Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paranoid Propaganda from the America of the 1950s

There were many threats to worry about in the 1950s and Communism was just one of them!

The United States in the 1950s is perceived to have been a bland, blissfully happy place with no crime, neighborhoods where people went out with their doors unlocked, and ever-growing material wealth.  Images of happy families on TV shows calmly solving problems and the 50s nostalgia exemplified by TV's "Happy Days" with the lovable greaser Fonzi and the Broadway play "Grease" and later film loosely based upon it are generally what come to mind when the 1950s are brought up in conversation.

"He May Be A Communist" is from the paranoid 1950s.

The reality of 1950s America, however, is quite different from the popular perception.  America was a democracy of fear--fear of Communism and the Soviet Union; fear of the homosexual "deviant;" fear of nuclear attack by the Russian Communists.

What was the basis of the fear of Communism in the 1950s?  Communism threatened America in several ways.  It is diametrically opposed to capitalism.  The Soviet Union and other communist states had a one-party system that held all power, while the U.S. has a two-party system with free elections.  Communist Russia had atomic weapons and was seen as a military threat to America.  The perception was that Communist states "enslaved" their citizens while the U.S. stressed the "freedom" of its citizens.  Communism threatened U.S. economic prosperity as well as religious freedom around the world--thus the U.S. believed it had to act.   China and Eastern Europe had fallen under the red tentacles of Communism and the United States was determined to stop its spread around the world.

Gay pulp fiction of the 1950s stressed the seamier, violent side of homosexual life.
Please click below to read the blog post by Michael Phillips entitled, Homophobia and the Birth of the Gay Civil Rights Movement in 1950s America.    It is an excellent essay on the fear of homosexuals during the 1950s.
"Boys Beware" is a homophobic propaganda film from 1961.

 The below is taken verbatim from Wikipedia post on the propaganda film, Duck and Cover (1951):

After nuclear weapons were developed (the first having been developed during the Manhattan Project during World War II), it was realized what kind of danger they posed. The United States held a nuclear monopoly from the end of World War II until 1949, when the Soviets detonated their first nuclear device.

There was much fear about an atomic attack from the Soviets during the 1950s.
This signaled the beginning of the nuclear stage of the Cold War, and as a result, strategies for survival were thought out. Fallout shelters, both private and public, were built, but the government still viewed it as necessary to explain to citizens both the danger of the atomic (and later, hydrogen) bombs, and to give them some sort of training so that they would be prepared to act in the event of a nuclear strike.

The solution was the duck and cover campaign, of which Duck and Cover was an integral part. Shelters were built, drills were held in towns and schools, and the film was shown to schoolchildren. According to the United States Library of Congress (which declared the film "historically significant" and inducted it for preservation into the National Film Registry in 2004), it "was seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s."

"Duck and Cover" is a propaganda film from 1951 that tells us how to protect ourselves from atomic attack.

Copyright (C) 2011 Eric Brothers.  All Rights Reserved.


  1. I grew up in a small town in Ohio during the 1950s. I certainly can't claim that pedophiles didn't exist back then, but I know that I roamed around the town as a 6-year-old in a way that parents today would find appalling. In my town at least there existed, I think, a way of living that conformed to the nostalgic stereotype alluded to above. When I went out to play, I rode my little bike all over the place and I was never bothered by adults. If there was a problem, it was with other kids who were doing the same thing I was doing: playing. On hot summer nights, doors and windows would be left open, leaving only flimsy screens and weak locks that hooked into an eye of some sort. In fact, to call them locks is rather an overstatement.

    My grandmother owned a grocery store back then. Sometimes she would baby sit my infant cousin. One evening a robber came into the store armed with a pistol. When my grandmother emerged from the back room holding my cousin in her arms to take care of what she thought was a customer, the robber put away his gun and walked out. Apparently, he was so moved by the sentimental tableau that he didn't have the heart to go through with the robbery. The story made the local paper.

    As for the communist threat, all I have to say is that the right side lost. And Gays, it seems to me, have made great strides in securing civil liberties. A 1950s Barney Frank, say, would have stayed nicely locked up in his closet, and a Gay Pride parade would have been inconceivable. F5

    1. ah that nostalgia of the olden days - your experiences sound wonderful!

  2. I am doing a project over the subject of the age of paranoia and have found this as good information on my topic. thank you.

    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. The circa 1950's film reel: "Beware The Homosexual" was supposed to be a message warning minors about child predators. However, it clearly more about warning minors about "homosexual" men and painted a picture of all gay men as pedophiles, mentally disturbed and perverted. It never took into account the vast majority of gay men were NOT interested in minors, and sought out the company exclusively of other like-minded consenting adults. Way back then, all same-sex attracted people were labeled "sick" and showed absolutely no comprehension of human sexuality whatsoever! What about "heterosexual" predators? Does that also make "all" heterosexuals potential pedophiles, too ? The logic was so brainless,ignorant and dangerous. Thank the stars today we know so much better !

  4. STOP all the name calling ! Let's stick to the issue and this ridiculous circa 1954 film reel that is utterly absurd and ridiculous in 2014. This is 60 year old propaganda, totally biased and anti-gay, based on fear, ignorance and a total lack of understanding about human sexuality ! Isn't this the same-era stupidity where Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz could not sleep in the same bed on "I Love Lucy" because it was perceived as "dirty" and "suggestive." Where did the TV viewers think Little Rick came from ,the stork ? (not to mention, they were married to each other in real life !) Any idiot that insists the content here is factual has to be very old, from a long by-gone era, a brain-dead religious fanatic or just a very ill-informed and hopeless conservative loser ! THE END.


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