All posts by sraguveer

RBA Planning: Masculinity and Homophobia in Cold War America

For my RBA, I plan to examine the relationship between the evolving ideals of masculinity and increased homophobia in Cold War America. I am interested in looking at how the manifestation of homophobia in policy and in the military was influenced by perceptions of masculinity in a consensus culture. Here is my map, which is more of brainstorm than an outline (I will need to cut down or prioritize importance)




Masculinity and Homophobia in Cold War America

I am investigating the relationship between the evolving definition of masculinity and the ubiquitous homophobia in Cold War America. This topic is relevant because homophobia is still a very serious problem and it is important to look at its causes to try and find solutions.

Previous scholarship on masculinity and homosexuality in the Cold War has discussed the trends toward the domestication of masculinity and the homosexualization of politics, but has not connected this evolution of masculinity to the homophobia of this period. Most scholarship on this topic has looked at the domestication of masculinity as a product of consumer culture and government propaganda of the period. Men were told to become fathers, and to own a house in the suburbs and become consumers rather than producers. Robert Corber in Homosexuality in Cold War America: Resistance and the Crisis of Masculinity looks at how this new ideal of masculinity was received in American society, especially at the backlash found in film noir. This book focuses on “gay male resistance to the homosexualization” of left-wing political activity during the Cold War and how this resistance fueled the gay rights movement that quickly became a mass movement. In Manhood and American Political Culture in the Cold War, Cuordileone examines the definition of manhood during the Cold War and the effects of gender and manhood on the political climate of the time. Cuordileone mentions the relationship between anxiety regarding the nuclear threat and communism and the anxiety regarding homosexuals. Both of these texts look at the changing definitions of masculinity in this era but do not investigate the relationship between manhood and homophobia. In my RBA, I hope to investigate and make connections between these two trends: domestication of the virile masculinity of the Cold War and the rampant homophobia of the Lavender Scare.

Star Trek: Science Fiction and the Critique of Society

In “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Sarantakes describes how the original Star Trek TV show commented on current political issues within the Cold War era, such as the Vietnam War.  One episode that critiqued U.S. foreign policy was “Errand of Mercy” which aired on March 23rd, 1967. “Errand of Mercy” introduced this allegory to the Cold War that was continued throughout the show and in the future movies. The episode depicts a conflict between the Federation (the United States) and the Klingons (the Soviet Union). In this episode, “the USS Enterprise travels to the planet Organia to warn its seemingly simple, agrarian society of an impending Klingon invasion.” Similar to the Cold War, in this episode the major superpowers only “challenge one another only through indirect means.” This episode was also important as it introduced the idea of “the prime directive” which was the Federation’s mission to not interfere in the development of societies with under-developed technologies. This mission was quite anti-colonial and a direct challenge to typical American foreign policy. Especially during the Cold War, America attempted to use its power to ensure that foreign countries become democratic and to stop the spread of communism.

Science fiction enables people to critique society without harsh criticism or backlash as the story can be set in an alternate dimension or in the future even though it is truly commenting on the present day. Science fiction and fantasy are appealing genres because anything can happen. By using these genres to comment or make political statements, writers are able to attack ideologies without attacking the audience or society directly. Star Trek utilized its platform and science fiction genre to comment on American foreign policy during the Cold War. Another example of science fiction that comments on society is Uglies, a novel by Scott Westerfeld. In the novel, teenagers are called “Uglies” before their 16th birthday when they receive cosmetic surgery to become “Pretties.” In this society, identity is solely based on appearance and conformity is idealized. Westerfeld uses this novel to critique how obsessed America is with “beauty” and “image.” He also encourages individuality by critiquing a society based on heterogeneity. Both Star Trek and Uglies comment on and critique American society through the lens of a society in the future.

The Creation of Suburbia

“It was these suburban ‘citadels’ that infiltrated the discourse of Cold War geopolitics: they were the quintessential sites of American life, the spaces where history was being actively rewritten. Suburbs embodied order, safety and a deeply gendered consumerism that ‘became as solid a pillar of the United States version of cold war culture as did its re-masculinized military’.” (18)

In “Disaster and Decentralization: American Cities and the Cold War,” Matthew Farish describes how American society, especially urban life, was shaped in the Cold War due to the fear of a nuclear threat. During an era when paranoia and fear were pervasive, the home was created as a “bastion of safety.” However, within an urban context, homes were not safe. Americans had seen the destruction caused to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and were worried that New York, or any American city, would be next. Even though the metropolis had long been a symbol of American power and capitalism, the fear and anxiety caused by the nuclear threat were more important to American society. This fear led to mass decentralization, a project advocated for by many of the leading voices on the subject at the time.  In this quote, Farish demonstrates how “suburbs embodied safety” and were “citadels.” The feeling of safety that suburbs created was a necessity in an era where everything felt unsafe.

The image of a post-nuclear bomb Hiroshima created a fear in Americans that their cities would be next. This fear had profound effects and led to mass decentralization and the creation of “suburbia” in Cold War America. This fear was recreated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The image of the twin towers falling was spread wide and far and is still a common image today. This image drew Americans together as it caused a feeling of horror, but also of patriotism. 9/11 was used to rationalize the War on Terror and the War on Iraq because Americans felt solidarity in the wake of the attacks. The incessant use of this image after 9/11 renewed the anxiety of Cold War America. Americans were afraid of being attacked and of their city looking like New York in those images. New York is such a symbol of American capitalism and world prowess that the image of the twin towers falling was devastating. This feeling of devastation and horror for the lives lost brought Americans together and allowed for the conflation with the War on Terror and the War in Iraq.


Cold War, Communism, and Civil Rights

In  “Black and Red: Black Liberation, the Cold War, and the Horne Thesis,” McDuffie mentions “connections between anti-communism and opposition to legal racial segregation.” The U.S. could no longer condone segregation or have laws in place that segregated because of the way this action would be viewed internationally. The U.S. had to keep up the facade that America was a utopia, for all races and classes. In order to win over the “Third World” and to ensure that countries did not fall to communism over capitalism, the U.S. had to present itself in the best light as possible. However, Jim Crow and legal racial segregation did not allow this as other nations could point this out as a problem of American society. Nevertheless, the U.S. still silenced black leaders, such as W.E.B. DuBois, who fought for civil rights because they had more socialist leanings. They wanted to quiet people who spoke out about the injustices suffered by African Americans. I thought this information was important as it is a backdrop for the reasons of the successes of the civil rights movement that are not widely taught or known. The American government allowed for African Americans to gain some political rights in order to maintain the illusion of a perfect America. It is interesting to speculate how the Civil Rights movement may have played out without the Cold War. How much traction would the movement have gained and how would it have been influenced by the more leftists views? 


Salt: A Reemergence of Containment Culture

Salt is a fictional 2010 Hollywood film set in present-day society about Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie), a CIA operative accused of being a Russian sleeper agent involved in a plot to kill the Russian President and start a nuclear war. Throughout the convoluted plot of this movie, the audience is forced to question the true identity of Salt and whether or not she can be trusted. However, the ending of the movie is ambiguous.

Link to poster:

Link to trailer: Salt Trailer

This film revisits the paranoia felt during the Cold War about Soviet spies and soldiers hiding in American society. Salt is supposedly part of a program that trained hundreds of children to infiltrate the US and be ready to utilize their training whenever called upon. During the Cold War, the American government and media encouraged citizens to be vigilant, which led to spying and constant scrutiny. Americans were afraid of people that seemed different in any way and were worried about Soviet infiltrators. This sentiment and culture reemerged after 9/11 when citizens were constantly fearful of future terrorist attacks and scared of Muslims and foreigners/immigrants in general. This paranoia is quite evident in the movie. The audience questions the true identity of all the main characters. 

The movie also taps into ideas about gender norms similar to those seen in the Cold War era. Salt is a seemingly “domestic” woman. She has a loving husband with whom she just had her two-year wedding anniversary. However, she wears suits to her CIA job and is actually highly trained and powerful. This deviance from the norm highlights another reason for why Salt was so feared in the movie. Salt’s character, with or without Soviet training is very “masculine.” In fact, the movie was initially supposed to have a male lead, to be played by Tom Cruise.