Panel 24: Transmediality and the role of the U.S. in cultural translation (Florian Freitag)

As evidenced by terms and concepts such as Americanization, McDonaldization, or Disneyfication, the United States as well as concepts and products commonly associated with America have, in processes of cultural translation and particularly with respect to the 20th century, been considered a center. In his classic text on the changing role of America in transcultural dynamics, “American Culture: Creolized, Creolizing” (1988), for instance, Ulf Hannerz distinguishes between, on the one hand, the period of the formation of a distinctive American culture, which evolved as a creolized or hybridized version of various European cultures, and, on the other hand, a later period, during which America increasingly exported its (mass) cultural products to a periphery where they creolized or, indeed, Americanized local cultures.
Following the “transnational turn” in 21st-century American Studies, this center-periphery dichotomy has increasingly been challenged. Using concepts such as “ChinAmerica,” transcultural and transnational American Studies have attempted to overcome scholarly truisms about cultural metropolitan dominance and peripheral dependency and passivity. Instead, they have considered the ways cultural products, forms, concepts, and movements pass through America as they crisscross the globe, changing their surroundings and changing themselves along the way.
What has been largely overlooked in this reconceptualization of America as a cultural crossroads rather than either a cultural center or periphery, however, is the role of intermediality. For at least with respect to specific mass media such as movies, television, video games, or theme parks as well as with respect to the distribution of cultural products via the internet, the U.S., with their often superior expertise and infrastructure, do seem to function as a center of cultural translation. Thus, for instance, the Harry Potter film series and theme park attractions, although based on the literary works of a British author, were co-produced and created, respectively, in the U.S., before they were re-exported into the global market. Hence, the role of media and intermediality in the consideration of the U.S. as either a center, a periphery, or, indeed, a crossroads of cultural translation and transcultural dynamics offers a rich field for both broader theoretical discussions and specific case studies.
Questions to be asked in this panel include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • How do medial and cultural translation generally interact to produce new cultural forms?
  • Can the alterations that specific “foreign” cultural forms and products have undergone in the U.S. be attributed mainly to the requirements of intermedial translation or rather to intercultural translation?
  • Is there something intrinsically “American” about cultural forms and products that have been medially and/or culturally translated in the U.S.?
  • Do specific media favor the positioning of the U.S. as a cultural center and if so, which media are these?
  • Have the U.S. developed into a center of remediation that imports cultural content from the periphery only to medially and culturally translate it and re-export it?
  • What roles have specific American companies in the culture and entertainment industry played in processes of medial and cultural translation?
  • How are cultural forms that have been medially and/or culturally translated in the U.S. received in the global market?