Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Aliens Are Communists

In this week's readings, Lubart explored the effect of environment and culture on creativity.  Many of my favorite phases in film and music have emerged directly from the diverse culture and history that has taken place in the United States.  One example is a timeless movie genre that has spawned some of the very best (and worst) of film - 1950's Science-Fiction.

It was the cultural environment of mid-century America that came into play when creators such as H.G. Wells and Howard Hawks went to work.  To be specific, it was early in the Cold War.  There was a great deal of fear in our country about our Communist rivals to the East.  The result of this cultural environment was aliens.  Consider how this reality played into the minds of creatives as they entertained with non-reality.  To Americans, a Communist was a mysterious creature.  A Communist was an alternate being who could not be fully understood by an American; and vice-versa.  Like creatures in space they were faraway and unknown.  Even more troubling, there was bad blood between Americans and Communists.  The Cold War was only named as such much later.  During the 1950's there was no telling when a force of these antagonistic beings might invade our nation and alter our lives.  All of this fear was put on screen in the form of many alien invasion films such as The Day The Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Furthermore, new technology was emerging that was changing many Americans' understanding of reality.  The most notable new invention of course was the atom bomb.  Americans had applauded just a few years ago as this miracle weapon devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; but the reality of its existence was just now setting in.  T=From this era we have gained the still-existent attitude we have towards "UFO's".  They are mysterious surely, and almost always a threat.  When people of this era conceptualized flying objects they could not help but to think about nuclear weapons that were a threat to their daily lives.  Of course, when a flying object appears in Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, it is unquestionably the "bad guy".  The common worldview of the 1950's American also has a role in creating bad guys in film.  Like in The Thing From Another World, the bad guys are always the outsiders in 1950's science-fiction.  This mindset of this era was that outside of America was a scary world full of evil - communists, socialists, etc.  It was not until the 60's and 70's that we became introspective, resulting in the creation of sci-fi bad guys who are not outsiders like in Soylent Green.  This era may be the most obvious case; but be sure to explore other genre phases our country has gone through and why.


  1. This was really interesting! I enjoy seeing the relationship between media and contemporary political feelings. There was definitely a huge influence across a variety of platforms during the Cold War that was meant to negatively portray Communism. I think it's really creative (even though quite manipulative) to use something like film to convey hidden political ideas. I actually did a project last semester on Mussolini's control of the film industry during the Fascist Regime. It was actually pretty clever the subtle things he did to make film at the time portray Italy in a much better light than it actually was, and democratic countries as the bad guys.

  2. I enjoyed this post very much as well. I think what is especially interesting is how the general sentiment of xenophobia was used by both the American government and the film industry to each entity's benefit-- resulting in national pride as well as rising profits in the film industry. This was a self-reinforcing effect, resulting in increased fear of outsiders in turn.
    This post reveals a perfect example of analogy in creativity. Film-makers examined the anti-Communist culture that they were surrounded by, and replaced Communists with aliens and nuclear weapons with UFOs. I am curious as to whether it was noticed by most moviegoers that what they were witnessing was inspired by Cold War events.
    Thanks for sharing this post! I will need to check out some of these movies.

  3. It is frightening to imagine the extent to which a misunderstanding of the unknown and popular misconception can lead to a society of paranoia. The rise of alien themed movies coinciding with fear of communism makes sense intuitively but advances in spaceflight technology could have been the primary factor in the genre's entrance. However, if the filmmakers did intentionally try to profit by reaffirming people's paranoia but not scaring them too much by using fictional creatures, that was a scummy yet creative business move by them.


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