Examining a broad range of pop culture media–film, television, journalism, advertisements, travel writing, and literature–Fojas explores the United States as an empire and how it has narrated its relationship to its island territories.
Camilla Fojas explores a broad range of popular culture media—film, television, journalism, advertisements, travel writing, and literature—with an eye toward how the United States as an empire imagined its own military and economic projects. Impressive in its scope, Islands of Empire looks to Cuba, Guam, Hawai‘i, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, asking how popular narratives about these island outposts expressed the attitudes of the continent throughout the twentieth century. Through deep textual readings of Bataan, Victory at Sea, They Were Expendable, and Back to Bataan (Philippines); No Man Is an Island and Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon (Guam); Cuba, Havana, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (Cuba); Blue Hawaii, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (Hawai‘i); and West Side Story, Fame, and El Cantante (Puerto Rico), Fojas demonstrates how popular texts are inseparable from U.S. imperialist ideology.
Drawing on an impressive array of archival evidence to provide historical context, Islands of Empire reveals the role of popular culture in creating and maintaining U.S. imperialism. Fojas’s textual readings deftly move from location to location, exploring each island’s relationship to the United States and its complementary role in popular culture. Tracing each outpost’s varied and even contradictory political status, Fojas demonstrates that these works of popular culture mirror each location’s shifting alignment to the U.S. empire, from coveted object to possession to enemy state.
Preface. Our Island Frontier: The Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba
Introduction. Islands of Empire
Chapter One. Foreign Domestics: The Filipino "Home Front" in World War II Popular Culture
Chapter Two. Imperial Grief: Loss and Longing in Havana before Castro
Chapter Three. Paradise, Hawaiian Style: Pop Tourism and the State of Hawaii
Chapter Four. Tropical Metropolis: West Side Stories and Colonial Redemption
Chapter Five. The Guam Doctrine: Colonial Limbo in the Pacific
Afterword. Whither Empire? The Colonial Complex of U.S. Popular Culture
Islands of Empire
Is the United States an empire? This question might be answered in part through popular culture, the locus of the most spectacular displays of U.S. hegemony. Michael Mann's cinematic remake in 2006 of the popular television series Miami Vice (NBC, 1984–1989), which he produced in the 1980s, is a particularly appropriate place to start, for a number of reasons. First, Miami Vice glorified the war on drugs in the Caribbean basin, strongly suggesting that the onus of law enforcement in the Americas rests on the United States. That position is a reminder of the country's role after World War II as global enforcer of what has been referred to as the Pax Americana—an allusion to the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire. Mann's remake of the television series into a major Hollywood film exploited audiences' nostalgia for cultural productions of earlier eras, offering them the opportunity to revisit the reassuring mood and sensibilities of another time. The original Miami Vice took place during a period of prosperity and economic boom in the United States—while its southern neighbors were suffering their worst economic crises to date, when, for instance, debt defaults rocked the economies of Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. The United States was in a favorable position to shape policies that would put the rest of the hemisphere at a disadvantage in the decades that followed—culminating in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994. The film Miami Vice encodes the imperious position of the colossus of the North in pleasurable law-and-order stories populated by the usual suspects: swarthy "foreign" villains and slick U.S. buddy cops.
The film shows U.S. security forces operating on a larger field of operations, revealing the expansion of the impact of the United States on the world, along with post-9/11 cultural preoccupations. Miami is key to this enterprise: it is a cultural and financial capital of the Americas and a place populated with characters from the Caribbean and Latin America. Florida was also an imperial object of an expansionist United States, which purchased it from Spain in 1819. Part of the story takes place in Cuba—also the object of persistent U.S. imperial desire—in a subplot of illicit romance in a forbidden territory. The rest of the story is global. The buddy cops chase down money-laundering and drug-trafficking networks that extend all over the world: Russia, Ukraine, China, Colombia, Haiti, Cuba, and the triple border of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil-.a known site for the transfer of contraband. The opening scene, set in the Miami waters, captures the omniscient perspective associated with the local police force and, by occurring in a border region, U.S. national security forces. The audience perspective begins underwater but breaks the surface in the midst of a speedboat chase between Miami Vice and the bad guys. Our view then shifts from watching the chase to sharing the perspective of the cops to taking in a soaring view the of the entire scene from air to finally arriving back on land as the cop couple, Sonny and Ricardo (Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx), capture the bad guys. In this short opening, we unconsciously receive a brief but significant lesson about U.S. land, sea, and air power through a visual experience of omniscience and omnipotence, one that is as national as it is global. The new Miami Vice dramatizes the shift of the United States from being the "capital of the Americas" to a political operative of global dimensions. This new incarnation of the popular television series is truly imperial entertainment.
Empire's Origin Story
The story of U.S. empire emerges out of the successful military campaign against Spain in 1898. The association of military prowess, colonial acquisition, and political benevolence made the war a powerful icon and origin story of global power in the national imaginary. The war is often elided with the era and the date of its occurrence, 1898, when expansion beyond the continent was afoot not just in the former Spanish imperial holdings but also in the former sovereign kingdom of Hawaiʻi—a key player in the military campaigns of that year. The rumblings of empire demanded a story that was to be conveyed partly in the emerging technology of cinema as well as in the popular press. The Spanish-American War was the first to be captured in moving images, and the development of cinema coincided with the expansion of U.S. influence and power abroad. Many of the images appeared in short newsreels and pithy takes on a battle or scene, while the full drama of empire and its possible futures was played out in another fanciful genre, travel writing. In these narratives, the imperial fantasy and its engineering gaze cast various island locations as interchangeable sites on a leisure tour of possible capital ventures for the enterprising imperialist. The diverse and geographically distinct locations of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaiʻi, and, only tangentially, Guam, were insular parts of an imperial whole. The period after 1898 saw mass enthusiasm and a desire to know about these places and about the new status of the nation as a major world power. The Spanish-American War is an overdetermined and overarching symbol used to celebrate the benevolent form of U.S. empire; it signaled liberation from European imperial cruelties and alignment with U.S. democracy, freedom, and progress. Moreover, the Spanish-American war, also called the Spanish-Cuban-American War, constituted the roots of U.S. militarism, not just as the seed for establishing military bases in the Pacific and the Caribbean (and Latin America) but also as the origin of the modern organizational structure and strategic planning and coordination of the military.
Islands of Empire is about the aftermath and popular-culture afterlife of U.S. empire in the current, former, or protocolonies of Hawaiʻii, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba. Each place had its "moment in the sun" of intense yet transitory visibility in popular culture, to borrow the title of John Sayles's novel set during the first epoch of U.S. imperial overreach. Sayles gives a rich account of characters and locations brought together by tensions brewing on the continent and in the Caribbean and the Pacific. I explore popular depictions of each place at different moments following the dizzying turn of events after the Spanish-American War. The war set the national mood and attitude of global superiority. We live in the afterlife of that imperial moment. While the popular and trade press depicted the sites of empire as interchangeable, Washington treated each place differently as a result of the Insular Cases (1901–1922), a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that sanctioned colonization of the islands ceded by Spain. Each place matured politically and culturally to disrupt the homogenization of the imperial optic. The story of empire is full of paradoxes: the colonized suffered under the forces of indifference along with those of historical change. While representational similarities among these islands persist, contemporary popular culture accords each a unique role in the overall career of U.S. empire. And the epoch of formal empire is the symbolic origin of the informal imperial career of the United States.
This book is but a small part of a popular-culture archive that draws together places that persist in their dynamic relation to the United States as neocolonies, enemies, component parts, or client states. All of them contain U.S. military installations as part of an interconnected matrix of bases. Some are tourist destinations. The story lines of Hollywood films are fundamental to the structure of feeling of empire, in which an imperial sensibility is dramatized and displayed across tropical landscapes. For this reason, major films about each location are the primary coordinates of discussion; texts and ephemera of popular culture—postcards, documentaries, short stories, novels, tourist manuals, and promotional brochures—contribute pieces of the overall portrait.
The New Imperial Frontier After the Mexican War, in 1848, the imagined frontier of the United States moved south, challenging the supremacy of its mythic western orientation; that is, U.S. industrialists became more attentive to the possibilities for capitalist expansion in Latin America, and in Mexico more specifically. The frontier, the national boundary and border, carried a different significance as a line securing an embattled territory that once belonged to Mexico. The expanding U.S. boundaries seemed to have found natural limits in the Rio Grande in the South and at the end of the landmass in the West. Yet the sense of the borders shifted again just fifty years after the Mexican conflict. As a result of the Spanish-American War, the United States satisfied its ambition to exert more influence in the Americas and the Pacific. It gained control over several island nations, some just beyond the physical boundaries of the United States and others farther afield: Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam. In the same year, but through different means, the United States added the territory of Hawaiʻi to its coffers, and a year later eastern Samoa was acquired. By 1902, Cuba had returned to sovereignty, but remained within the orbit of U.S. influence as a protocolony, through the Platt Amendment, and as a tourist paradise made by and for the colossus of the North. The United States was no longer contained within a single continental mass, reaching beyond the mainland and into the Pacific and Caribbean. The new island frontier was the first global sign of the expanding circumference of the U.S. empire in the Americas and beyond. It remained for the U.S. to project its supremacy throughout the world and to expand the circumference of its imperial drama. In this way, the United States is both an actual empire in the formal sense and an agent of imperialism or of the logics and strategies for the expansion and assertion of global power.
Media creations that feature the U.S. insular empire, such as Miami Vice, are key players in the North American imperial drama. A major locus of the action is Havana, where Sonny engages in an affair with the Cuban-Chinese Isabella, a business partner of the kingpin of the contraband-trafficking operation. Their intimate relationship enables him to broker a deal that will lead to a major drug-ring bust in which Havana is a significant point of reference. The former tourist paradise signals the expansion of North American police networks in the Caribbean while it tacitly points to a lost piece of the U.S. empire, to a place long coveted and now off-limits. Miami Vice draws our attention to how the formal U.S. insular empire appears in popular culture in oblique and tacit ways, often, for example, as the backdrop to the wanderings of the U.S.-based protagonists. The popular-culture framing of these island locations exposes the ideological moorings of U.S. global power. Often, the formal U.S. empire is less visible against more recent military and political campaigns for global dominance. Yet as many critics have argued, the latter is a symptom of the former. In this work, I argue that both are significant, that there is a symbolic assertion of U.S. hegemony, often without reference to its insular empire, and that there is a distinct and significant origin of U.S. empire in 1898. Empire is both actual and symbolic at once.
Greg Grandin has written persuasively of how Latin America has served as a crucible or workshop for the development of U.S. imperial strategy in the world, particularly for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.5 U.S. interventions, military operations, and covert missions in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America were all productive and efficient practice for the subsequent end run for power in the Middle East. John Mason Hart makes similar claims about U.S. imperial strategies in Mexico that are evident in the investment patterns and subsequent political influence of U.S. business leaders. Likewise, in an innovative approach to U.S.–Latin American relations, Dennis Merrill charts the routes of U.S. tourism in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba as evidence of imperialism's soft power.6 All these studies are nominally area studies with a primary point of reference in Latin America. Yet U.S. empire, in the strict sense of the term, is much more geographically broad and diverse. For instance, in the case of imperial travel circuits, Hawaiʻi is a significant point of reference as a model for other tourist sites, including Puerto Rico and, formerly, Cuba—though the loosening of U.S. travel restrictions to the latter may change this. Christine Skwiot rightly notes that Cuba and Hawaiʻi are key, though divergent, coordinates in the development of empire as a tourist enterprise. These studies are important points of departure for examining U.S. empire through its insular holdings, yet a more expansive view reveals an important circuit of exchange among tourism, militarism, and popular culture in the post-1898 U.S. insular holdings.
In popular culture, the depiction of each of these locations, either together or separately, contributes to the projection of the U.S. imperial status and the global expansion of its geopolitical boundaries. For this reason, I examine cultural productions that take place in the physical locations of empire. That is, the very places where the United States has maintained administrative, political, military, economic, and cultural control over a diverse slate of imperial outposts linked to 1898. These are places where the United States has acted as an empire and not merely like an empire. In response to the war in Iraq, former president George W. Bush offered a key lesson in this regard. He compared the U.S. role in Iraq to its earlier one in the Philippines. He echoed what several scholars and artists have concluded with regard to Iraq and other U.S. wars, particularly those in Afghanistan and Vietnam. For Alfred W. McCoy, the Philippines was the key testing ground and crucible for the expansion of U.S. global power, particularly in the Middle East. E. San Juan, Jr., explores the ideological links between the Philippine-American War and Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other wars involving "foreign" lands and peoples of color. Brian MacAllister Lin likens U.S. insurgency practices in the Philippines to those used in Iraq and shows how past deployments shape current military policy. Angel Velasco Shaw's film The Momentary Enemy (2008) uses archival footage from commercial and news media to render explicit the link between the Philippine-American War, the Vietnam War, and U.S. interventions in the Middle East as signs of U.S. imperial ambitions. Likewise, John Sayles's film Amigo (2011) exposes the U.S. ideology that fueled the Philippine-American War, locating it as the origin of strategy and torture methods for subsequent interventions in Vietnam and Iraq. In fact, the history of the U.S. role in the Philippines could be neatly grafted onto Iraq-.from intervention to occupation to the transition to self-government. As mentioned earlier, his novel A Moment in the Sun puts the dramatic development of U.S. imperialism squarely in the geopolitical spaces—including Manila, Honolulu, and Havana—-related to the events leading up to the Spanish-American War. In fact, the novel and the film are pieces of the same project; Sayles got the idea for Amigo while doing research in the Philippines for A Moment in the Sun. The relatively low cost of production and labor made the Philippines an ideal location for the film, a persistent symptom of global economic inequities.
The U.S. island frontier reaches beyond particular areas or regions, even those that are broadly defined, such as Gary Okihiro's "black Pacific" or Antonio Benítez Rojo's "repeating islands" of the Caribbean—though a decontextualized use of the latter term is useful. In fact, the continuity between the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaiʻi does not arise from geographic proximity but by the centripetal force of empire. The popular attitudes and perceptions about "our island possessions" reveal many enduring lessons of empire. The mass-cultural handling of these islands has powerful political implications for Washington's relations with each place and, perhaps more significantly, for the management of the self-identity of the United States as a global power. Indeed, much of U.S. popular culture might be characterized as "imperial" for its worldwide dissemination and domination of local markets. For Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart, Washington's dominion over Latin America was due in large part to its popular-culture interventions. They unveil the sinister machinations of Disney's seemingly benign hero Donald Duck, who is shown to be an agent of U.S. hegemony.12 Matthew Fraser makes a similar case when he examines how U.S. popular culture has become an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Pop culture is a "soft power" that lays the groundwork for Washington policy initiatives by instilling the American way of life beyond its borders. Likewise, James Chapman and Nicholas J. Cull, in their examination of imperial themes in British and U.S. cinema from the 1930s to the 1990s, describe imperial cinema as one that engages in public diplomacy and propaganda. Empire films often celebrate and may critically frame the British Empire in British colonies or U.S. empire through U.S. military power. Yet for Chapman and Cull, the notion of empire is often elided across British and U.S. American contexts, thereby subordinating the formal U.S. empire to other forms of imperial power.
Empire Demands a Story
We experience the lessons and instructions of empire when we watch television, listen to music, and go to the movies. While the entire context of a popular historical moment is relevant to the overlapping and contradictory information about a place, event, or peoples, fictional narratives provide the emotional landscape for audience participation, and often, the longer and more complex the narrative, the deeper the investment. This is due in part to the sustained work of viewer identification with main protagonists of film and other media narratives.
Islands of Empire is anchored in imperial stories. The major story lines and narratives of empire concretize and syncretize the range of audience fantasies, desires, and emotions associated with each insular holding. These stories tend to feature Anglo-American heroes and heroines at the narrative helm. The image and idea of empire is projected onto the colonized spaces of each island to underscore the power and dominance of the Anglo-American protagonists. The competence and efficiency of the ruling characters are depicted as part of the natural order of things rather than as consequences of colonial conditions. The result is an image of the United States as a global leader with experience in civilizing or subordinating colonial subjects. These and other consequences of U.S. imperial chauvinism are evident across the visual field of popular culture throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
In this work, I focus primarily on major popular-culture media representations—in journalism, literature, travel writing, advertisements, promotional brochures, films, and television—that are set in or thematize the islands representing the epoch of U.S. territorial expansion beyond its mainland borders. Whereas the United States expanded beyond its borders into Alaska in 1867, the insular matrix gained in 1898 signaled its global imperial status. Most of the examples are drawn from visual culture and represent the most accessible and visible texts about each place. They vary according to the kinds of publicity accorded each location during a period of heightened exposure in the mass media.
Empire is as much about the U.S. role in the world as it is about the expanding and constricting U.S. boundaries and the subsequent intermingling and separation of foreign and domestic territories. For instance, in the film cited earlier, Miami Vice, Cuba is not a neutral location. Cuba has endured many different kinds of relationships to the United States: desired object, possession, semicolony, and enemy state. In the popular-culture imaginary, Cuba has changed in conjunction with its shifting alignment to the United States. Likewise, each island acquired by the United States has had a changing role in popular culture that roughly indexes a varied and sometimes contradictory political status. It is not just the fact of empire, of formal empire, but the character and sensibility of empire that has been transmitted by popular culture after World War II. Popular representations of the island nations map two kinds of imperial temporalities: the ghosts and detritus of the formal empire of 1898 occupy the spaces of the new performances of empire in the contemporary era. In this way, depictions of each territory or former territory expose fragments of all aspects of its shifting status in relation to the United States: colony, neocolony, unincorporated territory, annexed territory, enemy state, protectorate, or client state.
U.S. popular culture maintained a separate romance with the Philippines, Cuba, Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rico, and Guam at different moments in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and each location has served the interests of the expanding frontiers of U.S. empire in different ways. Each place had a key moment of visibility in popular culture or was associated with specific historical moments. The Philippines and Guam moved center stage in popular culture during World War II, primarily in war films, as adjuncts of U.S. military operations, sharing the spotlight with Pearl Harbor. While these films designate Pearl Harbor as a major point of reference, I focus on another key moment of visibility for Hawaiʻi, the postwar and poststatehood boom in tourism to the Pacific island chain. The entry of Hawaiʻi into the Union dovetails with another historical signpost in the drama of U.S. empire. Cuba and Hawaiʻi are associated with the year 1959 for vastly different reasons: assimilation into or rejection of U.S. hegemony, via statehood for Hawaiʻi and revolution in Cuba. In the postwar years, Hawaiʻi became the gold standard for development, according to which all other colonies or former colonies fell short, particularly Puerto Rico and Guam. Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans found their way into U.S. popular culture in the 1960s through urban-migrant narratives. They were depicted as dragging colonial deficits into the metropolitan center. But they achieved redemption by showing how to transform their deficits into productive pursuits and thus become icons of U.S. attainment.
All the stories about these islands and their peoples ponder in some manner the question posed in 1898 by a popular travel writer: "What shall we do with them?" That is, these popular texts question which islands qualify to be part of the United States, which might be molded in the image of the imperial center, and which should be expelled from its orbit. Each place was both familiar and strange at once, and popular culture shaped and ultimately determined where each island fell on the continuum from domestic to foreign territories. The question of what is to be done with them remains relevant for those islands in some state of colonial limbo. Indeed, Christina Duffy Burnett argues that the question of the hour in 1898 about the future status of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines was actually the "question of the century."
Accidental Empire The strict definition of empire—direct political and administrative control over a sovereign territory—might seem to preclude the United States from being considered an empire, yet the expansion overseas through the islands gained during and after the war with Spain in 1898 was a significant and decisive factor in the U.S. attainment of imperial status. At the time, political leaders disavowed their imperial designs, claiming Spain's cruelty toward its colonies as the main impetus for the war. Yet it was no coincidence that the spoils of war included control over a number of strategically located islands that could ensure U.S. global power. But according to historian Ernest May, the United States did not plan for or seek out its imperial status. Regarding the events of 1898, May contends that "some nations achieve greatness, the United States had greatness thrust upon it." Similarly, Ronald Steel claims that "the American empire came into being by accident and has been maintained from a sense of benevolence." Andrew Bacevich describes this imperial disavowal as the "myth of the reluctant superpower." The tradition of disavowal has not waned; Washington continues to deny empire and to describe it as something else, something more palatable to the U.S. psyche.
While contemporary critics on the left decry U.S. empire, conservatives either deny its existence or describe the international role of the United States in less inflammatory terms, such as "leader of the free world" or "liberal global leader." Although, it should be noted, some members of former president George W. Bush's administration proudly assumed U.S. imperial status and all the privileges thereof. Some analysts even call for reclaiming the term from its ill repute. Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in describing U.S. global status, opts for (and co-opts) the "more forthright if also more controversial term American Empire . . . sort of like the way some gays embrace the 'queer' label." The semantic congruence between "queer" and "empire" is a curious sleight of hand that disregards systemic power inequities between the mainstream and the marginalized.
Niall Ferguson, a prolific neo-imperialist historian, finds that the United States, though long an empire, "eschews the appellation." Ferguson attributes this denial to a narrow definition of empire as a rapacious and tyrannical superpower. Indeed, imperial denial may be attributed to other perceptions of the term. Craig Calhoun, Frederick Cooper, and Kevin W. Moore note that empire might be interpreted as an antiquated term rendered defunct by the decolonization of Asia and Africa. Yet the end of empire was the end only of formal empire. We have entered an era in which U.S. imperialism has occupied the global imaginary; it circulates not through direct rule over and administration of colonies, but through hegemony and the image and ideology of domination and control buttressed by the planetary matrix of U.S. military operations. For Bacevich, the distinction between "empire" and "global hegemony" is minor and semantic; both stand in for permutations of empire used to describe the colossus of the North: global leader, sole superpower, Pax Americana. Ann Laura Stoler finds that empire is hard to define because it is a "moving target." Global power is exercised through "imperial formations" or the shifting boundaries and definitions of belonging and legal membership founded on "degrees of sovereignty" and "gradations of rights."
Niall Ferguson argues that although the United States has the imperial holdings and global power of an empire, it lacks the "imperial cast of mind," since Americans " would rather consume than conquer" and "would rather build shopping malls than nations." He suggests that the country lacks a true sense of imperial responsibility or consciousness. Ferguson argues for an empire of global arbitration and policing where the creation and sustaining of "order" is a precondition for "liberty"; since, as he argues, there exists no viable alternative to U.S. hegemony. I would argue that a great strength of U.S.-based popular-culture industries is the ability to project an "imperial cast of mind" or an imperial sensibility that, while lacking an explicit ethical dimension, is shaped by ideologically charged and value-laden messages about liberty, self-reliance, democracy, and the virtues of free-enterprise capitalism and industriousness. If the conscious message of mainstream discourse is to deny and repress empire, then there is no better place to decode its imperial unconscious than in the workings of popular culture. We are immersed in and absorbed by stories and images that support an imperial sensibility. Yet empire is not just a sensibility; it is a set of ideas about the U.S. role and function in the world. And these ideas were distilled during the first epoch of formal empire.
The post-1898 locations of U.S. empire were discussed together quite frequently in the mass media. Current discussions of U.S. empire suggest a departure from the idea of empire as a collection of formal holdings. Instead, it is an attitude and disposition that derives from the U.S. rise to global power after World War II, which coincided with a consolidation of dominance in the Americas. U.S. empire is much more likely to conjure images of, for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central America, Vietnam, Latin American (Venezuela, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Nicaragua, Panama, the Dominican Republic) than of the formal colonial and protocolonial holdings it gained in 1898: Guam, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hawaiʻi. While the United States had clear policies toward Latin America, including good neighborliness, the Alliance for Progress, eradication of communism, and at-will intervention, no clear policy governed the diverse locations of formal empire. Instead, each place was treated differently, not only politically, but also in how they were imagined and experienced in popular culture. For this reason, empire in a formal sense never acquired a fully defined image and ideology. The island empire quickly faded from memory, and was, as Grandin notes, replaced by military muscle and market power in Latin America.
After World War II, the imperial position of the United States with regard to its territorial possessions slipped from public memory. The United States had become a powerhouse in the Americas and the rest of the world. William Appleman Williams notes this crucial turning point in the projection of empire for the United States: "That process of reification—of transforming the realities of expansion, conquest, and intervention into pious rhetoric about virtue, wealth, and democracy—reached its culmination during the decades after World War II." Williams describes this as the imperial "ethic" and "psychology," and empire as the "opiate of the American people."30 If empire is an opiate, its delivery system is popular culture. While all parts of popular culture contribute to creating the feeling, aesthetics, and ethics of empire, those delivered via narratives create the most potent and insidious systems of fantasy. To fully understand the affective operations of U.S. empire, we might recall the way that the mass media imagined and narrated the novel imperial status of the United States just after 1898. Those narratives created the fantasies that perpetuate and sustain popular attitudes toward empire as well as its national character. And the stories attest powerfully to U.S. global primacy.
Empire's Origin Stories: Repeating Islands
In a contemporary context, it might seem strange to put Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam in the same interpretive orbit, yet they are part of the same representational matrix of overlapping and interchangeable spaces of empire. For example, in contemporary popular culture, local Hawaiian characters are played by Filipino actors, Cuban films are shot in Puerto Rico, Filipino actors play Chamorros, Pearl Harbor leads into Manila Bay, films set in Guam are shot in the Philippines, and Puerto Rican actors play heroes of the Cuban Revolution. The assumed interchangeability of these peoples and locations can be traced back to the cultural mood of excitement just after the islands entered the U.S. sphere of influence.
In 1898, though the United States had been gaining territory for years in the South and Southwest, the islands acquired in the Pacific and the Caribbean were new and fascinating outposts in the North American imagination. By 1899, they were being mentioned constantly in the U.S. press and the idea of U.S. empire was a major topic of mainstream discourse. The American public was eager for information about the islands, and a number of travel writers and historians produced travelogues, guidebooks, handbooks, chronicles, and history books. Writings about the new U.S. possessions took part in the legacy of travel writing as a function of empire. They disseminated the idea of U.S. empire by asserting a sense of control over these diverse locations. By the early twentieth century, the islands were not grouped together so often in the popular presses. But the legacy of representational collapse among them was apparent throughout the twentieth century and beyond, firmly establishing the Spanish-American War as a key origin of U.S. imperial culture.
War often has special significance in the imperial career of the United States. For example, while not technically a U.S. war, since it occurred within a Mexican state, the siege of the Alamo has been appropriated as one by the mass media. Richard R. Flores finds the Alamo to be a symbol of modernity and a symptom of the complexity of cultural formations along the border.
Likewise, Emily Rosenberg examines the role of Pearl Harbor in U.S. memory during what she calls a "memory boom" regarding World War II after September 11, 2001. Like the Alamo, Pearl Harbor is a highly charged icon that persists in an "ongoing present" of mediated representations. Indeed there is significant rhetorical resonance across U.S. wars from the Spanish-American War to World War II, Vietnam, and the war in Iraq, among others. Americans' memories of these wars is shaped and cultivated by popular culture. The stories and the narrative framing of these events create and sustain a mood of U.S. heroism and imperial benevolence. The mood can be traced back to the war of 1898, the origin of U.S. national identity as an imperial power. Some of the major narrative strands are energized by simplistic language about native backwardness, sensuousness, passivity, and lassitude. This language was deployed to justify colonial exploitation as entrepreneurial leadership through the proper commercial use of island resources. The stories, prevalent in the travel narratives and guidebooks of the era, overcame mainstream resistance to empire by outlining the benefits of imperial status.
Lanny Thompson shows how imperial guidebooks and attendant political and cultural discourses subtend and justify a hierarchical colonial order that corresponds to forms of rule. He draws on the work of Edward Said, for whom the discourses of colonialism across textual and visual genres elucidate discursive formations in service to power. Yet Thompson departs from the postcolonial criticism that emanates from Said's foundational work, because of its tendency to homogenize the colonial subaltern, or "other," ahistorically. The suppression of forms of difference among subalterns may conceal differences in colonial rule. It is this notion that Thompson finds to be the most significant distinction between U.S. and European forms of imperial rule. Each island nation gained in 1898 was subject to diverse forms of governance and thus was accorded a distinct political status. This is evident and traceable in the colonial discourse of the era, particularly as it was worked out in a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions about each island, together known as the Insular Cases. To examine the rhetoric of rule, Thompson goes beyond the fabulations of the tourist manuals and examines the political discourse of the era in newspapers, congressional hearings, and other official sources. He clearly frames the historical record around each location and the emergent discourses relevant to each with regard to political status. The fabulations, fantasies, and stories about each place do a different kind of work than that of the historical and political record. Stories act upon the national mood and shape the emotional life and attitudes of a culture. They persuade and entice a reluctant public, they shape public opinion, and they lay the foundation for the treatment and role of each place in the larger U.S. cultural imaginary.
Careful scrutiny of the popular-culture story around each island throughout the twentieth century reveals resonances of the colonial story set in 1898, yet there are also major departures from these interwoven and complex tales. The tacit hierarchy of rule established in 1898 remains intact while the narrative features of the overarching story have changed. Hawaiʻi became the gold standard of what Teresia Teaiwa calls "militourism," or the process by which military and paramilitary powers ensure the mutually beneficial operations of the military and tourism. Guam and Puerto Rico remain in the shadows of Hawaiʻi's development story; Washington tacitly acknowledges their persistent colonial limbo and their potential but asymptotic proximity to full integration into the Union. Until 1959, Cuba was a semicolonial tourist appendage of the United States; contemporary stories about Havana are marked by nostalgia and loss, energies that must be redirected to more suitable objects. The Philippines remains hidden behind the veil of World War II and other conflicts both before and after that momentous war—most notably, the Philippine-American War, Iraq, and the war on terror. It remains caught in an ambivalent state, wavering between being aligned with and opposed to Washington.
For Frank Ninkovich, the U.S. drive to empire around 1898 was energized by "public opinion" influenced by the "newly aggressive communications media," not just the telegraph and the telephone but global news-gathering organizations such as the Associated Press and the United Press. In the 1890s, the U.S. public became accustomed to a daily dose of international news and political cartoons and began to develop and assert opinions about foreign policy and the place of the nation in the rest of the world; foreign affairs became a national obsession. Handbooks, travelogues, and "historical" texts filled in the gaps left by the journalistic coverage of the new territories; they gave the "whole" story. The stories transformed public interest into something actionable by giving all the information necessary to set up industries and households and plan touristic ventures to new U.S. territories. The guidebooks were filled with numerous photos, maps, and images from each location, satisfying the desire to know through seeing. Another vital technology was the stereoscope, which exhibited three-dimensional images of "natural" posturing by natives and other scenes from the colonies.36 The images were used to educate and entertain; they gave brief views of places that had become an intimate part of the United States. Audiences were introduced to filmic coverage of these locations through short newsreels, particularly of the Spanish-American War, and other dispatches from these imperial outposts. Newsreels lacked cohesive narratives, but were accompanied by narration that emphasized U.S. imperial prowess.
The Birth of the Nation as Empire
Numerous travelogues and handbooks about the new U.S. territories—Our Island Empire, Our Islands and Their People, Everything about Our New Possessions, and Our New Possessions—were published within a few years after the Spanish-American War. To get a sense of the main tropes and preoccupations of these writings, I turn to two examples, published in 1899, that offer the longest and most in-depth descriptions of Hawaiʻi, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines (though only passing reference to Guam). Our Island Empire, by Charles Morris, a prolific travel writer and historian, was the most widely read of these tomes; the second example is Our Islands and Their People: As Seen with Camera and Pencil, written by José de Olivares, a war correspondent for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and edited by William S. Bryan, with a preface by General Joseph Wheeler, who served in Cuba and the Philippines. The two texts differ in many ways, particularly in their target audience, style, and address; yet both offer a sense of the islands for the purpose of engendering capital relations between the colonial center and the island periphery. These texts and others like them created the popular-culture scaffolding for future tropes, images, and story lines about the insular empire. They are primarily concerned with civilizing native populations through the discourse of work and transforming local cultures with the development of U.S. American institutions. They inspired U.S. citizens to perform the work of settling and setting up households and businesses in the new island frontiers, and offered suggestions for leisure and travel there. The guidebooks and travelogues overrode the critical rhetoric of the anti-imperialists, who were caught up in raging press debates on imperialism. Imperialism was framed as a noble venture of capital investment and entrepreneurialism, and thus an American activity par excellence. The guidebooks responded to the question, posed by Morris about the new colonies, "What shall we do with them?"
In Our Island Empire and Our Islands and Their People, each island is described with the same tropes, which link these locations in ideological portraits that seek to manage diversity for the purpose of control. In fact, Morris does not distinguish one island from the other: "There is a natural feeling of interest concerning these islands, based partly on the usual desire to know, partly on more personal motives, which it is important to gratify. There are some who have it in view to visit one or more of these islands, for business or observation, or for permanent residence; others who desire to enter into business relations with their merchants or producers; and many others who are moved by the natural thirst for information, which recent events have directed strongly towards these oceanic lands." There is a distinct tone of excitement about the new position of the United States in the global order; the potential for world-power status seemed within reach, and new opportunities for average Americans promised an immediate elevation of social standing. Regardless of the distinct histories and plain differences among these island nations, the popular press used the same language to describe them all.
What strikes the modern reader is the unreconstructed evolutionary rhetoric, apparent in the continual emphasis on the constitutional weaknesses of the colonized peoples; those native to Hawaiʻi, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico are assumed to share the same inborn desire for a sensual life unencumbered by the worries of work or business. They are preoccupied with gambling, music, dancing, sexual pleasure, surfing, and diving. The islands are presented as ripe for exploitation; rich in resources, all of them except Hawaiʻi have been ruined by the oppressive taxation and commercial restrictions of Spanish colonization. Each colony is populated by workers awaiting orders, raw resources awaiting extraction, and tropical landscapes beckoning the exhausted American industrialist to luxuriate in its warmth. Moreover, their peoples have been ruined by the unchecked proclivity for vice. Both the world of letters and the world of politics shared a fear of social and cultural degeneration and decadence, and expressed concern for how the United States might combat moral decline once it entered into more intimate relations with its island outposts. These two guidebooks and others like them were the first media representations of empire, the first popular-culture musings about the new status of the United States. They urged and encouraged readers to indulge in the pleasures and privileges of empire.
The guidebooks begin, not coincidentally, with the colonial subject of Cuba. For years, the United States had been trying to gain control of Cuba and its sugar industry, and the events of 1898 satisfied that ambition. As early as 1823, John Quincy Adams had declared that Cuba and Puerto Rico were "natural appendages to the North American continent" and that Cuba in particular, being "almost in sight of our shores, from a multitude of considerations has become an object of transcendent importance to the political and commercial interests" of the United States. Indeed, Cuba, the largest Caribbean island, became a coveted object of the expansionist cause. For this reason, both texts lead with Cuba as the symbolic origin of empire and a point of reference for the other island colonies. Our Islands and Their People begins by affirming the legend of Don Diego Velázquez, who, five centuries earlier, claimed that Havana was the "llave del Nuevo Mundo," the "key to the New World." Olivares revises this legend to proclaim Havana the "key to the new possessions," citing its proximity as justification.
U.S. government administrators are cast as heroes engaged in the reconstruction of the city and its institutions, cleaning up the pestilent waters near Havana (which made the beach unsuitable for "surf bathing"), ridding neighborhoods of the illnesses resulting from unsanitary conditions, reforming the corrupt police force, and transforming the educational system and the attitude among Cubans that "study in any form" was "an unnecessary tax upon [their] energies." The section on Cuba ends with the prophetic musing that Havana, though burdened by "sanitary and moral" shortcomings, would be transformed into "one of the most attractive and popular winter resorts of the world." Olivares promotes Cuba as a place of winter health resorts "for the fashion and wealth of North America." In language that was continually reiterated later, he writes that "its future could hardly be more promising," noting its native "hospitality" and plentiful opportunities for industrial investment. Although Cuba attained sovereignty soon after the Spanish-American War, it was shaped by and for U.S. American tourist desires until the late 1950s.
Many of the attitudes in these texts were part of the racial discourses that guided policy initiatives and applications of the rights of citizenship. Filipinos were unseemly and racialized primitives who would remain wards of the imperial state until they were politically mature enough for emancipation. Olivares goes beyond the bland rhetoric of tropical malaise and work-averse pleasure seeking in his portrait of Filipinos, which tacitly suggests the exclusion of the Philippines from the Union. This devaluation of the Philippines and Filipinos is evident not only in the placement of the Philippines at the end of his tome, but also in the tone of the narrative. The narrative reflects public ambivalence about retaining the Philippines as a colony and ire over Filipino resistance to U.S. rule. Filipinos are described as "treacherous and blood-thirsty hybrid Malays," a condition that justified the illegal takeover of their country and the subsequent violent subjugation of the native population. In support, Olivares cites the murderous language of General Henry Lawton, who fought in the Spanish-American War and would fight against Filipino "insurgents" in the Philippine-American War, which began in 1899: "The lamented General Lawton knew them well; a green mound in Arlington Cemetery attests to his intimate acquaintance with these people, and he declared that the only good Filipinos were the dead ones." Olivares avoids depicting resistance to U.S. occupation, but the spirited Filipino insurrection was no doubt a reason for the dismissal of the Philippines. Unlike other accounts, his section on the Philippines contains no description of happy and grateful natives throwing themselves at the feet of their liberators. Rather, many of the negative connotations associated with domestic racialized populations are found in his portrait of the Filipinos, who are described as "negros" and "blood-thirsty." The Philippines itself is a "hot tamale." Like the other colonies, it suffers many of the problems associated with "tropical climes." Yet unlike other colonized peoples, Filipinos are given a different status, deemed unfit for U.S. citizenship for reasons attributed to race and character, but which seem to derive from the spirited manner of their resistance to colonialism.
While the Philippines remained an important port and military outpost, the role of the Philippines and Filipinos in the U.S. imaginary never extended beyond this limited view. In the guidebooks, the Philippines has little to offer in the way of either a workforce or vacation spots, and the native population is deemed too volatile and unfriendly for assimilation. U.S. Americans are guided away from the Philippines and toward the more hospitable new U.S. territories, ones that are more exploitable, with populations waiting to serve their new masters. (The term "U.S. Americans" is used to distinguish them from other residents of North and South America.) The Jones Act of 1916 promised future independence for the Philippines, which was not achieved until after World War II. The country retains a "special" relationship to the U.S. as a client state and protocolonial appendage.
Puerto Ricans are marked by a passivity that translates into loyalty, making them desirable potential members of the Union. They, according to these texts, readily assumed their role as U.S. colonial subjects, and Olivares hopes to reward them with U.S. citizenship.
In our war with Spain, the Puerto Ricans were our true and loyal friends; they welcomed the advent of the "flag of the stars" with demonstrations of the most extravagant joy. We should not, therefore, treat them in such a way as to cause them to regret their union with the great Republic. The good work begun by the military authorities should be continued by our legislators at Washington, in order that the Porto Ricans, at the earliest practicable date, may become not only good citizens, but also firm friends of our nation.
Later, Olivares erroneously (failing to take into account U.S. racism and xenophobia) prophesies the swift entry of Puerto Rico as a "State of the Union" and its future as "an unusually bright commercial horizon." Like Cubans, the Puerto Ricans are grateful to the United States for their liberation: "The people seem to be abundantly satisfied with their transfer to the care of the United States, and upon every opportunity give free expression to their loyalty and devotion to the Government which relieved them from Spanish oppression." The role of Puerto Rico was already determined in 1899; thus, the only problem noted by both Morris and Olivares is the islanders' lack of investment in the value of work and a tendency to indulge in idle occupations and amusements, which, rather than a source of trouble, are viewed as signs that Puerto Rican annexation and subjugation would occur with little resistance or difficulty. The attitude toward Puerto Rico shaped by these guidebooks ensured investment in the continuation of its colonial dependency.
Puerto Ricans were received more favorably than other colonials: local elites were viewed as almost white and very nearly civilized, and they were granted citizenship by the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917. Yet citizenship did not grant them the full rights accorded to mainland U.S. citizens: they can vote in U.S. presidential primaries, but not in the general election; the island has many of the powers of a state but is not part of the Union; and as a "free associated state," it has more sovereignty than a state but is not independent. Its status as a nonstate state is a sign of a continued colonial condition.
Morris finds that Hawaiians, like Filipinos, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans, shirk responsibility, opting for the pursuit of pleasure over business: "They are a good-tempered and light.hearted race, given to mirth and laughter, fond of pleasure, and of the most genial disposition. Friendly and forgiving, the Hawaiian meets every one with a smile, and is genuinely hospitable. He is free from malice, harbors no treachery, and is natively simple-minded, kindly and benignant. Though seemingly unfit to conduct business, he makes a faithful and trusty employee." This supposed hospitality and friendliness was exploited by American industrialists to create the conditions for annexation. Olivares describes Hawaiians in much the same manner, as hospitable pleasure seekers who are "not naturally an industrious race" and "passionately fond of music and dancing."
Olivares blames the Hawaiians for their loss of sovereignty and self-rule. The illegal overthrow of Hawaiʻi by American capitalists is justified in the portrait of reigning monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, especially "her monstrous actions as a sovereign." Citing her conflict with the cabinet, their subsequent removal, and her attempt to promulgate a new constitution, Olivares makes his indictment: "Through her stubborn opposition to the rights of the people, her selfishness, bigotry and immorality, she brought about such a feeling of revulsion, unsafety, and disgust, that her government was overthrown." All these actions are attributed to her low morality and childlike arbitrariness. After the queen was ousted, a provisional government of the major businessmen of Honolulu was installed. The illegal overthrow initiated Queen Lili'uokalani's long campaign, with the overwhelming support of native Hawaiians, to regain the sovereignty of the nation of Hawaiʻi. Yet Olivares describes the removal of the queen as a welcome liberation from her tyranny. The Hawaiians, he suggests, annexed themselves: "The first American troops, on their way to Manila, landed at Honolulu some days before the passage of the resolution of annexation, but they were welcomed as cordially as if the islands had already become part of the American territory. The Hawaiian Republic was then in existence, and we were at war with Spain, but there was no consideration of the question of neutrality. They Hawaiians annexed themselves and literally went mad in their extravagant welcome to our soldiers." Elsewhere, Olivares writes at length about Hawaiians' lack of appreciation of the leasehold system of landownership, ostensibly set up to restore land to native peoples, but actually an egregious land grab by nonnatives. He then gives a detailed description of how investors might acquire land, since "no previous acquisition of territory by the United States [was] more desirable or of greater value."
Hawaiʻi is depicted as naturally belonging to the United States. Even the volcano Mauna Loa conspires to anoint this union, the eruptions of which were taken as a natural sign of the predestined union of Hawaiʻi and States: "Eruptions from Mauna Loa have taken place at various intervals of years, the latest and most terrific having occurred on the 4th of July, 1899, as if in commemoration of the union with the great American Republic."58 The swift takeover of the Hawaiian nation was anything but an act of nature, one that, as Noenoe K. Silva has argued, was strongly resisted by native Hawaiians. In fact, she argues that the notion of a lack of native Hawaiian resistance is a myth that legitimates the illegal actions of the United States. She refutes the idea of natives' passivity, finding resistance from the earliest history of contact to annexation, as documented in over seventy-five Hawaiian-language newspapers. She uncovered a major antiannexationist movement document: a petition of 1897 housed at the U.S. National Archives, which has become a vital educational tool about the native response to colonialism.
The colonial portrait of Hawaiʻi is similar to that of Puerto Rico and Cuba; all are places that offered industrial opportunities along with sun, sand, and hospitable natives. Its status as "naturally" belonging to the United States is part of a mythos generated during its rule by U.S. business leaders and military strategists. The transition to statehood was spearheaded and secured by big business in the islands, and Hawaiʻi quickly became one of the largest, perhaps the largest, U.S. military base of operations. Guam is the least visible of these cases and is often connected to the Philippines and Hawaiʻi as a way station and outpost in the U.S. matrix of military bases; like Puerto Rico, it remains a non-self.governing territory. In these guidebooks there is brief mention of Guam as rich in copra, a source of oil, soap, and glycerin. Guam is currently a major focus of U.S. military buildup in the Pacific. Cuba, the most persistent object of U.S. imperial desire and lead case of almost all the travelogues following the Spanish-American War, was able to throw off the yoke of the colossus of the North. The Cuban Revolution is a major point of reference in U.S. popular culture and a massive traumatic rift in the U.S. national psyche. I am not arguing for a clear and unbroken connection between the attitudes of 1898-era popular culture and postmillennial perceptions of formal U.S. empire. But the political practices and cultural attitudes that emanated during the initial epoch of imperial enthusiasm powerfully shaped the popular-culture representations and political futures of each colonial holding.
Interest in these island outposts was eclipsed by the onset of World War I, an event that sundered the associations among these territories in the U.S. media imaginary. But the very idea of the island possessions, the country's first nonmainland acquisitions, intensified the drive for empire, for increasing the circumference of U.S. influence and reach. Though Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba drifted away from one another in the media, they continued to share similar types of depictions throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Fascination with each island corresponded to key historical moments in the changing imperial career of the United States, which shifted decisively in the later twentieth century from possession to influence—that is, it shifted emphasis from owning territories to shaping global popular culture and foreign sociocultural and political attitudes.
The Afterlife of Empire The island empire of the United States was a cultural preoccupation of the early part of the twentieth century; yet after World War II, each part of the empire was given different treatment in popular culture, though the status of all former, neo-, and current U.S. colonies continued to vacillate, paradoxically, between being unique and exemplary and being interchangeable and homogeneous. The Philippines, though a colony until 1946 and still a major U.S. client state, has had episodic representation in popular culture. The visibility of the Philippines seems to be linked to conflict and war—from the newsreels of the Spanish-American War to reports on the war on terror. But no era in popular culture matches World War II for the sheer volume of news and number of dramatic films generated about the Philippines. In fact, the era of the greatest intimacy between the United States and the Philippines emerged with the propaganda machine of that war. The purpose of World War II propaganda was to both entertain the public and recruit it into what was deemed a "foreign" war effort. Popular media story lines and narratives about the war, following the war manuals issued by the Office of War Information (OWI), transformed a foreign war in foreign places into a familiar conflict and a space of domestic import. The Philippines acted as a home front or a space of identification through the presence there of an American way of life. There was no better site from which to engage ambivalent U.S. audiences than the already foreign yet domestic space of its colonial possession. World War II films set in the Philippines established a dynamic of foreign domesticity by grafting domestic signifiers onto the foreign space of the Philippines and across Filipino bodies; particularly through the trope of U.S. heroism as signified by General Douglas MacArthur, references to the Alamo and the genre of the western, and domestic cultural objects and practices.
The major feature films and newsreels generated to serve the war effort in the Philippines—or commemorate it—include the highly acclaimed television series Victory at Sea (NBC, 1952–1953) and The World at War (Thames Television, 1973–1974), along with episodes of the newsreel series News of the Day and The March of Time, and the CBS radio and television series You Are There. The feature films include narratives that were most likely shaped by or complicit with OWI guidelines, such as Texas to Bataan (1942), Corregidor (1943), Bataan (1943), They Were Expendable (1945) and Back to Bataan (1945). The influence and aftermath of this era can be gauged in two notable films that return to the scene of the war in the Philippines some twenty-odd years after its end: Back Door to Hell (1964) and Too Late the Hero (1970).
Guam has been almost entirely in the shadow of the other U.S. colonies, particularly the Philippines and Hawaiʻi. In popular-culture representations, there is no way to view or imagine the island except via the limited visual language of the military and tourism. Like the Philippines, Guam was a major strategic point in the Pacific theater of World War II, and like Hawaiʻi, it is dominated by the twin industries of militarism and tourism. Two notable Hollywood films show Guam in different eras: No Man Is an Island (1962), set during World War II, and the recent film Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon (2004), a tourist film designed to promote travel to the island. While the story of No Man Is an Island is based in Guam, it was filmed entirely in the Philippines, with a majority of Filipino actors playing indigenous Guamanians, or Chamorros. The film is the first one to be set in Guam and the first to show its peoples; yet what it shows, in keeping with the overt role of Guam as linked to the Philippines, is Filipinos in the Philippines. It took more than forty years to remedy Guamanian invisibility. Max Havoc: Curse of the Dragon is an action movie haunted by colonial ghosts and reminders of the Japanese claim to Guam during World War II. It is the first Hollywood production to be filmed there. The film coincides with a larger circuit of Guamanian cultural productions, including the recent documentary Under the American Sun (2008) and the popular Zen self-help writings of Leo Babauta. The film The Insular Empire: American in the Mariana Islands (2010) coincides with a major military development in the Pacific that puts Guam in the spotlight. The U.S. military is currently moving a major base of operations from Okinawa to Guam, which has sparked a wave of protest from Guamanians and antimilitarization activists.
While the coverage of the Philippines and Guam in U.S. media is linked to World War II, a later year marks a pivotal point for Cuba and Hawaiʻi: 1959. I argue that media representations of Cuba follow two related temporal tracks: they either take place before the Cuban Revolution or reflect back nostalgically on that era. Such portraits of Cuba turn it into a fantasy island, a utopian and timeless place holding the promise that the impossible might become possible. Like the television series of the same name (Fantasy Island, ABC, 1978–1984), Cuba, in the U.S. imaginary, is a space where fantasies are realized. But the island is also a major bogeyman whose real status as a nation could not be broached in the entertainment media. Instead, the island is infused with the irreality of fantasy and the mood of nostalgia and longing. This dreamlike quality emanates from the Hollywood "image embargo" placed upon Cuba after the revolution. The fantasy island before 1959 was a real playground for television and movie stars and U.S.-based gangsters. In Cuba (1979), Havana (1990), Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), and The Lost City (2005), the narrative in each case takes place during the height of U.S. tourism to the island, on the cusp of the revolution, and is imbued with longing for a lost paradise. After the revolution, film and television resignified Cuba as the origin, not the playground, of the Mafia and related criminal types, with The Godfather: Part II (1974), Scarface (1983), Miami Vice (NBC, 1984–1989), and Bad Boys II (2003). Cuba was conveyed to the U.S. public as a place of crime and all manner of untoward activities in an attempt to deflect attention away from its political status and contested relationship to the United States. A notable exception to this series of representations might be the recent film Che (2008), which documents Che Guevara's participation in the events leading up to the Cuban Revolution. The film signals a shift in attitude that may signal a political shift; it represents a lifting of the image embargo on the Cuban Revolution and changing policies toward Cuba.
Whereas the Cuban Revolution cut off U.S. influence on the island, statehood for Hawaiʻi intensified and crystallized the U.S. presence in the Hawaiian Islands. The end of the romance with Havana prompted a Hollywood rebound with Hawaiʻi. Tourists were routed to Puerto Rico and Hawaiʻi for the colonial tourist experience, places where English was spoken, dollars were accepted, and passports were not necessary. Statehood proved a major boon for Hawaiʻi in popular culture and subsequent tourist flows. In the 1960s, the popular-culture spotlight shifted to Hawaiʻi with films such as Blue Hawaii (1961), Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1965), and television shows such as Hawaii Five-0 (CBS, 1968–1980). The Gidget and Elvis films that take place in Hawaiʻi feature popular teen subcultures around surfers and beach boys that showcase all that is good about the U.S. and about Hawaiʻi as its exemplary outpost. The filmic adaptation of James Michener's historical novel Hawaii was released at the height of the tourist fascination with the island chain. Set before annexation, it provides subtle justification for U.S. occupation and encourages, through idyllic scenery, its adjunct: tourism. This portrait of Hawaiʻi denies the reality of indigenous struggles for sovereignty and of continued native dispossession after the illegal overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani; this colonial denial continues into the present with films such as Aloha Summer (1988, set in 1959) and Blue Crush (2002). Yet only recently, with the independent film Princess Kaiulani (2010), has there been recognition of the historical processes of U.S. occupation and illegal annexation of the sovereign territory of Hawaiʻi. This was followed by the reintroduction of the hit television series Hawaii Five-0—in a move similar to the reinvention of Miami Vice—which features the antics of the police force and hints at the presence of U.S. security forces on the island, which constitute one of the largest military installations in the world. The tourist boom following statehood and the imagined Hawaiʻi of popular culture worked together to domesticate and fully integrate this territory in ways unavailable to the other island colonies.
During the same period of the tourist films that celebrated the youth cultures of surfers and beach boys in Hawaiʻi, Puerto Rican youth were reviled as unwanted migrants bringing the ruinous conditions of the colony to New York City. This portrait of Puerto Ricans found its origin in West Side Story (1961), but was repeated in Fame (1980), Do the Right Thing (1989), Girlfight (2000), El Cantante (2007), and Feel the Noise (2007). Hollywood Puerto Ricans are associated with urban problems related to teen delinquency, gangs, poverty, terrorism, and crime; they are not recognized as colonial subjects, which forecloses on any Puerto Rican territorial claims to independence. Such films offer a powerful lesson about how to achieve sovereignty within imperial domination. That is, they suggest that the most productive political condition for Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rico is in the status quo, or the persistence of coloniality. Each story features a colonial subject who transforms environmental deficits into productive capacities. The urban circumstances related to poverty are depicted as the enabling conditions for success, giving these characters the necessary grit, determination, and wit to succeed as boxers, singers, or dancers. Puerto Ricans epitomize the American Dream.-which was disseminated throughout Puerto Rico in the mid-twentieth century as the bootstrap model of development-.triumphing through individual initiative and drive. They are depicted as true Americans who benefit from all that the United States has to offer. Such films as those listed above became powerful arguments for the continued imperial limbo of Puerto Rico.
Each island had its moment of greatest visibility in popular culture; taken together, the moments produced an image and ideology of U.S. hegemony. The island outposts were strategic bases of operation for an expanding military complex that is now the largest in the world, with 702 bases of operation in 130 countries, and 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories.60 If popular culture is a pervasive means of expanding U.S. power in the world, there is no denying the actual and symbolic force of the global operation of military bases or what Chalmers Johnson calls the "empire of bases."
This brings us back to Michael Mann's remake of Miami Vice and the main preoccupation of its sprawling narrative: global securing of the nation. The story follows the same tropes and symbols as the television show: a streetwise and nightclub-savvy cop duo working undercover. Sonny and Ricardo enter into a secret operation, against the better judgment of their superiors, out of a sense of justice and duty to state security. While their superiors are satisfied with neutralizing the internal domestic threat of the Aryan Brotherhood, Sonny and Ricardo's ambitions are decidedly more global: to bring down an international drug-trafficking network headquartered at the triple border of Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. This rogue operation has better counterintelligence than the CIA, FBI, and DEA, a development that presents an ominous threat to homeland security. The network is coded as a terrorist agglomeration reminiscent of multiple threats to U.S. security, including the evil Russian empire and Colombian drug dealers. But Sonny has the perfect ploy to bring down the international cartel: seduce the mastermind's assistant, the beautiful Chinese-Cuban Isabella. Sonny's romantic machinations expose the imperial sensibility or frame of mind of U.S. popular culture. Of course, Sonny's work unfolds in Havana, where he and Isabella conduct an illicit tryst and plot their criminal collaboration. As the place where Isabella flees to avoid capture, it is the site of all things illicit and criminal—in keeping with its reputation in Washington. Sonny makes Isabella an adjunct of his master plan, but he also cares deeply for her well-being and makes every effort—risking his own life—to secure her safety. He is the perfect instantiation of the goodwill of U.S. empire and its purported objective of instilling justice and peace in the world. We trust Sonny and his unorthodox strategies because he is a truly "good" cop who secures the welfare of his people and offers redemption to the wayward criminals of the world. Similarly, the United States is an empire with a heart of gold, accidentally plunged into the role of global cop and protector of wayward former colonies. Miami Vice, like many popular-culture productions, encodes a pernicious message about U.S. empire that, if left unexamined, will continue to train U.S. audiences in imperial chauvinism. Analysis of U.S. cultural productions enables us, in the prophetic words of William Appleman Williams written three decades ago, to "confront our imperial way of life." And as popular-culture representations of U.S. empire reveal, the production of imperial-mindedness at home is simultaneously the projection of power abroad.
Islands of Empire explores how popular culture contributes to public discourses about U.S. power and how its foreign-domestic spaces figure in the production of its imperial ideology. Hollywood films and popular culture are crucial sites for working through and coming to terms with the contested issues of U.S. global hegemony and empire. While the memory of U.S. imperial holdings is forgotten, the mass media issue intermittent reminders of the former empire while spectacularly displaying a new, bigger, and bolder incarnation of U.S. prowess at every turn.
“With Islands of Empire, Fojas, a professor of Latino and Latin American Studies at Chicago’s DePaul University, shines a light through the screens of illusion that continue to form our mental picture of America’s role in world affairs.”
Milwaukee Shepherd Express
“Drawing on an impressive array of archival evidence to provide historical context, Islands of Empire reveals the role of popular culture in creating and maintaining American imperialism.”
“Islands of Empire may well be a very gratifying read for the wider public, beyondthe strictly academic audience, as much for the writing style as for its references to thecelebrated films and actors that form part of contemporary imagery.”
“The scholarship presented in this work is nothing short of exceptional. Fojas showcases her connoisseur-like knowledge of popular culture by providing an expansive trove of movies and other cultural genres that focus on American imperial exploits and experiences.”
Martin Manalansan IV, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois
“This is an amazingly written and exhaustively researched book that makes a significant contribution to many, many fields—media and cinema studies, cultural studies, American studies, ethnic studies, Latina/o Studies, and Asian American Studies.”
Isabel Molina Guzman, Associate Professor of Media and Cinema Studies, Latina/o Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Illinois