The Spanish-American War in U.S. Media Culture

by James Castonguay

The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it is being divided up, conquered, and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could.
  --Cecil Rhodes, Last Will and Testament
It has been a splendid little war; begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which loved the brave.
  --John Hay, American ambassador to Great Britain, to Colonel Theodore Roosevelt in the wake of the Spanish-American War
What a marvel, indeed, would be a moving photograph of a duel between two warships, American and Spanish, terminating, of course, in the destruction of the enemy's vessel, exhibited on a stereopticon screen before wildly enthusiastic audiences from Boston to San Francisco.
  --"Photos of the Conflict," June 6, 1898, Indianapolis News


In Unthinking Eurocentrism, Ella Shohat and Robert Stam argue that "[o]f all the celebrated 'coincidences'--of the twin beginnings of cinema and psychoanalysis, cinema and nationalism, cinema and consumerism--it is [cinema's] coincidence with the heights of imperialism that [remains] least explored. . ." (100). This hypertextual essay discusses one aspect of this neglected "coincidence" through a consideration of the 1898 Cuban-Spanish-North American War (or Spanish-American War) in United States media culture. Through an intertextual investigation of film's role in the larger mediation of the Spanish-American War, I hope to increase our understanding of the preclassical cinema and contribute to our knowledge of the emergence of fin-de-siècle mass culture in the United States.