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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"American Mice Grow Big!": The Syracuse Audiovisual Mission in Iran and the Rise of Documentary Diplomacy
by Gharabaghi, Hadi Parandeh, Ph.D., New York University, 2018, 714; 10682611
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates the coterminous emergence of imperial documentary operations and modernization programs in the United States during the 1940s and 1950s. It argues that the period saw a governing investment in documentary format and documentary "value," and that this was a response to the containment strategy of cultural diplomacy at the onset of the Cold War. It's focus is a mixed group of governmental and non-governmental entities. The project makes evident how a group of events and practices involved in foreign diplomacy campaigns of knowledge/intelligence and large scale overseas modernization programs give rise to a discourse of documentary diplomacy. The output of these projects was varied: locally-made rural training films; newsmagazine newsreel; travelogues, and the exported nontheatrical American documentaries. As the dissertation demonstrates, they were influenced by a weaponized ethnographic documentary experience, first formulated in Asia by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in the late 1930s. The subsequent rise of governing investment in culture for imperial planning during the 1940s, large scale government experiment with training films during World War II, and governing investment in grassroots audiovisual movement of educational film in the United States all bear the marks of these knowledge/intelligence campaigns. The path to freedom, accordingly, became a bifurcating atomized process that ultimately reconceptualized geopolitically sensitive nation-states as people, as audiences, and eventually as individuals available to be freed from their own "hostile" and "uncooperative" governments on their way toward building bottom-up democratic movements.

Containment campaigns of defending American capitalism against Soviet communism in postcolonial nation-states led to a proliferation of instructional films throughout the world. These missions invested in local filmmaking and established pockets of documentary infrastructure that inevitably played some roles in the making and transformation of national cinemas. As a case study of the emerging discourse of documentary diplomacy, this dissertation also investigates American documentary operations in Iran during the 1940s and 1950s and demonstrates how US-Iranian media projects institutionalized documentary, audiovisual modernization, and media governance in Iran. The Syracuse documentary mission to Iran emerged as among the most important sites of such campaigns. For instance, the first generation of localizing newsmagazine series were made in Iran for Iranians by Iranian crew, using American planning, infrastructure and capital. With this convenient "usage," however, also came subscribing to an ideological package. Media producers and advisors from thirty-five American universities, under Syracuse University's binational contract with American and Iranian governments, participated in this work by 1959.

As this research project demonstrates, documentary diplomacy in this era brings into contact and coherence film and legal discourse, diplomatic policymaking, film practice, and applied social scientific research and intelligence production. In this respect, documentary diplomacy encompasses a set of events that include making documentary, mobile screening, expert viewing, national character research, applied anthropology intelligence work, survey trips, public opinion projects, courses of audiovisual and documentary training, and nation-building projects of central documentary infrastructure and media governance.

This dissertation argues that localized missions of overseas audiovisual training and documentary filmmaking and infrastructure during the 1950s operate through a propaganda facade of apolitical modernization by building on the governing strategy of welfare imperialism via invitation. In some cases, this went to extent of sponsoring anti-leftist localized newsreel campaigns of crushing local journalism and a wide range of objectifying practices. The village how-to films enforced a rapid modernization campaign while audiovisual training facilitated central education and governing. The dissertation also argues that the apolitical facade of the imperial documentary campaign in Iran is an expression of claiming fakery and manipulation in the name of the real.

The project draws from a wealth of declassified archival sources in the United States National Archives at College Park, the Library of Congress, the Archives of Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and other sources including individual memoirs and interviews. The archival sources include memoranda of film scripts, film receipts, correspondence, embassy notes, university and government contract, cultural manuals, immigrant interviews and a documentary bible of administrative film theory and production.

Following the case study of Iran, the dissertation extrapolates that researching the genealogical course of postwar imperial campaigns of documentary diplomacy in the Middle East and Asia can contribute to understanding of the transformation of modernization programs of central education, media cultures and media governance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: McCarthy, Anna
Commitee: Jaikumar, Priya, Naficy, Hamid, Sandhu, Sukhdev, Streible, Dan, Williams, Mark J.
School: New York University
Department: Cinema Studies
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Middle Eastern Studies, History, Film studies
Keywords: Cold War, Cultural diplomacy, Documentary, Governmentality, Mead, Margaret, United States Information Agency
Publication Number: 10682611
ISBN: 978-0-355-77370-5
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