The most significant conquest of the twentieth century may well have been the triumph of American consumer society over Europe's bourgeois civilization. It is this little-understood but world-shaking campaign that unfolds in Irresistible Empire, Victoria de Grazia's brilliant account of how the American standard of living defeated the European way of life and achieved the global cultural hegemony that is both its great strength and its key weakness today.
De Grazia describes how, as America's market empire advanced with confidence through Europe, spreading consumer-oriented capitalism, all alternative strategies fell before it--first the bourgeois lifestyle, then the Third Reich's command consumption, and finally the grand experiment of Soviet-style socialist planning. Tracing the peculiar alliance that arrayed New World salesmanship, statecraft, and standardized goods against the Old World's values of status, craft, and good taste, Victoria de Grazia follows the United States' market-driven imperialism through a vivid series of cross-Atlantic incursions by the great inventions of American consumer society. We see Rotarians from Duluth in the company of the high bourgeoisie of Dresden; working-class spectators in ramshackle French theaters conversing with Garbo and Bogart; Stetson-hatted entrepreneurs from Kansas in the midst of fussy Milanese shoppers; and, against the backdrop of Rome's Spanish Steps and Paris's Opera Comique, Fast Food in a showdown with advocates for Slow Food. Demonstrating the intricacies of America's advance, de Grazia offers an intimate and historical dimension to debates over America's exercise of soft power and the process known as Americanization. She raises provocative questions about the quality of the good life, democracy, and peace that issue from the vaunted victory of mass consumer culture.
Victoria de Grazia is Moore Collegiate Professor of History and James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization, Columbia University.
Introduction: The Fast Way to Peace 1. The Service Ethic How Bourgeois Men Made Peace with Babbittry 2. A Decent Standard of Living How Europeans Were Measured by the American Way of Life 3. The Chain Store How Modern Distribution Dispossessed Commerce 4. Big-Brand Goods How Marketing Outmaneuvered the Marketplace 5. Corporate Advertising How the Science of Publicity Subverted the Arts of Commerce 6. The Star System How Hollywood Turned Cinema Culture into Entertainment Value 7. The Consumer-Citizen How Europeans Traded Rights for Goods 8. Supermarketing How Big-Time Merchandisers Leapfrogged over Local Grocers 9. A Model Mrs. Consumer How Mass Commodities Settled into Hearth and Home Conclusion: How the Slow Movement Put Perspective on the Fast Life Notes Bibliographic Essay Acknowledgments Index