Thinking Outside the War: Humor and Entertainment in Popular Culture during the Great War

Contributors to this volume will study the role of humor and more largely of entertainment in popular culture during the 1914-1918 conflict. This collective work seeks to evaluate some aspects of transnational war culture by examining seemingly light-hearted discourses on the First World War.

Being one of the first turning points of twentieth century internationalism, the Great War, as H.G. Wells once said, has to be envisioned as “the war of the mind”. Cultural life in wartime was submitted both to strategies of promotion and blockade to channel information and its global circulation. Propaganda and the control of communication also participated in exacerbating patriotism, lifting up soldiers’ spirits and encouraging the civilian support of the conflict. Despite each country’s own agenda, morale boosting and motivating the population were the most widely shared things in the world at that time. Debunking the general sense of perdition and trauma, humor and other forms of entertainment played a crucial role in maintaining people’s faith in their ability to end the war and stay alive through that modern cataclysm.

Wartime escapism through culture is often associated with the Second World War. However, during the Great War, recreational activities or artistic creation also served as tools of diversion, triggering national pride and hope, among the countries of the Entente or the Alliance powers. They also provided a way to unite the general public behind the war effort as well as to strengthen the bonds between the home front and the battlefront. As the world seemed to collapse, dignity and optimism were preserved thanks to the emancipatory moments offered by paintings and other pictorial productions (caricatures, sketches or cartoons), literature and poetry, theater, music and musical performances, motion pictures, leisure industry resources, aid and relief projects, government initiatives to stimulate daily life transformation, etc.

We would like to enhance the variety of creative experiments designed to illuminate the present and, thus, cast a positive light on the future, allowing citizens to believe the Great War was not the end of everything. One of the purposes of the book is to analyze which make-do subterfuges were proposed to people to persuade them to trust their leaders and dream forward. Besides, humor and entertainment – from the most waggish expression to the blackest tone – also encompass some political and polemical dimensions, related to social critique, that need to be discussed. The authors can focus on local practices or use international comparisons to demonstrate how these elements contributed to a liberating experience or a survival philosophy, but also to some ideological schemes.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to, the following:
* Motion pictures: patriotic films, pacifist films, short advertising films, war-oriented slapstick comedies, humor and creativity in film distribution and exhibition, role of women performers and directors in war effort
* Pictorial representations of the war: satirical maps, caricatures, political cartoons, propaganda posters, painting the conflict, visual artists enrolled in the army
* Writing about the war: Popular fictions, warm poems, novels, autobiographies and memoirs
* Music: Concerts to the troops, patriotic airs and soldier songs, musical hall performances, introducing jazz
* Entertaining the troops, service leave activities, diverting and rehabilitating the veterans and the wounded
* Appealing to younger generations: children’s books and magazines, war games
* Promoting action, restriction and service: making culture of thrift attractive, liberty bonds and saving stamps, Food Administration projects, women as workforce, the show of the Four-Minute Men
* Emblematic characters: Old Bill, John Bull, Uncle Sam, Joan of Arc or the Kaiser
* Representations of national stereotypes, clichéd portrayal of gender interactions

Please send abstracts (no longer than 500 words) with a short bio-bibliographical notice by September 15, 2013, to Clémentine Tholas-Disset (Université Paris Est Créteil) and Karen A. Ritzenhoff (Central Connecticut State University)

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