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Red Scared!: The Commie Menace in Propaganda and Popular Culture Paperback – April 1, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
In detailing the United States' obsession with the Red Menace, Barson and Heller deliver an enticing visual treat of movie poster art, images from comic books and bubble-gum cards (featuring pictures of Mao and Stalin to collect and trade), as well as graphics from political pamphlets, national news magazines, pulp paperbacks and "serious" nonfiction (like J. Edgar Hoover's Masters of Deceit). While the introductions to the book's eight sections and the explanatory text are necessarily brief, the writing is lucid, engaging and historically accurate; additional historical material appears in detailed time lines. But the collection's raison d'tre lies in the myriad iconographic examples of how popular culture was used as a national propaganda tool, while simultaneously reflecting mainstream political and social trends. Ranging from the humorous (a J. Edgar Hoover comic book) to the frightening (a copy of Red Channels, the pamphlet that started the television blacklist) and the ironic (an article entitled "Women: Russia's Second Class Citizens"), these cultural artifacts are stark reminders of how political ideology is promoted and produced in everyday life. Coauthors of Teenage Confidential, Barson (who has a Ph.D. in American culture) and Heller (senior art director at the New York Times) have done a fine job wedding text and visuals to create an illuminating social history that carefully walks the line between conveying the historical and political importance of its subject and our urge to view it as kitsch.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
These two books cover, in very different ways, the Cold War and leftist political activity in post-World War II America. Following their earlier collaborations Teenage Confidential: An Illustrated History of the American Teen and Wedding Bell Blues: 100 Years of Our Greatest Romance with Marriage, Barson and Heller here offer a humorous but informative overview of American anti-Communist books, periodicals, comic books, board games, movies, television programs, and other sources of propaganda. The eight chapters proceed from 1848 to the present. A time line of an era's key events opens each chapter, followed by a longer discussion and a synopsis of various anti-Communist materials, which are strengthened by excellent illustrations. While not an academic discussion of the topic, this cultural history nicely hits all of the major themes, works, and authors. An excellent selection for all libraries. Radosh (coauthor, The Rosenberg File) presents a serious memoir of life among the American Left from the late 1950s through 2000. Born to radical New York Jewish parents, he moved in Socialist and Communist circles from primary school through college into the 1960s. During the 1970s, Radosh worked with Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. However, while researching his book on the Rosenberg trial he began questioning his political views. His final break with the American Left was spurred by its unquestioning acceptance of the abuse of the Nicaragua Sandinistas. Mixed with Radosh's political conflicts are his personal conflicts. While this is a now familiar tale, it is well told. Recommended for all libraries. Stephen L. Hupp, Urbana Univ., Urbana, OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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It was also at this time, interestingly, that a cowed congress passed a law to change the pledge of allegiance to insert the words "under God" - which weren't in the original version by Socialist (and Baptist minister) Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931). The idea was to make sure all and sundry could distinguish this nation that was determined to be "under God" from those evil Soviets who weren't!
This nicely illustrated volume basically takes us through the decades to show the full spectrum of commie-based paranoia and propaganda that U.S. mind benders could create. One of my faves (pp. 109-11) were the "children's crusade against Communism" trading cards. Shown on the page are a few of the best, including for Mao (all in greenish hued face), Joe Stalin, and one of a communist 'death specter' peering over an American city. The idea behind the cards (since trading baseball cards was so big at the time, as the terrific TOPPS 1954 cards had not long arrived) was to brainwash kids into recognizing all known commies and commie influence in whatever guise.
I obtained my first set of four crusade cards by trading away three TOPPS baseball cards (of what were then known as "commons"). Alas, all my commie cards ultimately ended up being eaten by a pet cocker spaniel who didn't know better. (She grabbed them out of a shoebox under my bed). After some brief regrets, I realized it was no big loss.
Another hoot is found on page 84: 'How to Identify An American Communist'. Some of the key crtieria include:
"The practice of criticizing only American or British policies and never Soviet policies"
"Continually charging critics with being 'Fascists'"
"Declaring that capitalism and democracy are 'decadent'."
Amazingly, one they missed was "receiving any Soviet Literature or propaganda" in the mail. I used to write for (and receive) issues of 'Soviet Life' from the Russian Embassy in DC, from when I was 15 to 16. I was simply curious as to what the other side had to say, having been bombarded by American 'Reds under the bed' hysteria for years. (In hindsight it probably got me inserted into some kind of FBI file. If so, I'm in excellent company - think John Steinbeck, Pearl S. Buck, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. etc.)
Even for those that didn't live it, this colorful book ought to provide loads of fun by looking back at one highly paranoid era in our past. Is it one we've grown out of? Well, after seeing and hearing Mitt Romney's recent vilification of the Russians as America's "number one geopolitical enemy" one wonders. Then there is the new bogey prevalent today, as to who qualifies as a "terrorist" and who is a "real American".
All in all a great read, and tucked within the often hilarious pages, plenty of room for thought!
RED SCARED! THE COMMIE MENACE IN PROPAGANDA AND POPULAR CULTURE details in an amusing way the troubled USA/USSR relation and the impact the cold war and the communist hysteria had on popular culture.
Beginning with the first red scare in the US in 1919, when a series of bomb explosions led to the deportation of 250 alien radicals, RED SCARED! explores the relation between Soviet Russia and the United States, from the alliance in the second world war to the cold war with its various conflicts. The focus however is on the influence of politics on popular culture and how changes in the political climate were reflected in mass media. Lavishly illustrated, never academic, written in a witty style, RED SCARED! entertains as well as educates.
Movies, TV-shows, novels, comics, pamphlets - all mass media felt the impact of the cold war. You surely know the charming film NINOTCHKA starring Greta GARBO or Stanley KUBRICK's Dr. STRANGELOVE but have you also heard about I MARRIED A COMMUNIST, INVASION USA, THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN or I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI? Or did you know that John WAYNE once played an HUAC investigator, examining red un-American activities on the beautiful island of Hawaii (BIG JIM MCCLAIN, USA 1952)? All the above mentioned films and many more are presented with hugely interesting rare stills, lobby cards and posters. Capsule reviews are provided as well. The authors also discuss the successful TV series I LED THREE LIVES. Debuting in 1953 this 117 episode series about an undercover agent infiltrating a communist cell ran until 1956.
Impressive illustrations feature comics (my favorite being a horror comic titled THE RUSSIAN DEVIL, where a demonic looking kommissar digs a corpse up from a frozen grave, while the balloon above the evil red reads: "Get up, Ivan! You can't escape us by dying! We're not thru with you yet!") and lurid pulp paperback novels (RED RAPE). There's also an excerpt from a trashy Mickey SPILLANE mystery, where private eye Mike HAMMER battles the reds. There were even romance comics concerning the cold war ("THE ROMANTIC CURTAIN")!!! Other chapters revolve around red-baiter and FBI boss J. Edgar HOOVER, the sputnik shock, mind-boggling quotes from political pamphlets and anti-Communist bubble-gum cards (!)
RED SCARED! is an hugely entertaining time capsule ride. However it is not without flaws: Author Michael BARSON wrote a similar book in 1992 (BETTER DEAD THAN RED! A NOSTALGIC LOOK AT THE GOLDEN YEARS OF RUSSIAPHOBIA, RED-BAITING, AND OTHER COMMIE MADNESS) and he uses some of the material again. Several of the illustrations and stories looked quite familiar to me.
I also found it disappointing that several topics are only briefly touched upon or barely mentioned. For instance I would have liked to read more about the HUAC investigations of Hollywood.
Nonetheless is RED SCARED! essential reading for history buffs and people with interest in popular culture.
Clearly, there were substantial reasons for being anxious about Soviet intentions, as any cursory study of the Stalin era would show.
That American politicians regularly tried to prepare Americans for the possibility of an attack was, if anything, an example of responsible leadership. The author, with endless snide put-downs in his text, obviously feels otherwise.