The Australasian Journal of American Studies is the official journal of the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association. It is published twice a year, in July and December, by the Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association and the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

You can access full text of AJAS via the America: History and Life database via EBSCO through your University library. (Access for University of Sydney staff and students here)

Current issue (July 2016) - Volume 35 Number 1

This special issue of the Australasian Journal of American Studies, edited by the Centre's Rodney Taveira and Aaron Nyerges, arose out of a conference held at the US Studies Centre in June 2015 on “The State and US Culture Industries.”

While questions of how state surveillance relates to issues of national security and individual freedom have a long provenance, extending back through the Cold War and earlier, they have been given sharper resolution in recent times by political affairs involving Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, as well as by wide-ranging debates in the United States and elsewhere about the nature of cybersecurity.

The contributions to this special issue frame these controversies within the context of American culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, seeking to place charged conceptions of how cultural narratives relate to state power within a broader historical framework.

Contents

  • Editorial Paul Giles and David Goodman  
  • Introduction: Populism and Propoganda in US Culture Industries (full article) Rodney Taveira and Aaron Nyerges

Articles

  • Demagogic Populism and US Culture Industries: A Long Tradition Paul K. Jones
  • Spies Spying on Spies Spying: The Rive Noire, the Paris Review, and the Specter of Surveillance in Post-war American Literary Expatriate Paris, 1953-1958 Craig Lanier Allen
  • The Committee on Public Information and the Birth of US State Propoganda Nick Fischer
  • Selling America to the World: The Office of War Information's The Town(1945) and the American Scene Series Dean J. Kotlowski
  • Four Hundred Million Customers: Carl Crow and the Legacy of 1930s Sino-American Trade Elizabeth Ingleson

Norman Harper Prize Essay

  • Laying Claim: Framing the Occupation of Alcatraz in theIndians of All Tribes Alcatraz Newsletter Rhiannon Bertaud-Gandar

Book Reviews

  • Carroll Pursell, From Playgrounds to PlayStation Reviewed by Alexandra Dumitresco 
  • Dean J. Kotlowski, Reviewed by Douglas Craig
  • Kit Candlin and Cassandra Pybus, Reviewed by Jennie Jeppesen
  • Teresa Shewry, Hope at Sea: Possible Ecologies in Oceanic Literature Reviewed by Ruth Blair
  • Hsu-Ming Teo, Reviewed by Jeddiah Evans 
  • Audra Simpson, Reviewed by Claudia B. Haake 
  • Ian Tyrell, Crisis of the Wasteful Nation: Empire and Conversation in Theodor Roosevelt’s America Reviewed by Ruth A. Morgan 
  • Barbara Ryan and Milette Shamir, eds. Reviewed by Heather Neilson
  • Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848–1898 Reviewed by Ana Stevenson

Abstracts

Demagogic Populism and US Culture Industries: A Long Tradition - Paul K. Jones

Frankfurt School conceptions of culture industry and demagogy are employed in a synoptic historical analysis of the relation between demagogy and US culture industries. A recent New York Times editorial critique of Donald Trump’s demagogy is placed in a tradition of tension between US high journalism and demagogy dating from the 1920s. This period saw the near simultaneous codification of professional editorial newspaper ethics and the rise of broadcast demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin. The tradition reaches its most famous conflict point in the now heroicized struggle between Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy. The state sought to redress the rise of culture industry demagogy via communications regulation known as The Fairness Doctrine. The latter’s demise enabled the 1990s return to prominence of demagogic speech within the culture industries.

The article argues, however, that what was pivotal to this history was the facilitation of the commodification of mediated demagogic speech at the advent of broadcasting, a path apparently unique to the USA amongst the major democracies. Rather than a return to the contentious burden on speech of a Fairness Doctrine, decommodification is thus the most plausible means of reducing US culture industry demagogy.

Spies Spying on Spies Spying: The Rive Noire, the Paris Review, and the Specter of Surveillance in Post-war American Literary Expatriate Paris, 1953-1958 - Craig Lanier Allen

The history of American expatriation in post-World War II Paris offers a rich archive through which to explore historical tensions between notions of freedom and citizenship. Less known is that this history offers a valuable lens through which to explore national security and domestic intelligence-gathering practices in free, democratic societies such as the United States. The American government’s surveillance of American writers living and working in post-war Paris infringed upon their freedoms and complicated their notions of civic responsibility to and for the United States.

This article will use the Gibson Affair (Paris, 1958), a major forgery case that French and American literary scholars have long suspected was instigated by American intelligence, to explore the “specter of surveillance” that existed between the two principal groups of American writers living and working in post-war Paris, namely the community of black American writers known collectively as Paris’s Rive Noire or Black Bank (Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Chester Himes) and the founders of the Paris Review (George Plimpton, Peter Matthiessen, Harold L. “Doc” Humes).

The Committee on Public Information and the Birth of US State Propoganda - Nick Fischer

As combatant nations commemorate the centenary of the “Great War,” it is important to acknowledge the role of the war ushering in a new era of state propaganda. The technological advent both of total war and of modern communications media encouraged governments to attend as much to the morale of civilians as enlisted men. While all combatant governments invested heavily in propaganda, US government propaganda was recognized as being distinctive, both for the quality and breadth of its operations and for having brought all such activity under the control of a purpose-built official agency, the Committee on Public Information.

The committee was not only an American but a world first. Its legacy was profound and complex. Its ingenuity is disputed, as are its goals and the methods it used to achieve them. The sense of many Americans in the 1920s and ’30s that they had been manipulated by the committee strengthened isolationist sentiment and made more difficult Franklin Roosevelt’s task of persuading the electorate to support war against the fascist powers of Europe and Asia. Although the CPI’s tainted reputation influenced Roosevelt’s decision not to revive the committee, the messages and techniques it pioneered were widely used to help wage the Second World War and also the Cold War.

Selling America to the World: The Office of War Information's The Town (1945) and the American Scene Series - Dean J. Kotlowski

During World War II, the United States government’s Office of War Information (OWI) used the small farming town to sell America to the world. The short documentary The Town (1945) is one example. Part of The American Scene, a thirteen-part series of short documentaries produced by OWI’s overseas branch, The Town showcased farmers and small townspeople to underscore the effectiveness of American government, the diversity of American ethnic cultures, and the blend of realism, idealism, piety, and diligence that marked the American character.

Overall, the American Scene engaged in “soft sell” advertising by sending the message to international audiences that Americans were just like Europeans and that democracy had the means to solve pressing problems. Utilizing talent from Hollywood, The Town and its director (Josef von Sternberg) honed in on healthy children at play, on an African American reading in the local library, and on happy, hardworking, and prosperous people. The film thus implied that the policies initiated by Franklin D. Roosevelt had succeeded in enhancing “security” for a wide range of Americans. Yet racial discrimination, a blemish barely addressed by the New Deal State, received scant mention in either The Town or the wider American Scene

Carl Crow and the Legacy of 1930s Sino-American Trade - Elizabeth Ingleson

Carl Crow’s Four Hundred Million Customers, providing first-hand advice on how to trade with China, was first published in 1937. Widely popular, the book won the National Book Award and went through multiple editions throughout the twentieth century. Most recently, in 2003, EastBridge publishers reprinted Crow’s work. Even though nearly eight decades had elapsed since Crow first penned the book, EastBridge framed it as a source of contemporary expertise.

This paper explores Crow’s work and its recent republication. The notion that Crow’s 1937 book held any relevance in 2003 illustrates much deeper ways in which Western-centric expectations of change in China continued to inform American foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. 

Laying Claim: Framing the Occupation of Alcatraz in the Indians of All Tribes Alcatraz Newsletter

On November 20, 1969, a group of American Indian activists calling themselves Indians of All Tribes (IOAT) occupied the former penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay to protest against and raise awareness about federal policies towards American Indians. Media attention, along with their own publications, gave IOAT a platform from which to bring attention to the grievances of the Indian communities in the Bay area and beyond.

The media strategy IOAT used to communicate their message was the most innovative aspect of the occupation, and is arguably its most successful achievement. IOAT solicited attention from news media, which reported the occupation to American and international audiences. In addition to providing access for mainstream media, TV cameras, and journalists, IOAT produced its own media, such as open letters, pamphlets, and a broadcast radio program called Radio Free Alcatraz. IOAT also produced the Indians of All Tribes Alcatraz Newsletter (also known as the Alcatraz Newsletter). Published over the course of the nineteen-month occupation, the newsletter gives clear, contemporary insight into the intentions and attitudes of the occupiers. Yet few historians have afforded it attention, relying instead on contemporaneous outsider reports, retrospective memoirs, and oral histories. This essay addresses that deficiency by examining the ways in which IOAT represented the occupation of Alcatraz Island in the Indians of All Tribes Alcatraz Newsletter.