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Cold War Nostalgias: East and West

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Organizer: Oana Godeanu-Kenworthy

Co-Organizer: Oana Popescu-Sandu

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In The New American Exceptionalism (2009), Donald Pease argues that the ideological binaries of the Cold War provided the U.S. with an external Other whose existence legitimized America’s growing global involvement and reshaped its national self-definitions. Hollywood played an important role in crafting domestic and global narratives about the Cold War until 1989 and after, the conflict falling into oblivion after 9/11. Yet, the second decade of the 2000s has seen a boom in Hollywood films and television about the Cold War years. The previously obsolete conflict is now back on our screens in a variety of articulations - from critically acclaimed and hugely popular shows like The Americans or Stranger Things to smaller productions like Comrade Detective or the recent (and controversial) HBO production Chernobyl, to blockbuster movies of unequal value like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), Bridge of Spies (2015), Hail, Caesar! (2016), Atomic Blonde (2017),The Shape of Water (2017), Red Sparrow (2018) and Creed II (2019), in which the Cold War is either a key part of the subject matter or a subplot.

This seminar seeks to explore the reemergence of the Cold War as a topic of global popular interest 30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. We aim to place this discussion in the context provided by previous studies of post-communist nostalgia, and seek a multidirectional, transnational approach to the phenomenon. Memory, in a Foucauldian reading, can be a political force, a form of subjugated knowledge, but also a site of potential opposition and resistance, vulnerable to manipulation. Theorized most notably by Svetlana Boym (2001) and Todorova and Gille (2010), post-socialist nostalgia for communism fueled different, mostly regressive social movements including Ostalgia (or nostalgia for the socialist East) in many parts of Eastern Europe in the early 2000s. The new popularity of the topic in Hollywood coincides with a rise in nationalist discourse and with new debates around the idea of democratic socialism in the US. 

We invite papers exploring recent film and television representations of the Cold War in North America and Europe that highlight the complex legacy of the conflict on both sides of the Atlantic. Particularly encouraged are papers focusing on the former Eastern bloc, in an effort to challenge the still-dominant Hollywood metanarrative. Some questions to consider: 
  • How do Western and Eastern media memorialize this past ideological conflict? 

  • Is the prominence of the 1980s in American film and television a form of nostalgia?If yes, how can we theorize this reverse and paradoxical nostalgia, since the West is seen as the winner of the Cold War? As Mestrovic (2004) argues, is it the loss of the modernist project that the West actually mourns?  

  • Do these cultural trends relate to the political and social dynamics of Europe or to the US new global role?

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