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Humor and entertainment were vital to the war effort during World War I. While entertainment provided relief to soldiers in the trenches, it also built up support for the war effort on the home front. This book looks at transnational war culture by examining seemingly light-hearted discourses on the Great War.





Humor, Entertainment, and Popular Culture during World War I (WWI)
In July 1916, during the murderous battle of the Somme, the satirical trench newspaper The Wipers Times1 published the following fake advertisement:
Clémentine Tholas-Disset, Karen A. Ritzenhoff

Movies to Please? Laughter, Diversion, and Nationhood in Great War Films


1. Alf’s Button (1920): Comedy in the Trenches

It seems difficult to over-estimate the effect that the Great War had on the experience of those who survived it. A. J. P. Taylor describes it as the moment when “the history of the English state and of the English people merged for the first time.”1 The state entered into civilian life in ways that had previously been unthinkable, restricting not only the freedoms of business, movement, and information, but also food consumption, leisure pursuits, and working practices. Through the conscription act,2 every member of the community became accountable to the state—their presence recorded in readiness to be called up either directly to the battlegrounds, or to war service at home.
Lawrence Napper

2. Body Politics: National Identity, Performance, and Modernity in Maciste Alpino (1916)

A famous adage says that generals always fight the last war. This was certainly true of World War I (WWI). When the conflict broke out, the high command of both sides expected a quick confrontation, with armies strate-gically maneuvering and fighting a few decisive battles, like in a Napoleonic campaign or in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Instead, what materialized was an extremely bloody four-year war of attrition, where the simple idea of maneuvering was almost always out of reach, at least on the Western Front (where the war was won), as well as on secondary fronts like the Italian front, the Balkans, and the Gallipoli peninsula. The Eastern front, and especially the Middle-East, saw traditional nineteenth century–style maneuvering but, again, the war was won in the West, along an endless line of trenches that ran for 600 kilometers, from the Channel to the Swiss border, a line that basically remained still for almost the entire conflict. There, British, French, and German generals—like the Italian ones on the Isonzo River—tried in vain to achieve “movement” through a series of horribly costly “pushes.” It was a nineteenth century tactics, based on frontal assaults by dense infantry formations, oblivious to the implications of twentieth century industrial and military technology, especially the machine gun, which, combined with barbed wire, made those frontal assaults suicidal.1
Giaime Alonge, Francesco Pitassio

3. Hoaxes, Ballyhoo Stunts, War, and Other Jokes: Humor in the American Marketing of Hollywood War Films during the Great War

In this chapter, I want to reframe our understanding of the role of movies in the US war effort in 1917–1918 by focusing not on American propa-ganda war movies and their assumed power to persuade and manipulate, but on the marketing paratexts of such movies and their power to offer participatory spaces for audiences.1 More precisely, I propose to forego any discussion of film texts as propaganda in order to analyze film culture as a discursive space designed with audience engagement in mind; specifically, as a performative culture used by the American nation to engage with patriotic values. What made this possible, I argue, was the deployment of humor in the marketing of propaganda films—through jokes, hoaxes, carnival-inspired fun, and excessive theatricality.
Fabrice Lyczba

4. Johanna Enlists (1918): An Elliptic and Comic Portrayal of the Great War in Motion Pictures

Where is the War? After fifteen minutes of watching the 1918 patriotic comedy Johanna Enlists, starring America’s Sweetheart Mary Pickford, any spectator is put off balance by the broken promise of such a title evoking the United States’ voluntary mobilization.1 While active female participation in the Great War is expected, the war is not on screen, as the plot focuses on the peregrinations of a young farm girl, Johanna Renssaller (Mary Pickford), looking for love. The meaningful title can be interpreted as a kind of joke played on the baffled audience and announces the message of the movie as well as its various tricks: never judge a book by its cover. Johanna Enlists is deceptive and deals with pretense, therefore injecting a certain playfulness and humor in the representation of the war. Even before it came out in September 1918,2 this Pickford-Artcraft production3 was announced by Motion Pictures News under the title “‘The mobilization of Johanna’, a play of laugh and tears,”4 revealing thus its duality. The spectator should both enjoy and question what he/she sees, as nothing is what it seems in this motion picture.
Clémentine Tholas-Disset

A War of Witty Words and Images: Novels, Newspapers, and Illustrations


5. War Memoir as Entertainment: Walter Bloem’s Vormarsch (1916)

Walter Bloem’s World War I memoir Vormarsch (The Advance from Mons 1914: The Experiences of a German Infantry Officer), published in 1916, was counted among the most popular German war narratives until the 1940s. Its author, born in 1868, took Germany’s literary market by storm in 1910, when he published the first part of his monumental novel trilogy commemorating Prussia’s victory over France in 1870-1871 and continued with his career as author of Unterhaltungsromane, quality entertainment novels in the years of the Weimar Republic.1 Between 1911 and 1922, Bloem was Germany’s bestselling author, loved by his readers and respected by officials (among them Kaiser Wilhelm II). Despite Bloem’s literary successes, his Great War memoirs escaped closer attention so far, as his writing was overshadowed by the author’s later support of the Third Reich and his professional involvement in the regime’s writers’ associations.2 Today, Bloem’s work is almost completely forgotten, as he is perceived as “Nazi apologist”3 and “Nazi fellow traveler”4 and there are no re-editions of his works.
Jakub Kazecki

6. Nature and Functions of Humor in Trench Newspapers (1914–1918)

Trench newspapers, otherwise known as “trench journals,” “soldiers’ news-papers,” “unit magazines,” or “field publications,” are generally considered a medium of its own kind. During World War I (WWI), they were published within most of the belligerent armies. The estimated number of titles is impressive: at least 107 in the British and Dominion armies,1 approximately 400 in France,2 110 in Germany,3 and at least 50 in Italy.4 For Belgium, Bulthé and Bertrand counted respectively 131 Dutch language titles and 148 French ones.5 Measuring the impact of the medium, however, is less easy, since the category comprises a wide variety of publications, ranging from stenciled leaflets intended for small units to printed magazines with print runs of several thousands of copies. Periodicity and life span varied strongly as well. Whereas R. L. Nelson considers the German field publications “an incredibly popular medium, bought and read by millions,”6 Audoin-Rouzeau argues that, in France, “the majority of the soldiers could not have come in touch with these journals, or only very occasionally.”7
Koenroad Du Pont

7. The Nuanced Comic Perspectives of the Cartoons in Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War

Created in 1841 as a radical, satirical magazine, Punch, or The London Charivari,1 had become, by the beginning of the twentieth century, a well-established British publication aimed largely at the middle classes. The outbreak of the Great War reinforced the movement away from its subversive origins, as Punch, like the rest of the print media, had little choice other than to adopt the strongly patriotic stance that the exceptional circumstances required, using its pages to sustain civilian morale and humor for the cathartic effect of banishing, however temporarily, grief and fear. The constraints on editor (Sir) Owen Seaman were considerable: the need to reflect the public mood and avoid alienating readers, the obligation to respect the limits imposed by military censorship and the necessity of obeying the rigors of the all-encompassing Defence of the Realm Act.2 All these factors help to explain the relatively conformist standpoint of the magazine and to justify the frequently not markedly comic content of many of its wartime numbers.
Renée Dickason

8. World War I in Bande Dessinée: La Semaine de Suzette and the Birth of a Breton Heroine at War!

Bandes dessinées (literally drawn strips) are comics coreated for French and Belgian audiences. Also referred to as BDs, they target various generations of readers and they address a broad spectrum of themes. In 1904, a new generation of newspapers targeted to the youth, la presse à un sou, revolutionized the history of both children’s literature and BD, thereby binding them together to give birth to a new art form: “le 9ème Art” (the 9th Art). Since the last decade, emerging scholarship has pointed to the value of this graphic medium as a reliable source for cultural studies.1 The recent study of BD since the 1980s led historians such as the French Marion Pignot to analyze the value of illustrés de jeunesse in the context of World War I (WWI).2 In her article “Suzette contre Fillette,” Pignot claims that leisure literature is crucial to promote “wartime culture geared at children” (“la culture de guerre à destination des enfants”).3 When assessing the production of wartime children’s illustrés, we are faced with two concurring dimensions: the social and political context they were conceptualized on the one hand, and the targeted readers on the other. Some of these weeklies, such as La Semaine de Suzette, continued to exist decades after the war and acquired the status of highly canonical children’s literature.4
Anne Cirella-Urrutia

9. Marianne in the Trenches: Typology and Iconographic Polysemy of Marianne between 1914 and 1918

The French national icon Marianne is a spark plug of symbols, from the cockade to the Phrygian cap, from references to the Greek Minerva of wisdom to the allegory of peace holding an olive branch, from Joan of Arc (to which a section is devoted in this chapter) to La Marseillaise. Innumerable photo-montages portray a hybrid Marianne, ranging from the pacifist and maternal sower, having stepped down from the pediment of town halls to act as a protective divinity to soldier fathers, to the avenging fury attacking the Prussian eagle. We can see a redeployment of Marianne during the Great War: the iconography no longer mirrors the republican debate, but redirects its incredible plasticity and its ability to depict a national character much more complex than meets the eye. However, Guilllaume Doizy is not wrong when he suggests that Liberty is the allegorical principle promoted by the wartime Marianne. This may come as a surprise, for equality or fraternity would have been expected to be emphasized, over Liberty, by illustrators. Marianne is thus instrumental in remembering that it is primarily the Manichean and eschatological struggle of republican Liberty against the barbaric despotism of the enemy that is at stake in the mobilizing discourse of the early stages of the war. We cannot say, as Doizy purports, that “in political cartoons, the figure of Marianne appears to have been rather insignificant within Belle Époque imagery.”1
Laurent Bihl

Entertaining on Stage: Pleasurable and Political Live Performances


10. The Range of Laughter: First Person Reports from Entertainers of the Over There Theatre League

This admonition to performers who volunteered to entertain American soldiers in France under the auspices of the Over There Theatre League, sponsored by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), was published on June 19, 1918, in vaudevillian Will Cressy’s weekly newspaper column “Three Minutes in One.”2 Broadway producer Winthrop Ames, who spearheaded the Over There Theatre League, had toured American military camps in France in February—March 1918 and had seen for him-self how desperately the doughboys needed some morale-boosting, light entertainment. As the first contingent of entertainers awaited transport across the Atlantic, Ames asked Cressy (who headed one of the five units in that first wave) to use his column to reinforce some basic principles of performing over there.3
Felicia Hardison Londré

11. “You Can’t Help Laughing, Can You?” Humor and Symbolic Empowerment in British Music Hall Song during the Great War

This chapter aims at exploring the large corpus of comic songs performed on the British music hall stage during the Great War. Writings on humor generally begin by declaring how difficult it is to define the term itself;1 underlining the absurd or unexpected is often considered to be an essential element, while Bergson’s classic essay explains that humor is specifically human and social.
The comic does not exist outside the pale of what is strictly human. A land-scape may be beautiful, charming and sublime, or insignificant and ugly; it will never be laughable.2
[…]You would hardly appreciate the comic if you felt yourself isolated from others. Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo.3
John Mullen

12. J. M. Barrie and World War I

Although J. M. Barrie is primarily remembered for Peter Pan (1904), he was one of the most popular playwrights of the Edwardian era.1 Leading actors, actresses, and theater managers partnered with him, other prominent literary figures respected him, and before the war he was made “Baronet.” In a time when colleagues such as Arthur Wing Pinero and Henry Arthur Jones were “strangely quiet,”—the exception being Bernard Shaw, who caused a storm after writing Common Sense About the War—Barrie was one of the few recognized playwrights who continued to write new works throughout World War I (WWI), and to receive frequent revivals of his earlier works.2
Jenna L. Kubly

Promoting War Values and Routine, Coping with a Different Social Order


13. Sugary Celebrations and Culinary Activism: Sugar, Cooking, and Entertaining during World War I

Desserts may seem like the most benign of daily nourishments, but during the Great War, their role in the American household, and more precisely, on the dinner table, evolved to be that of a political statement. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the American sweet tooth was firmly established, with over 75 percent of the US sugar supply being imported and thus requiring maritime shipping. In wartime, these ships were requisitioned for other uses, and sugar became one of the Food Administration’s “big four,” along with fat, meat, and wheat. In Janet McKenzie Hill’s Economical War-Time Cook Book, “Seven Commandments for War-Time Conservation” are advised, and number three is specifically about sugar: “If money is scarce, buy only enough sugar to make the meals palatable.”1 To give up sugar, or sweetness all together, would have been to accept a “bitter” lifestyle that contrasted with perceived notions of American promise and cultural identity.
Amy D. Wells

14. Chunder Goes Forth: Humor, Advertising, and the Australian Nation in the Bulletin during World War I

In 1912, Adelaide’s Daily Herald featured an article titled “A Fighting ‘Australian,’” which dismissed reports in rival newspapers that described the soldier Ricciotti Garibaldi, “formerly of Melbourne.” “Exactly what makes Mr Ricciotti Garibaldi an Australian is not made clear,” it fumed before adding, “Next, our contemporary will … claim Chunder Loo, of Akim Foo, as a brother kangaroo because his portrait figures in Australian newspaper advertisements.”1 However, two years later, this advertising character would in fact assume the mantle of a “fighting ‘Australian,” as he did his part for King and Empire by providing some mirth during the Great War.
Robert Crawford

15. Mobilizing Morale: At the Front in a Flivver with the American Ambulanciers

On March 25, 1916, soon after arriving in Paris from overseas, American Field Service ambulancier William Yorke Stevenson recorded the tragic circumstances surrounding two wounded soldiers in his war diary. Both suffered unbearable mutilation as a result of the war, and both languished in Parisian hospitals awaiting the fate their wounds laid out for them. Stevenson concluded his entry that day with their story:
I met a rather nice little French girl last night. There is a young Englishman in one of the hospitals, she told me, who has no arms, no legs, is stone blind and stone deaf. He can only feel and talk, and all he does is beg to be killed. She says a friend of hers who nursed a man, blind and without arms, is going to marry him because she thinks it is her duty, although she does not care for him. She is not pretty; but as the man is blind it will not matter, she says. Such cases are not rare.1
T. Adrian Lewis

16. Silencing Laughter: Pioneering Director Lois Weber and the Uncanny Gaze in Silent Film

Studying Lois Weber as a one of the pioneering women directors in Hollywood in a book about World War I and popular culture seems appropriate, since she used to be one of the highest paid silent filmmakers and a poster child for prolific movie-making in the years just before and after the Great War. Weber’s oeuvre of over 200 scripted films, only a fraction of which are preserved, appealed to an increasingly female audience base in America, interested in consumption and (serious) entertainment. Discussing her work seems only relevant, however, if used as a platform to reveal her efforts in silencing laughter and denying her narratives the lurking threat of war. Weber’s vision of America and the world seems to counterbalance the focus and concerns of her contemporaries that are haunted by the presence of World War I. The study of her work enables us to discover a discordant American voice at a time when the country starts promoting a unifying patriotic message.
Karen A. Ritzenhoff


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