How did ideas about humor shape US allies’ perceptions of America and Americans during the Cold War? This essay offers a small part of the puzzle by examining a category of unfunny jokes that midcentury Turks came to call “Amerikan.” The structure of these jokes shifted between the late 1940s and 1990s, offering clues as to how disparate cultures can merge and transform across uneven power divides. The label itself and the connection to “unlaughter,” however, also operated as a political index. Turkish opinion leaders and journalists used Amerikan jokes to comment on US actions, including Cold War aid policy and the war in Vietnam, and to code local perceptions of American political leaders, including President Harry Truman, then senator Joseph Biden, and President Ronald Reagan. Using Turkish newspaper archives and Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports, this essay demonstrates how ideas about American national character coded through humor could influence local perceptions at a time when the United States was both seeking to differentiate itself from Europe as a “benevolent” world power and driving economic and cultural change in newly independent nations.


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pp. 59-81
Launched on MUSE
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