Rebooting the Cold War: Western Triumphalism and the Foreign Policy of Popular Culture

Rebooting the Cold War: Western Triumphalism and the Foreign Policy of Popular Culture, a talk by Penny Von Eschen, L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities, Cornell University.

The talk will explore the intersection between politics and popular culture in post 1991 U.S.-Russian relations. Starting with top-selling video games that engendered international controversies as Russian-U.S. tensions flared in the George W. Bush administration, I suggest that we read Black Ops and its Modern Warfare predecessors as part of a disparate yet synergistic field of cultural practices, performances and enactments that taken together reboot the deep structures of the cold war.

Taking a reboot not as repetition but a darker do-over, I ask whether such productions produce a common sense narrative about the relationship between the cold war and the war on terror.

What kind of knowledge and what kind of subjectivities are created in these games and enactments, whether experienced in first person shooter mode, group play, or in the context of online sociality. How is such knowledge mobilised in controversies such as those surrounding Georgia and Ukraine/Crimea? How have video game and film industries promoted their own version of foreign policy through their collaborations with the U.S. military, including U.S. Naval Seal Unit 6, U.S. Senator and 2012 Presidential John McCain, and Oliver North of Iran-Contra infamy?

This talk is from Von Eschen’s manuscript on Cold War Nostalgia and Triumphalism, under contract with Harvard University Press, 2017.


Penny M. Von Eschen is L. Sanford and Jo Mills Reis Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Cornell University. She is author of Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War, (Harvard, 2004), and Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-1957 (Cornell, 1997). She is a co-editor of Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History, Columbia University Press, 2007; and of American Studies: An Anthology (Blackwell, 2009).

Recent essays include Di Eagle and di Bear: Who Gets to Tell the Story of the Cold War? in Ronald Radano and Teju Olaniyan, eds., Audible Empire: Music, Global Politics, Critique, (Duke, 2016); Memory and the study of US Foreign Relations, in Frank Costiogliola and Michael Hogan eds., Explaining US Foreign Relations, (Cambridge, 2016); and “Locating the Transnational in the Cold War,” in Richard Immerman and Petra Goode, eds., The Oxford Handbook on the Cold War, 2013.

She co-curated Jam Sessions: American’s Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World, a photography exhibition on the jazz ambassador tours, with Meridian International Center, Washington D.C., that opened in April 2008, and toured globally as well as in the United States.

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29 February 2016


Humanities Research Institute (HRI)

34 Gell Street
South Yorkshire
S3 7QY
United Kingdom

Venue website