Saturday, January 8, 2011: 3:10 PM
Tremont Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
The Cuban Revolution, and the anti-American tact it took after 1959, surprised many North Americans. How could a people that had been so thoroughly “Americanized”—so enamored of our cars, our sports, our tourists, our movies—suddenly reject the American Way? For the most part, answers have been sought in the botched policies of the U.S. State Department. Or, when the importance of Cuban agency is ceded, answers have been sought in the military strategies and idiosyncratic charisma of Fidel Castro. But what these approaches fail to examine is the overwhelmingly popular support among Cubans that made the Cuban Revolution possible and its roots in a revolutionary Cuban nationalism that was consciously nurtured over decades. This paper begins to show how that revolutionary Cubanidad was saturated with U.S. cultural influences. I use Cuban film reception to argue that Cubans developed a profound ambivalence about the American Way, and ultimately a rejection of it, not in spite of the “singular intimacy” of U.S.-Cuba relations but precisely because of it. Hollywood films, for instance, are full of ambivalence about the American Way. Even in the mid-century Good Neighbor period in which Hollywood filmmakers cooperated most closely with U.S. government propagandists to promote U.S. hegemony throughout the hemisphere, Cubans found plenty of Hollywood films to put to counterhegemonic use. Films noir were used as evidence of the great distance that the U.S. had fallen from its egalitarian ideals to its contemporary depraved materialistic reality. This paper uses the reception of two films by Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator and Monsieur Verdoux, to explore the development of Cuban ambivalence towards the American Way which ultimately produced the Cuban Revolution.