The Paranoid Style
An Army of Phantoms:
American Movies and the Making of the Cold War
by J. Hoberman
New Press, The
$29.95 List Price
It’s always good to revisit the cold war to remind yourself that, despite an orgy of supporting evidence, you’re not living through the most fucked-up period in American history. As J. Hoberman’s factually dense, swiftly narrated history of Hollywood’s symbiosis with the atomic-age body politic makes clear, the cold war was, pace our current moment, the third great battle over the nation’s identity and purpose, trailing only the Revolutionary and Civil Wars in significance.
An Army of Phantoms is, like the second Star Wars trilogy, a prequel, in this case to Hoberman’s 2003 The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties. And during the postwar decade of 1946–56, the scope of this new volume, the phantoms were legion: atomic radiation, Communist spies, space aliens, brainwashing, the Mafia, juvenile delinquents. In the wake of World War II, fear of the unknown gripped the American people, a fear that could resolve to Manichaean clarity (“Better dead than Red!”) or ideological murkiness and paranoia. The enemy was always Them!—when in truth it was also Us.
Hoberman bookends his story with analyses of two films, each concerned with radically different notions of God, mass media, and America’s sense of self. The first, The Next Voice You Hear (1950), directed by William Wellman, is a bizarre Hallmark card of a film, premised on the idea that God decides to take to the airwaves (radio, not television, in Hollywood’s anxious wish fulfillment) for six nights and broadcast His message to the American people. Starring the future Nancy Reagan as a dutiful housewife,
REGISTERED USERS of bookforum.com and BOOKFORUM SUBSCRIBERS have access to this article, but must be logged in to view it. If you are not a registered user of bookforum.com, please create your free login here. If you are a subscriber, but haven’t activated your online account, please do so here.
SUBSCRIBE NOW for access to our online archives,* and receive the printed magazine for the discounted rate of $18 a year.**