All posts by tshelby01

Research Topic and Mindmap

My research topic compares the cultures between the Cold War and post 9-11 periods. I am going to analyze the two aspects of American society. The first is the international reputation of inclusion and equality that America attempted to portray to the rest of the world. The second is the reality of domestic suppression that permeated American society.

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The “others” of America

Through the portrayal of these naysayers as “others”, the American government attempted to silence those who challenged the Cold War mentality of sacrificing individual freedom for the greater good. It is relevant because it describes how the American government issued a norm of compliance with government regulation. 

Initially, I hope to be able to present a depiction of this atmosphere of compliance through the use of personal account and scholarly analysis. I want to link this need for compliance with how American actions were being publicized internationally. For an example, I will analyze the suppression of civil rights activists such as Paul Robeson. I will utilize the dichotomy of civil rights during the Cold War era to represent the comparison between domestic reality and the different image that America presented of itself to the rest of the world. To support the idea of suppression of the general public, I will bring in the hearings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC). Specifically, the hearing of Paul Robeson, a civil rights activist who refused to decry communism, and the hearing of John Howard Lawson, head of the Screenwriter’s Guild and the leader of the Communist Party, both represent HUAC attempting to “muzzle public opinion.” While the paper is more generally about the attack of government issued “otherness” unto society, I will stress the suppression of civil rights mainly because it serves as a direct example of attempted cultivation of a different American image at the expense of a portion of society.

The Power of Political Commentary through Pop Culture

“We could do our anti-Vietnam stories, our civil rights stories, you know. Set the story in outer space, in the future and all of a sudden you can get away with just about anything, because you’re protected by the argument that “Hey, we’re not talking about the problems of today, we’re dealing with a mythical time and place in the future.” We were lying, of course, but that’s how we got these stories by the network types.” –John Meredyth Lucas, the producer of the final season of Star Trek

The words of John Meredyth Lucas ring very true, as, throughout time, popular culture and books use this alternate universe containing events very similar to those within our own. This alternate universe gives creators the ability to comment on political issues without being labeled outright as “political commentators.” In addition, popular culture donates a stage for its users to publicize their voice in all forms of expression: writing, art, or, in Star Trek’s case, acting on the small screen.

While I am not personally a watcher of Star Trek, it is very interesting to see the juxtaposition between the Star Trek world and our own. The tv show occurs three hundred years in the future, in an era in which America (or the Federation within the show) is set to discover other inhabitants within space. This action is similar to real-time America’s desire to exert its influence on all parts of the world. Another juxtaposition, as explained by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes in “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of US Foreign Policy”, is between the Klingon enemies and the Soviet Union. Similar to the faceless Soviet Union enemies, within Star Trek, Klingons are represented as one dimensional, evil characters without any background that could add to their characterization. The Romulans, another enemy to Star Trek America, are compared to the Chinese, as they are “highly militaristic, aggressive by nature, ruthless in war and do not take captives.”

The idea of “prime directive”, as introduced within Star Trek, is very important as well. It basically signifies that the Federation  is not allowed to interfere in the lives of those that they encounter. This idea is very similar to the anti-colonization rhetoric heard by many throughout America’s history.

The commentary of the Cold War within Star Trek reminds me very much of the commentary on the Russian Revolution within George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Both the writers of Star Trek and Orwell utilize alternate realities to lay a situation on another field. When a person watches the news, in many cases, he/she has a preexisting opinion that overrides a lot of the facts that are heard. However, when this same person is not personally involved in and connected to this environment, it is easier to take an unbiased look at a situation. This is exactly what “Animal Farm”, Star Trek, and many other forms of pop culture allow watchers/readers/observers to do.

Panic induced by the atomic bomb during the Cold War era

“It was precisely this quest for racial and social distinction that led one Saturday Evening Post writer to compare the ‘human tides…flowing out of the cities’ to the ‘dark tides’ that replaced them. ‘Decay and race’, Beauregard argues, ‘were thrown together in a discursive unity.’”


While this quote does not singlehandedly encompass the whole meaning of “Disaster and decentralization: American cities and the Cold War” by Matthew Farish, it comments on a very important racial characterization within cities which promoted much of atomic era urbanization technique. The idea is that cities were being deluged by African Americans and foreigners. The incoming of these non-white peoples to urban areas was correlated with the introduction of “panic, plague, and urban vulnerability.” This relates to Kennan’s description of communism as a “malignant parasite” that threatened America. Both descriptions reinforce the belief that the “other” infects American inhabitants, both physically  and ideologically.

The great fear did not just include the bombing itself. It was life after the bomb. It was the potential for racial combination that occurred within the bomb shelters. As this quote exemplifies, cities were being filled with varying nationalities. The combining of these nationalities during the threat of and after a bomb were issues that the Federal Civil Defense Organization sought to rectify in an attempt to prevent “social disorganization.”

It was unto these cities that the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were superimposed. Cities like New York were natural “targets of immense vulnerability for all the mass killers of the age.” The fear was that such congested cities would be easy targets for rival countries to attack. It was the suburb with its racial and ideological homogeneity that was considered to resist the identification of targets of such attacks. This white suburbia was the epitome of American culture.

The image of the Twin Towers falling corroborates the fear present during the Cold War of a potential comparison between Hiroshima and New York. The horrors of 9/11 made this comparison a reality. The illustration of the destruction of such a prominent city, essentially “the final undamaged citadel of Western civilization”, shook the hearts of Americans. It elicited a panic out of cities across all of America. It was the first terrorist attack to occur on American mainland soil. Similar to the Cold War environment, panic emanated across the country. America was no longer untouchable; there was a force actively threatening it and carrying out its threats. The image itself of the Twin Towers falling is so meaningful because it is a representation of American strength, success, and unity being pummeled to the ground. It shows that even the strongest are susceptible to attack, a fact which President Bush’s War on Terror attempted to rectify. 

The Paradox of a Post-9/11 World

“The pervasive diffusion of US capitalist/military culture and ideologies reveals an interesting paradox: at the same time as United States capital(ism) became an all encompassing global presence, United States uncontainability itself became premised on efforts at containment (of “other” people, countries, economics).”

Within the post-9/11 environment, as mentioned by Lugo in chapter one of his book Containing (Un)American Bodies the world was all interconnected, as information could be achieved by a quick look on a computer and communication with someone across the world could occur in a matter of seconds. The irony of this situation is that despite this interconnectedness and the unification resultant from new technology, the United States persisted with its efforts at containment. Instead of looking internationally, the US government encouraged its citizens to look within their country, to basically shut out the world and the believed “others” that stood as the invisible threat to the US.

This containment of technology  (the internet) within 9/11 mirrors the attempted containment of the atomic bomb during the Cold War era. In both cases, there is an inherent fear connected to the technology. Both can be utilized as good, but both have the potential to be dangerous.

The Overlapping Containment Rhetoric within “Hearts and Minds” and “Fahrenheit 9/11”

The destruction and insecurity following September 11, 2001 promoted a serge of patriotism. Such a result is not the first of its kind, as the Cold War also encouraged, for a time, a unifying patriotism among the American people as well. However, in both  the events of 9/11 and the Cold War, this patriotism was cultivated through the feeling of insecurity in one’s own home. The decimation of 9/11 occurred on American soil, killing thousands of innocent civilians. During the Cold War, there was a constant shadow cast by the atomic bomb within this nuclear age. In both instances, the United States sought to contain this threat, both on the home front and internationally. The Iraq War following 9/11 and the Vietnam War galvanized by the hostile tension of the Cold War both were utilized as means of containment on an international scale. The overlap between the documentary Hearts and Minds made in 1974 and the movie Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 represent just how similar both wars were.

The Oscar-winning documentary Hearts and Minds was created in 1974 as a plea to end the destruction emergent from the Vietnam War. Vietnam was a proxy war in which the United States supported and funded South Vietnam while the Soviet Union funded Northern Vietnam. One of the arguments behind the war was that if communism were to potentially overflow into countries like Vietnam there would be a domino effect that would eventually instate communism across the globe. In an effort to contain this threat, the United States sent millions of soldiers to show capitalism defeating communism on a publicized battlefield. Not a documentary centralized on this concept of containment, Hearts and Minds instead represented the repercussions of the pursuit of containment, the destruction inflicted upon the people of both Vietnam and America.

The highest grossing documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 96a00d83427428853ef00e54f30c6188833-640wi.jpg/11, directed by Michael Moore in 2004, is very similar in this regard, as it was created in an attempt provide a critical look on the War on Terror. The War on Terror occurred in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, killing approximately 3000 innocent civilians. The goal of the subsequent Invasion of Iraq was to contain and potentially eliminate terrorism across the globe. However, Moore’s documentary represents the repercussions of this containment: the infringement on freedom of speech and the massive amount of American soldier casualties and civilian casualties within the Middle East. Moore states that Hearts and Minds was his inspiration for this documentary, stating that it was “not only the best documentary [he had] ever seen…it may be the best movie ever.” Both Fahrenheit 9/11 and Hearts and Minds represent the antiwar rhetoric of their ages as both containment at home (through manipulation by politicians and news networks) and abroad (through deadly wars) proved ultimately destructive for America.