In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Journal of Cold War Studies 3.1 (2001) 137-138

[Access article in PDF]

Book Review

Jazz, Rock, and Rebels:
Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany

Uta G. Poiger, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000. 333 pp. $50.00 (hardcover), $19.95 (softcover).

Germany was exposed to American cultural (and perhaps especially musical and cinematic) influences as far back as the 1920s and 1930s, but with the Allied victory over the Third Reich in 1945 the western zones of occupation were flooded with artifacts of American fashion and popular culture, from nylon stockings and "boogie-woogie shoes" to "bebop" and icons of film rebellion such as Marlon Brando and James Dean. In this study of American cultural influences in Germany from 1945 to 1962, Uta Poiger argues that both West German and East German authorities were concerned about the "oversexualization" of women and "feminization" of men (p. 4) that allegedly resulted from American popular culture. This concern, says Poiger, linked efforts to redefine German identity with normative gender roles and mass culture more generally.

In preparing this book, Poiger made use of archives in Berlin, Potsdam, Koblenz, and Urbana, Illinois, as well as the National Archives in Washington, DC. She also conducted interviews with seventeen individuals in Berlin and made use of a wide array of contemporary periodicals and newspapers, as well as appropriate secondary sources in German and English.

The result is a significant contribution to our understanding of the dynamics of cultural policy in the two Germanys, including perceptions of cultural threat. When we see, for example, that a West German writer described young people dancing to rock rhythms as "wild barbarians in ecstasy" (p. 8), or that the East German regime [End Page 137] "conflated the consumption of American popular culture with fascism and capitalist militarism" (p. 104), we can understand that the authorities on both sides of the border felt deeply threatened by this new musical language.

Rock and jazz were perceived as threats because of the entire ambience associated with them, including changes in attire (such as "Texas shirts," p. 31) and the defiant rebelliousness of German young people, which probably had more to do with the catastrophic failings of the older generation than with rock-and-roll in its halcyon days. But rock and jazz were not the end of it. Every bit as important as agents of cultural Americanization were the movies and the dime novels. Westerns, gangster movies, and films about rebels on motorcycles all resonated with young people in West Germany. Until the East German authorities constructed the Berlin Wall in 1961, many young East Germans were crossing over to West Berlin to watch the latest American films.

Throughout this study Poiger draws attention to the parallels between East and West Germany. But the essential difference between the two states, of course, lay in the fact that whereas West Germany was politically and militarily allied with the United States, which was the very source of the cultural threat, the leaders of East Germany viewed America as both a political foe and a cultural menace.

Poiger devotes an entire chapter to the Elvis Presley phenomenon. Interestingly, RCA Victor, Presley's American label, marketed Presley in West Germany in terms that combined gender transgression with hints of private conformity. Victor's slogan was "He walks like Marilyn Monroe but at home he is a model son" (p. 171). Inevitably, the West German media and public picked up on the gender transgression and forgot about the "model son."

In the epilogue Poiger looks ahead to the late 1960s, noting the rising influence of British rock (the Beatles and the Rolling Stones). She urges others who undertake research on the two Germanys to pay as much attention to the similarities as to the differences.

Sabrina P. Ramet, University of Washington