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Mccarthyism and the Red Scares Impact on the Media in the 50s/60s

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McCarthyism and The Second Red Scares impact on Media in the 1950-60s decades (Research and Analysis Paper)

In 1950, fewer than 50,000 Americans out of a total US population of 150 million were members of the Communist Party(Gilder Lehrman). However following WWII the the time period of the 1950-1970 was marked as a period of mass fear of Communism. American fears of internal communist infiltration reached Its highest point since the First Red Scare of the 1920-30s. Government organizations investigated millions of americans, “asking what books and magazines they read, what unions and civic organizations they belonged to, and whether they went to church” (Gilder Lehrman). This time period was also marked by the major shift and blacklisting of celebrities primarily in show business.

One of the people who took full advantage of the mass hysteria was Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin. McCarthy began his crusade by giving a speech at the Women’s Republican Club of Wheeling, in West Virginia, where he stated that he had a list of over 220 confirmed communists living in the US. The numbers of this statement dropped over the years as people began to watch him more closely. However this didn’t stop him from rising to more power, after the Republicans regained a majority in the senate, McCarthy took control of a subcommittee, and performed investigations on government agencies. Other Cold War “activists” consisted of Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, union leader Walter Reuther, men who spoke out against McCarthy's tactics, but still agreed with a lot of his core beliefs. While this led to a divergence of tactics between activists, it still led to a growth in Anti-Communist sentiments through “Public Education” films and propaganda to increase the fear in the people of the new red menace.
Anti-Communism continued into the 1960s, but after 1954 it lost a large amount of its support. The turning point was when in 1954 Senator McCarthy began to investigate Communists in the Army, and higher powers decided he had overstepped a boundary. A special Senate subcommittee was formed to investigate McCarthy’s tactics and ABC broadcast the hearings live. The hearings exposed the extent to the falseness of McCarthy’s claims while exposing his bullying and fear tactics to produce results.
However the fall of McCarthy didn’t stop the anti-communist sentiment from growing and this led to new types of films being produced in the early 60s by the Government in order to continue the levels of Anti-Communist hysteria through the media. So while the rise of McCarthyism and the resurgence of the Red Scare in the 50s, led to a creation and shift of a new culture in modern media, the continuation of Anti-Communist films continued into the mid to late 60s. This created a new harsh society dedicated to anti-communism and the promotion of fear in the media.
The eventual rise of McCarthy and his tactics were later coined into the term now recognized as McCarthyism, which was simply the promotion of Anti-Communism through fear tactics. One of the most famous acts McCarthy had a hand in was the blacklisting and trials of hundred of Hollywood and Broadway actors that he suspected were communists. In 1951, McCarthy as the head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities released a Hollywood blacklist of more than 300 actors, directors, writers. This blacklist made it nearly impossible for these actors to find work but it nearly crippled the entertainment industry at the time since any person who was associated with that person or had performed with a blacklisted artist in the past was added to the list, which while not completely prohibiting them, made it extremely hard for actors to find work during this time. It became so difficult that the odds of an actor finding a job dropped 13% if a previous associate was placed on the blacklist (Christy Schroeder).
Even though the blacklisting of celebrities was a fairly common practice during the McCarthyist era of the film industry, films were still produced on a regular basis. These films however always carried a common theme, promoting the american ideals of democracy, or somehow promoting the fear of communism. These would likely be enforced by producers approved by McCarthyist critics or surveyors. This shift toward Anti-Communist films, was McCarthy’s way of spreading the Red Scare to all ages, since the film industry created films of every nature.
The Thing from Another World
One of the first major Anti-Red films was The Thing from Another World, released in 1951, was one of the first films to feature this theme. “The Thing From Another World, released in 1951, capitalised on the beginning of the Korean War, increased fears of the Red Menace that was brought to the forefront of a nation by the whirlwind activities of Senator Joe McCarthy. The Thing From Another World begins in the Arctic circle where a group of scientists and air force men find a flying saucer buried within the frozen wasteland. Within the flying saucer they find a life form. He is accidentally thawed out and goes upon a rampage. The monster, like the Russian Communists portrayed at the time, was a killer without conception of humanity. It could not be reasoned with, pleaded to or begged mercy of. The Thing From Another World is no plea for respect between cultures, understanding of others different from yourself. This is simply “they are different; lets get them”. The film also has intriguing disdain for scientists, those who stumble into uncovering dangerous items without the thought for the rest of the world. Today this message seems very strange as it is often science we turn to in our very modern fear of religious fundamentalism and zealotry, however in the years after Hiroshima and the nuclear testing it is not surprising how audiences and artists felt.” (excerpt,Review from Left Field Cinema) This excerpt accurately describes the film for what it is, a anti-communist propaganda film, however in this instance the messages are more subtle.
Analysis
From my personal viewing, the film started off like any other typical horror film, newly discovered alien is found frozen in ice, soldiers find it and bring it back to the base. From here the actors make references to McCarthyist beliefs. One of the scientists stated that the alien was “made of plant like material, that it reproduced on its own, and that it displayed no emotion or concern for human life” (The Thing).
The last portion of that statement is the first of many references to anti-red statements or beliefs of communists, like the alien, is void of emotions and that they have no concern for human life, only the expansion of their race, representing communism. The movie unfolds as the creature is constantly pursued by the military soldiers and scientists. The creature performs actions like draining the blood of dogs for food supply, another fear tactics relating to the myth that communists were vampires, as well as displaying no concern for the people it interacts with. The film ends with a reporter telling people to “beware the menace from another world and to always be ready to fight for their lives if they ever come again” (The Thing), this represented the fear that communists would invade the US and take over their lives. The Thing from Another World was only a transitional film into the more Anti-Red themes future films would take as McCarthy gained more influence during the early 50s.
My Son John
In 1952, Hollywood was slipping farther into a nosedive of Anti-Communist films during the McCarthyist era. One of the most famous films of the year was My Son John, a film released by Warner Bros. in the spring of 1952. The film revolved around the degeneration of John Jefferson (a typical American) as he returns from a business trip overseas, and begins to act strangely. It is revealed through the course of the film, whether its the father over the top comedic attempts to get a reaction, or his wife asking how his day is and he isn't responsive, that the parents come to the conclusion that their son has become a communist spy. No wonder he has been acting so strangely, John must have been brainwashed by communists and is now spying on the government. The rest of the film revolves around the stereotypical FBI agent who is trying to bring him in. In the end of the film, John regrets all of the actions he has done as a Red spy, and decides to record a confession of his actions, before he is eventually gunned down by his associates. The film demonstrated the rise in Anti-Red hysteria, and displayed the theme of communism is evil, democracy is good displayed through the confession John makes at the end. (Summarized Review from Ebscohost)
Analysis
Overall, My Son John, clearly exemplifies anti-communist sentiments in an extremely exaggerated way, the father breaks down when he finds out his son has turned into a “communist traitor”, never once defending his son or wanting to find proof, because that isn’t the purpose of the film. Another constant example is the use of the term infected, throughout the film the police or the dad said John is “infected” (with communism) and the mother does not want it to spread to her other children. This represents the domino theory epitomized in the film, which was a large fear and source of hysteria for the time period. Before he died, John recorded a speech to his alma mater and warns them of the “dangers of communism”, and to “beware the communist recruiters”, which causes the family to smile at their sons “repentance”, this represents the liberal idea of reforming and returning to the light of communism, again using the democracy good, communism evil mantra. Overall the films themes are the conflict between democracy and communism as good and evil respectively while also addressing early 50s fears of Communist infiltration of American society post WW2. This film and others like it led to the rise in Anti-Red hysteria and further transformed the use of Hollywood as a machine used by the US government instead of for entertaining the people.

Freedom and You (Red Nightmare)
These trends in the film industry continued even past the fall of senator McCarthy after the army trials of 1954. However these films were more direct and to the point, lacking the subtle references and mind games of the earlier 50s films. These films were straight to the point propaganda “education films” made by Government agencies, primarily the FBI and Department of the Military, in partnerships with Warner Bros. to develop the films in mainstream avenues.
The most direct of these films was made in 1962, as part of a pamphlet of information, it was produced by the Department of the Military and distributed by Warner Bros. The pamphlet was titled Freedom and You, it was centered around a typical american man who took his liberties for granted and woke up to find himself in a town where communism ruled America.
The film was produced by Jack Warner himself, Warner a big supporter of the anti-communist movement was very gung ho about this subject and when he approached writer Vincent Fotre about writing the script, Fotre described the encounter, “He wanted the message spelled out in very blunt terms. He wanted us to hit ‘em over the head with it.” (Vincent Fotre, Conelrad) Jack Webb, a well known conservative at the time, was picked as the narrator. With Webbs Nixon like appearance and his extremely persuasive voice, he was the perfect choice to narrate a propaganda film. Conelrad described the Webb as the villain of sorts, having the main character Jerry Donovan, eventually being tortured for his crimes against the order, his crimes being freedom of speech and expression. (Taken from review of film from Conelrad Special Projects)
Analysis
The film opens to a duo of soldiers speaking in russian ( obviously communists), one says to the other that they have orders to speak in english and to teach the liberties of America, for it will be their job to destroy them, promoting the idea at the time that the Russians sought to destroy the American way of life. The film transitions to a narrator describing the fake American town as a tool of the Communists to train spies in order to destroy democracy, already making it blatantly clear this is a propaganda film. The narrator transitions the film to Jerry, a hard working American who takes his liberties for granted. Jerry lives in a larger than average house, with a semi nuclear family, a stay home wife, one son, and two daughters. the average american family After an eventful evening Jerry goes to bed, and the film transitions to the narrator, who explains that they will be taking the town in the Soviet Union and placing Jerry in the town to see what liberties he will lose under the “Communist domination”. Jerry awakens to a military run town, his entire family has been “indoctrinated” and the people seem to be void of emotions, almost as if they are machines. The society norms are completely reversed, communism is portrayed as a lack of free will, and everything is decided for you by the govt.

The film displays inventions invented by Americans as invented by Communists, Jerry destroys the props and denounces the party system and the oppressiveness they call Communism. Again systematically guards are called in to “restore order”, other similar phrases are use like “report you to the commandant” to show the harsh militant side to communism, they also use the stereotype of everyone in a Communist state being called comrade, almost to the point of sheer stupidity.

Every person was given an incredibly racist or stereotypical Russian name, again demonstrating the inaccuracies of the film, tolerated only because it was propaganda. The term bourgeois is used incredibly often as a way of insulting American ideologies to create the false idea of Russian/Communist superiority created in the 50s-60s under the McCarthyism reign. Jerry is sentenced to death for his “crimes for speaking of freedoms”, he gives a speech of how Communism cannot continue to fool the rest of the world and how America will be there to fight them.

The film then goes back to the narrator, stating the fact that the film isn’t entirely fiction, pointing out that they used offensive stereotypes to gain support. Jerry awakens from his “Nightmare in communism” to his real life, however he now appreciates the “values and freedoms cherished under democracy” as described by the narrator. The narrator finishes the film by saying how America represents freedom and that the US will stand to fight against the Communist plot to enslave the world, and it will only be achieved by saluting the flag. Overall the film was an incredibly stereotyped, however it served its purpose, solely to create more Anti-Red sentiment by instilling fear in the people of what could happen to them if Communism was their form of government. This film and others of its kind were used to “educate” the people, transforming Hollywood and the film industry into a tool for the creation of propaganda that the people would watch.

Lasting Effects
Overall McCarthy and his movement, only began the rise of the Second Red Scare, which in turn created a need for new forms of Anti-Red propaganda. This new need was eventually filled with new Hollywood films resulting from the aftermath of the blacklist. Which in turn caused Hollywood to be turned into a new propaganda machine headed by Warner Bros and Jack Webb, leading America into the end of the Cold War with a new sense of hatred and fear of Communism. The influence of McCarthyism through the film industry reached out to all age groups in America. The harsh restrictions and shifts in popular genres in the film industry, demonstrated how American media was impacted in a negative way to create a new attitude towards other forms of government but kept the focus solely on Communism since it was their major competitor against Democracy.

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