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Specification of the Research Activity Subject Implemented within the Research Plan

The subject of our research activity is cultural plurality and democracy. There still exist reasons for continuing academic discussion on the theme of the relationship between democratic self-government and culture, already commenced in the first half of the 19th century by Alexis de Tocqueville, author of the book Democracy in America (1835). Tocqueville missed structures which could maintain democracy and democratic culture within certain boundaries and control their development, whereas his detractors have stressed and still stress the significance of spontaneity and independent development.

The study of the relationship between democracy and culture for us primarily means discovering the principles of American democracy, its inspirational power and its influence on other democracies. American democracy was from the very beginning a model for European democracies, including Czech, as T.G. Masaryk wrote, and showed (among others) the influence of the U.S. Constitution on the new Czechoslovak Constitution of 1918. Cultural models of American democracy are connected to the fact of American cultural plurality. American culture is multi-layered and accepts impulses from race, ethnicity, economic classes, region, and gender. Each current of this stream has a feature that the branches of European cultures originally lacked—the strong bond between popular and mass culture. This character is still the subject of debate. Is cultural plurality really the product of the democratization of culture? What are the consequences of the bond between plurality and popular culture? In the United States the reluctance to divide culture into "high" and "low" is increasing. Europeans on the other hand are often afraid that the result of too much emphasis on popular culture will lower the level of culture as a whole, cause the intellectual laziness of the populace. The penetration of American popular culture into Europe however has not brought mere "Coca-colonization" or "McDonaldization," as for example writes George Ritzer. It is not only the demonstration of American "imperialism" but it is also the appeal of democratic culture, toward which the greatest extent of the population takes part in the creation of cultural values. From the historical perspective it is necessary to include the denazification of the young post-WWII generation of Germans and the liberation of Russian culture from its legacy of Communism in the 1990s among the basic results of the influence of American culture. In the countries of the former Soviet bloc, it was American culture that helped to keep up contact with the democratic world for forty years and liberalize thinking and behavior of the populace.

American popular culture has never been apolitical. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) was not only a massively popular novel, but also had a significant political effect—to popularize the abolitionist movement, and it helped contribute to the polarization of American society in regards to the slavery question. In America, authors of "high literature" were already absorbed into popular culture in the 19th century and the majority of classic works of American literature can also be read as the products of popular culture. American culture wants to entertain, but it is not empty. In its democratic character it is a culture of improvisation (especially in music, but also in theatre and art). American "counterculture" had and still has a strong bond to popular culture, proven for example when its leaders harshly criticized the war in Vietnam. That culture, rising up against mainstream American culture, found and still finds great reception in Europe.

Our perspective is on American and British democracy, as it is tied to cultural plurality, but our research is not limited only to American and British cultural and political reality. The process of the "Americanization" of European and Latin American culture and its positive and negative effects is also of interest to us. Because the democratization of culture always arises together with democratization of society, our view must take into consideration the social structures in which culture evolves.

In the framework of our Research Plan we will investigate the plurality of culture and democracy, primarily in the areas of literature, music, film and television. We will show how democratization of culture arose in American literature of the 19th century (M. Peprník) and the 20th century (Arbeit, Jařab), as well as in the literatures of Britain (Jelínková), France (Voždová), Russia (Pechal), Spain (Krč) and Latin America (Krč and Burianová). It will also include an account from the thematic perspective of comparative literature (Sýkora). Our attention will centre on racial and ethnic plurality (Jařab), regional plurality (e.g. research on the culture of the American South—Arbeit), and gender (Voždová). Subjects of our research will include popular literature (Arbeit, Sweney), mass media, primarily film (Arbeit, Bilík, Hudec, Ptáček) and television (Ptáček, Bilík, Hudec). Music too will have its place (Poledňák). We will attempt to understand the positives and negatives of the Americanization of European culture. In the context of the democratization of culture we would like to characterize the position of Czech popular, primarily audio-visual, culture during totalitarianism and its aftermath (Bilík, Hudec, Ptáček) and at the same time compare the American ideological schemata to non-American (primarily Russian). The historical reception of American cultural plurality in the Czech Lands from the 19th century to the present day (J. Peprník, Arbeit, Jařab) will be important for this research. The influence of cultural plurality on political and social spheres will be touched on for example by cultural aspects of migration (Gill) and research on the influence of popular culture on election campaigns in the USA (Šaradín).