Professor Kelly Jakes Travels to Paris for Book Project on French Music and Resistance

In its simplest terms, pop culture is a reflection of social change. Classic examples include the beat generation of the 1950s and the hippie movement of the 1960s. Both were vivid representations of antiauthoritarianism and political consciousness, born in response to social tensions that arose in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid 20th century. These movements embraced creative thinkers and artists and used pop culture as a way to rethink societal norms and carve out a new national identity.


In Europe, there was another vibrant counterculture spurring political and social change in the 1940s, before the hippies and beats, though it never got as much press as its anti-establishment peers: French pop music and culture. 


Kelly Jakes, assistant professor of communication studies at Wayne State, has been studying how popular music and fashion in France inspired resistance against the German occupation during WWII for more than five years. She will be continuing her extensive research on the topic thanks to the two grants she won earlier this year: the Research Enhancement Program's award for Arts and Humanities research and the University Research Grant.


Jakes says she has been long been fascinated by political issues surrounding social movements and that she is channeling her current efforts into writing a book on the various ways in which different genres of French popular music gave rise to political dissidence and empowered the resistance of French citizens during the Nazi occupation. Analyzing how music politically united French dissidents during the war, Jakes says, is crucial to understanding the implications of pop culture, even today.


"The role of culture in both amassing and contesting political power is significant," Jakes says. "Governments use art to promote everything, including politics, economics, and religion. There was a new central order in France during WWII, and I'm looking at how the French used music to build dissent and attract members to their resistance."


Jakes says there is very little written about this topic and she hopes her book will shed light on the importance of this rhetorical material and its impact as a political tool.


"I want to help people understand that pop culture is not mere entertainment," Jakes says. "It isn't apolitical. It has meanings of its own, and it can enact change in the world. And during this time in Paris, a time when folksongs, jazz, and operetta all symbolized different ideals of French national identity, musical culture served as resources for the resistance." 


Jakes spent a month this summer in France conducting archival research at the National Library in Paris, scouring its collections of diaries, testimonies and sheet music from groups such as Parisian teenagers and French prisoners of war. She says finding quality sources has been the most difficult aspect of the book project so far. 


"There was a lack of infrastructure in France at the time, and the state of the government was changing so rapidly that nobody kept track of this stuff," Jakes says. "A lot of people in France in the 1940s didn’t see pop culture as important. So connecting all the needles once I find them into a useful array of information has been somewhat of an interpretive problem."


While combing through the archives in Paris, Jakes says she was struck by some of the historical details she found. She says she was surprised at testimonials from citizens in Normandy and how the sources illustrated how power was changing hands at that time. 


Jakes says some of the most interesting stories she found related to German POWs at the liberation of France upon the war’s end. 


"These were people who were formerly occupying the country and within a few weeks had become Allied prisoners. They were driving convoys to American camps to attend parties where American GIs were performing," Jakes says. "It was all African-American performers too. So you have former Nazis who believed in Aryan supremacy now relegated to driving French women to shows performed by black soldiers."


Jakes says the next step of her project is to go back to France to dig back into the archives for more material. She will start sending out proposals for the book by January and she hopes to have a full draft done by the end of summer 2016.


To read more about Dr. Jakes' research, visit her profile or read one of her earlier essays on this topic.