Culture War
July 22, 2006 9:34 AM   Subscribe

The Cultural Cold War by Frances Saunders covers the way in which the government, via CIA-influenced NGOs worked to alter the direction that popular movies and animations took during the first half of the Cold War. [mi]
posted by longbaugh (11 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Organisations such as the CCF, the ICL (International Christian Leadership) and the Ford Foundation (begun by Henry and Edsel Ford and with possible links to DIA Allen Dulles) worked with Hollywood studios to present an idealised image of the freedom of the West in direct competition to the propaganda produced by the Soviets and their client states. An alternative reading of the book is here (authored by Thomas M. Troy jr., an ex-CIA employee working in the Directorate of Intelligence so perhaps not such a balanced review...)

Definitely worth reading is Karl F. Cohen's excellent two part review of animated propaganda during the Cold War. Whilst it may have been difficult to identify this taking place at the time (with hindsight it seems almost amateurish) it is certainly interesting to see how complete the effort was to show who were the white hats and who should be feared. Most of us know of the propaganda during WWII portraying the Japanese as buck-toothed, short sighted baka, perhaps the tales of the Cold War a little less well known. If you hunger for more on the subject then look around for information on the "Militant Liberty" program, one of the more successful cultural psyops operations of the 20th Century, mentioned several times within the links above. Hopefully this should give you a starting point.
posted by longbaugh at 9:35 AM on July 22, 2006

Money, Power and Modern Art
posted by hortense at 10:28 AM on July 22, 2006

Thanks for the book recommendation, longbaugh. I'm going to go pick it up. And thanks for that link, hortense. My brother, mother and aunt are all accomplished and talented abstract painters. My brother's an out and out leftie, my mother mostly leans that way. Only my 78 year old painter aunt follows Fox news, though you'd never know it from her taste in... well, everything else. Although reading this stuff, maybe you would.
posted by the_savage_mind at 11:32 AM on July 22, 2006

That book cover looks like a Steven Colbert special.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2006

It would need a bear to really set it off DenOfSizer...
posted by longbaugh at 12:46 PM on July 22, 2006

Today, the idea that the CIA would found a literary and cultural journal (Encounter) and would fund touring art exhibits (mostly through the New York Museum Of Modern Art, which was intimately linked to the agency) seems absurdist. The belief that this might foster a general freedom of thought, which would somehow magically evolve into anti-Communist thinking, could almost be the basis for a Pynchonesque satire, were it not for the knowledge that many readers of this book will already likely possess about just how insane things really got in the Fifties and Sixties.

Actually, it was a perfectly sensible idea, and there's plenty of testimony from people then behind the Iron Curtain that those magazines and exhibits did provide an important window of freedom and hope of better things. Pollock, Orwell, et al. did not somehow become worthless stooges because they "took government checks." The interesting fact is that the mindless-conservative elements in the US government shut down the exhibits and ended the programs because they were clearly the products of godless atheistic un-American saboteurs. Freedom is scary stuff on either end of the ICBMs.
posted by languagehat at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2006 [2 favorites]

I recently found a digital picture of an oil painting by an unknown Hungarian artist. It depicted Richard M. Nixon as a Moses figure, leading the Hungarian people out of bondage.

For those who lived in the drab and ulcerous east, where even such basic things as music and color were reserved to honor the state, it matters little if in retrospect we call such idealized views propaganda.

The US, perhaps through the CIA, gave them a reason to hope. Where so many of their countrymen just gave up and committed suicide, or took the slow suicide of alcoholism, such visions were redemptive to the few who saw them.

Conversely, what was offered to the people of the US in the propaganda of the Soviet Union? It was not entirely offensive, as there were people who embraced it and believed its message, too.

But there is no great display of Soviet propaganda directed at Americans. Was it too subtle, or do apologists still reject that it, too, was propaganda?
posted by kablam at 2:34 PM on July 22, 2006

Good lord, that's a terribly written review of what is, in actual fact, a very good book. It was published in Britain under the title Who Paid The Piper? (and it certainly didn't have a cover as jaw-droppingly awful as the US edition). There's some amazing, fascinating stuff in there about Vladimir Nabokov's cousin (i think; it's been a good five years since I read it, and I can't locate my copy at the moment) as well as Radio Free Europe, touring orchestras and ideology, Stephen Spender and Encounter magazine, and a whole host more besides.

languagehat is pretty much spot on when he says "The interesting fact is that the mindless-conservative elements in the US government shut down the exhibits and ended the programs because they were clearly the products of godless atheistic un-American saboteurs." And that's what much of the book concerns itself with: the conflict between freedom, and what the US government considered to be freedom.
posted by Len at 3:38 PM on July 22, 2006

Actually, I should rephrase that: between freedom, and what the US government wanted to be portrayed as freedom.
posted by Len at 3:41 PM on July 22, 2006

Hmm .. Frances Stonor Saunders's book was published six years ago, so this is fairly old news.

It's an interesting book, very well researched .. but oh, so humourless. The story it tells is, in many ways, an extremely comic one -- how the CIA, having committed itself to fighting the Cold War on the cultural front, found itself sponsoring some of the most wildly avant-garde forms of modern art -- but no trace of wit or irony is allowed to shine through the narrative. The author lives in a world of moral absolutes. In her view, the CIA's cultural activities were morally and intellectually dishonest, and anyone who co-operated with them must have been either a fool or a knave. (There's a good review of the book here, by the way, which makes these points better than I can.)

The real story of the book, it seems to me, is how the Vietnam war changed everything. Before Vietnam, it was possible for American intellectuals to work for the government, or accept government sponsorship, in the belief that they were stepping out of their ivory towers and contributing, in some way, to the greater public good. How naive this looks today! After Vietnam, it was taken for granted that the task of the intellectual was to be an independent voice, preferably an oppositional voice, questioning established orthodoxies. There's nothing wrong with holding this view -- but the trouble with Saunders's book is that she never tries to get inside the pre-Vietnam mindset, never tries to imagine a world where it might have been possible to be a liberal anti-communist without being a Cold Warrior.

Saunders has since gone on, or back, to the fourteenth century, where again she is shocked, shocked! by the discovery that Renaissance art, instead of being above politics (who ever imagined it was?), was deeply involved with the sordid realities of war and power.
posted by verstegan at 3:38 AM on July 23, 2006

Does this have anything to do with the Temporal Cold War? Because if so, I don't want to know about it.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on July 24, 2006

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