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Politics of Popular Culture

In both the Eastern and Western blocs, as we read this week, a generation’s worth of frustration boiled out onto the streets in the 1960s. Most of the protesters and authorities behaved in a civil fashion. This further increased the hopes of this strong minority of activists that their perspectives might now be heard.

This global push for change was not without important victories, evidenced by the successes of the US civil rights movement and the liberalization of Soviet culture, not to mention the independence movements of many former colonies in Asia and Africa. Part of what made this movement of people across the globe so unique was that it was widespread and democratic; it came from the general public, not the elite powers. Yet that democracy also became its downfall. Popular movements, especially ones that challenge fundamental cultural values, threaten those in power, and as those authority figures stiffened their resolve against change and protesters grew more confrontational, these earlier hopes for peaceful change turned into a series of violent clashes that arguably left these protests movements farther from their goals than ever before.

This week’s film, The Battle of Algiers, stands as an example of how protests movements used popular media to communicate their concerns far outside their cultures. The 1966 film, funded in part by the Algerian government, was geared towards the French, the former occupying power in Algeria. It intended to show the consequences of colonization and to give some context for the descent into violence that had come to define the Algerian “problem” in France as well as colonial situations elsewhere (Vietnam was another example). French and other countercultural movements used the film to illustrate the consequences of colonization for not just the colonized, but for the morality of the colonizing nation as well. The film was (and still is) used by protest movements across the globe to visualize the consequences of foreign intervention and the passion and desperation of those seeking to gain the right of self-determination.

Hunt, The World Transformed, Part Two Introduction and Chapter 4
Suri, J. (2009). “The Rise and Fall of an International Counterculture.” American Historical Review 114(1): pp. 61-68
Battle of Algiers (1966). Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo. [Video, 2:01:33 minutes].
In a post of at least 250 words, consider the following:

Compare the tactics used by the French (the colonizer) and the Algerians (the colonized). Consider their goals as well as the implications that their tactics had on future relations between them.
Given what you read in Suri this week, how was media used as a tool to create a global, popular culture of protest in the 1960s?

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