreover, if we think of America we usually mean North America. The product they have spread all over the world is the issue of their way of thinking, their culture and simply their way of life. This certain way of life expresses itself in the subjects like the famous Coca Cola, the huge American cars, movies, fast food and chewing gum which are all consumer goods. Other imports from the United States are Rock ’n’ Roll and Jazz as well as hip-hop, Mickey Mouse and Sports, for example the popular American Football and Baseball.

2. Definition

The infiltration or the adaptation of other countries, in this case Germany, to North American conditions was early noticed and named as an “Americanization”.

With North American conditions, it is meant the whole culture and way of thinking as well as the “American way of life”. A cornerstone of this is the teaching of pragmatism announced by the philosopher William James whereupon “[] the deed of the individual and its business success are the only scales for luck and liberty.”[1]

3. The process of Americanization and the reasons

After the horrors of World War I people in the USA and Western Europe liked to indulge in pleasure again since they had enough of the war. With the 'Golden Twenties' the wave reached Germany, where cinemas, bars and varieties opened. The twenties clearly established the culture of masses and entertainment. With the success of jazz and American movies this trend was strongly affected by the US and lead to an extensive debate about cultural Americanization. Jazz was, as opposed to films (movies), which were invented in Europe, an American cultural appearance indeed and was considered the musical form of Americanism. With its fashionable dances like Foxtrot it had great success with a broad audience, even though it was looked down on by its critics as nigger music or as “[…] the tune of big cities and industrial life […]”. With the emerging of films through cinemas as entertaining medium which affected masses more than anything else and with its important economical impact another flooding of American culture began, especially after many companies of the film industry had turned more professional and settled in Hollywood. One even differentiated between the mostly European art film and cheap mass films. “Hollywood became a synonym for unpretending mass film ware.” According to Peter Ludes mass media cover four social functions: information, formation of opinion, culture and education, entertainment. Film and TV made advertising very popular. Big companies like Coca-Cola took advantage of this and soon became the 'icon of the American dream'. With slogans like „When you have a Coke listen, listen to the voice of America“  soon the perception came up “[…] that when non-Americans thought of democracy, it was claimed they instantly called to mind Coca-Cola.” A similar point is the idea of Americanization. At the beginning of the 20th century this word was very abstract and so people interpreted it in a different way. Most of them associated it with “modernization” which was something positive.

3.1. Germany’s situation after World War II

After World War II Germany was made responsible for releasing the war and it was declared as the chief culprit. The nation lost its self-determination. The whole German people was obsessed by this chapter of its history.

Since the end of World War II Germany has been a central problem in the strategy of US foreign policy. A re-education of German people was considered necessary in order to overcome national socialist thinking and to establish democratic structures according to the American model. “The re-education [itself] focused mainly on such areas as school and education, media and culture. The reason for this was a widespread opinion, which Richard Alexander (chief of the Education and Religious Affairs branch of the Military Government) expressed as: „[…] It is ridiculous to think that in three years’ time we can make over the thinking of a nation that is so badly infected with arrogant nationalism as Germany was. Therefore, in the beginning, there were ideas of a 'concept of punishment' with a consistent denazification and where severity of “criminal behaviour” was divided into five categories. However, the idea was given up soon and instead replaced by the willingness to integrate Germany '[] into the western community of states'. At the end of the 1940s, however, the re-education faded somehow to a re-orientation: Rigid doctrines gave place to openness in seeking solutions to the problem. Ralph Willett put it this way: „[…] re-education was undertaken less with a view to remould the German consciousness than with the wish to prevent a recurrence of aggression.“ In the course of the re-education program the so called America Houses, which mostly originated in old libraries, were built. The purpose was to attract the German people. Those endeavours were interpreted as opening a ‚window to the west’ – hence the name, America House. In 1946, the first of its art was opened in Frankfurt a.M. with numerous to follow. The houses were highly appreciated especially by the young and educated: '[] more than two third of the audience consisted of students and young people with highschool degree (…) whereas only one tenth of the people without highschool degree were visiting”. The America Houses were rated as centre of information rather than as means of propaganda. Reading halls with a large number of American books could be found there. Moreover, discussions and talks about the German-American relationship and understanding and other political issues were held. In addition to musical performances, the evening events showed quite often films with an insight into society and landscape. The financial support for the houses was reduced more and more as the Cold War 1953 in Korea began. This war could also have caused the Americanization of Germany to proceed, because Germany was now more oriented towards the west, partly because the three Foreign Ministers of the west had decided in a conference in N.Y. the rearmament of West-Germany.

The GIs were also involved in a certain Americanization after World War II:

With the kind of life they lived and their generous and mentality they impressed the population. At Youth Centers GIs played a major part in several activities. In particular they helped Germans to form jazz bands or sports teams. Germans thought very positive of the GIs and were proud to meet them: “I know a GI personally. He says I speak English like a Yank.”

3.2. The Marshall Plan

In this situation of “postwar period” where Germany was morally and economically on the ground, in 1947 a financial support program, the European Recovery Program (ERP) or also known as the “Marshall Plan” (because of its inventor George C. Marshall, the American minister of foreign affairs at this time) was approved and launched by the American Congress. The aim of this plan was to strengthen the economically weak European countries and to protect them from the Bolshevism of the USSR. Because of an assistance “[…] containing not only credits () from which Western Germany received about 1.5 billion dollar but also raw materials and food” it proved especially for Germany to be a initial aid for a rapid reconstruction. Of course, this was no unselfish action: America needed Europe as treading partners and expected to gain “[] long-term advantages in economy []”Nevertheless, the Marshall-Plan was a reason for arousing the gratitude of large masses of German citizens towards the Americans. This was an important milestone for the German-American friendship.

After World War II the American administration began to establish their power as a world police. After having lost the war and so their self-confidence, too, Germany was on the search for a new model. The USA showed great willingness and a distinctive sense of mission to convey their democracy, their economic system and their way of life especially to the Germans.

4. Culture made in the USA

4.1. The influence of Americanization on state and society

First of all the United States have contributed to the creation of a German state. Although a democratic system had already existed before the Weimar Constitution, the US participated after WW II in creating those democratic and federal structures that still exist today in Germany. One wanted to construct “[] a democratic system for Germany that developed from the bottom to the top according to the pattern of a western multi-party system.”

Germany has “copied” quite a few things regarding the economic system. The American model with its economic success under the slogan “pursuit of happiness” influenced Germany to opt for a market economy, although with a strong social emphasis. This is certainly one of the reasons for its strong presence in the global economy together with Japan and the US. Multinational companies such as Daimler-Chrysler may benefit from a similar economic infrastructure which allows them to do business with fewer restrictions.

Americanization gave positive impulses to the economy and technology. Part of this is the field of electronic which is important not only in areas such as information technology, computing and automobiles but has found its way into private households as well.

A further aspect – maybe the most important one – is language. Language is often called the foundation of culture and therefore has contributed significantly to the Americanization of German society. Due to globalization the world has become smaller over the last decades. Therefore it has become unavoidable that the German language has been enriched by certain English expressions.

The reason for this is first of all the fact that English has become the lingua franca in the global economy, in the field of science and technology. “Modern technical terms such as Internet, jeans, laser or manager that are understood internationally, should not be replaced by new words in the regional language” (such as it has been practised, for example, in an exaggerated way in France: There, a special law for the protection of the French language has been issued according to which a French word has to be created for every English one).

Secondly, German society has not only been open to new and foreign influences but it has embraced those. This is a special German trait. The Prussian king Friedrich II. apparently said: “German is the language of stable hands” (It is well known that this king who had Voltaire close to him for a long time, knew French better than his mother tongue). What was in Goethe’s age the influence of the French language is nowadays the influence of the English language. Only even more so. Because of the modern mass media words creep into the language for which there is a good German equivalent. Everywhere there are “events” and “highlights” and terms like “news” (Nachrichten), “call-center” (Anrufzentrale), “user” (Benutzer), “meeting” (Besprechung), “shopping” (Einkaufen) und “city” (Stadtzentrum), to mention just a few. These expressions have replaced our own words in every day use. It is considered “up to date” if the media, industry, advertisements – generally speaking the leaders in our consumer and fun society – “[…] talk to us in a mixture of German and American which is mockingly called ‘Denglisch’.” Paradoxically, according to an EU survey only 51% of Germans can communicate in English, in the new Bundesländer only 26%.

However, people want to be different from the general mass and be noticed by using new expressions. The reason for this may well be the desire to be admired. We associate English language with being modern. The advertisement industry which needs to radiate dynamism in order to be successful makes use of this. To make things sound more attractive, one looks for an American word. “Dauerlauf” has become much more popular since it has been called “jogging” – the same with “Gymnastik” and “aerobics”. An English word has to be printed on every clothing if you want to be “cool”. “This is visual learning! In the case of radio and TV (…) it’s acoustic learning.” According to this, we are all victims of what has been “put in charge” to us. In working life, this language affinity finds expression in a specialized, technical language, for example, computer language or the language of the financial world. Ever since the US had a leading role in scientific research their language dominates this field. The language of the youth is also influenced by this and this again is exploited by the media. Without a certain vocabulary you are “out” of the peer group. Maybe it should be mentioned that German immigrants in the US adjust quickly by changing their surnames. This could be seen as the strength of the American sense of mission.

Furthermore, Americanization finds expression in the American way of life which is familiar to us. This consists of a certain casualness of fashion, for example the baggy trousers that are part of the hip-hop culture or the clothes of the hippy era and, of course, the comfortable sneakers. On the other hand there is a strong demand for rationality and functionality which is rather alien for Europeans. This is reflected in American eating culture. Everywhere fast food chains can be found such as McDonalds, Pizza Hut, burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Frozen Foods is another example. The market is swamped by these very practical inventions. The motto is always: simple, fast, not complicated, For this reason, huge supermarkets (the Wall-Marts) are so successful. Everything you need can be found under one roof. In addition, they are partly entertainment: People meet there for a cup of coffee.

The presumably most significant symbol of the American way of life is the global “domination” of the Coca-Cola company. As Ralph Willett so aptly remarks: “In Europe, the United States, and, more recently, the Third World, Coca-Cola has come to symbolize America and American culture. (…) As a symbolic artefact it remains powerfully resonant, implying a culture in which certain values and attitudes predominate and in which there is a clear conception of the ideal society.” This status and this image makes a big impression on German society. One is part of it if one drinks Coke.

Another aspect of the American dream is the picture of American cars. There are exclusive limousines, robust jeeps, huge trucks or extravagant sports cars, No matter which one, they always seem a bit bigger or more extreme. The famous brands are General Motors, Ford, Dodge, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Cadillac or state-carriages from Lincoln. The message of all these capitalist, American consumer good is clear: They give not only joy but also the feeling of freedom, generosity and democracy.

A way of life is expressed in music, too. The black population is an important part, for instance, of the Rock ‘n’ Roll, Heavy Metal and the recently popular genre of Hip-Hop. Through the message “[…] modernity, individual freedom and rejection of absolute norms” and by provoking society, they impress especially the younger generation. They identify with the music.

A point that cannot be neglected is scientific research. This is supported by big financial contributions. Hence many Nobel price winners are from the USA. This has obviously consequences. In these areas the language of communication is exclusively English, for example in the sector of space technology. Most inventions have English names whether it is in the area of bio-chemistry, nano- or computer-technology. Sooner or later these inventions affect every day life. Nowadays almost every household owns at least one PC.

Last but not least: The US’s military dominance. It gives the US almost unrestricted freedom of action and the status of a super power. As a further kind of Americanization it can be seen the way in which the US has recently made other countries dependent on them. With the attributes mentioned above the US appears as the world police. It can make decisions in conflict areas as short time ago in Kosovo or the Iraq.

4.2. Advantages and disadvantages of the American way of life

Democracy has been available in Germany - as opposed to a widespread perception of many Americans - before 1945, little institutionalized though yet existent in the minds. That is in many clubs and in the countries parliaments until 1933. The democratization driven by missionary eagerness aroused scepticism and denial among most Germans. This shows at the same time a weak point of Americanization, which is the inability to adjust to mentality and cultural character of other nations

An advantage may be that the American mentality is more easygoing and not so serious or cramped like the German one. Famous in this context is the motto: “take it easy”.

A negative aspect is the subject of “language”. The redundant integration of several English words, although it exists a good or even better word in German will lead consequently to a superficiality and to a bastardization of the German language.

If one think of economy: The advantage of America’s way is that mechanization has been taking away a lot of hard physical work from men. The point of criticism is surely the capitalistic system. The atmosphere of work has got cold particularly in the large combines. The motivation, an essential prerequisite for quality work, suffers from it. One can talk in this respect about an approach towards American conditions. Critics of Americanization talk in this term often about a “colonization of Germany.”

5. Present and future view

At present Germany is under permanent influence of America and this in every area of life. Of course, it is very risky to make a prediction with respect to Americanization in our future. However, because of globalization and future technologies the world gets more and more closer. Among other things, this will influence our connection with the US. Because of this reason, it is obvious that our culture and our way of life is not at its end of getting manipulated and mixed with America’s. Well, a certain influence does not harm as long as there is a particular variety in cultures and not unification (“one world”) with the US at its front.

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