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Posts Tagged ‘Cold War’

In 2003, an alternate vision of Superman was released. The author of this mini series, Mark Miller uses the following prompt for the series: “What if Superman’s ship had crashed somewhere else in the world than in the USA?” What if Superman had ended up in Communist Russia instead of America? This series subverts everything that Superman stands for by taking him out of America. Superman stands up for stereotypical communist values “…as the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact.”

Lex Luthor is still the antagonist, but he fights for America in this version. An interesting comparison between the canon Superman and this alternate universe is that he is loyal to the government still. The series, by taking out the American aspect of Superman, highlights its importance to Superman as a character by showing it when it’s gone. Superman is also hesitant of open conflict with the United States in this version. He is provoked into attacking after Luthor’s schemes push him to the edge.

An ironic twist is that the depiction of the Cold War here changes from America as the good guys and Soviets as the antagonists to the opposites. The Americans are the antagonists, trying to violently expand and spread their ideology (called here Luthorism, a spoof of Stalinism). The Soviets are the one peacefully expanding.

Ultimately though, Superman is still shown as having a strong sense of justice, albeit tempered in a different culture. He sacrifices himself towards the end of the story for the greater good, saving the Earth and all of it’s inhabitants, American and Soviet alike. Superman still decides to live peacefully among humans rather than acting as a lord over them in the end.

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I chose to watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly because it is one of my favorite westerns ever, and it stars Clint Eastwood, who is probably my favorite actor. And I am quite sure that Clint Eastwood is an American icon in and of himself.

According to my research on the movie, it was actually considered a ‘spaghetti western’ when it first came out, and was generally looked down upon. The movie got terrible reviews for many, many years, but is now considered one of the greatest westerns, if not one of the greatest movies, of all time. It also considered by many to be what made Clint Eastwood into a household name, and thus into an American icon. I found that the director emphasized violence in the movie because he wanted to reinvigorate the original western genre, and honestly show how the American West was conquered by simple, violent men.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly came out in 1966, in Italy at first, and was not released in the United States until December of 1967, and positioned as the third installment in the Dollars trilogy, after A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. I think one reason it did poorly in America was because it was a film made by foreigners, foreigners who happened to have been at war with the USA within most people’s recent lifetimes. With the Cold War going on, there was a general distrust and fear of foreigners, making the release that much more doomed to failure. And in the movie itself, one of the bad guys is portrayed as a dirty Mexican criminal, often referred to as ‘The Rat.’

Despite everything, the film eventually became a huge success, and catapulted Clint Eastwood into iconism. Clint Eastwood represents what I believe Americans thought the ideal man should be for the latter part of the 20th century; strong, silent, and caring and gentle towards women. All of these are themes we have discussed a class, and go towards making Eastwood an American icon.

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highnoonposter1Much of the thematic tension in Fred Zinnemans’s High Noon comes from the conflict between what the lead character Will Kane sees as his duty to provide for his community, and the obstacles preventing him from doing so. Released in 1952, the film has been interpreted as a cold war allegory, but a convoluted one, with Kane either representing anti-communism, or anti-blacklisting, depending the context in which the film is analyzed. From either perspective, High Noon, through its use of a genre so tied to our sense of national identity, asks us how much we, as Americans, owe to our country. Here, the southwestern town of Hadleyville, which built itself up from lawlessness to respectability, stands in for America, and Kane’s desire to protect the town is easily applicable to a much larger scale.

Kane is unflinchingly willing to sacrifice himself to protect the citizens of Hadleyville from returned outlaw Frank Miller, even as they refuse his help again and again. Early in the film, Kane has a conversation with his new wife Amy about his choice to return to town after leaving his position as marshal, convinced that the town needs him. Amy, a Quaker pacifist, tries to convince Kane that, since he no longer has an official responsibility towards Hadleyville, he doesn’t need to stay and confront Miller. Her argument does nothing to change Kane’s mind. He sees his responsibility to the law as extending beyond his official capacity—it’s about principal. This aligns neatly with the film’s cold war allegory, as in High Noon, the fight is as much to do with ideology as the threat of physical danger. To read the film as anti-communist, Kane positions himself as an ideological guardian, standing up to an encroaching threat to the way of life the townspeople worked hard to establish. This echoes cold war rhetoric about the need for the United States to protect democracy. To emphasize this point, the following scene consists of Kane confronting the town’s judge, who is fleeing. As he packs his bags and tries to convince Kane that he’ll never stop Miller and his gang, the judge folds away an American flag, visually demonstrating how un-American that statement was.

In the end, Kane is victorious. He manages to take down Miller, and perhaps even more importantly, he wins his ideological battle with his wife, who shoots one of Miller’s men to save her husband. Though the final confrontation doesn’t play out in High Noon the same way that it does in most Westerns, it demonstrates the importance of ideology to the film as a whole.

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When discussion of American icons that have enjoyed worldwide recognition arises, the character of Superman is always mentioned. Although spawned from the minds of two Jewish teenagers in the 1930s, Superman’s popularity has remained until this day, with “Man of Steel” being released in 2013 and a sequel currently in production. Throughout his lengthy tenure battling fictional and nonfictional villains alike, Superman has become synonymous with “the American Way.” He is viewed as a symbol of traditional values, integrity and a good work ethic. Alongside his role as a patriotic symbol however, is the impact the character has had on notions of masculinity for the American public. It would be an injustice to contribute the character’s influence on masculine identity to his chiselled jaw line, broad shoulders and herculean physique. Yes, the aesthetic of Superman immediately highlights him as a strikingly masculine hero, but more importantly, the actions and qualities of the character represent developments of masculinity through 20th Century America.

In the same decade as Superman’s creation, American was hit hard by the Great Depression. Unemployment figures skyrocketed to around 13 million, familial income dropped, industry suffered and racial tensions emerged. Therefore, there was a particular pressure on the bread winners of American households, which were traditionally male. In particular, immigrants or those who were not far removed from their immigrant roots. Superman is the quintessential immigrant in a land of immigrants. Crashing into Kansas as an orphaned alien, Superman was adopted by a middle class American couple and taught to embrace American values. These values, along with his extensive otherworldly powers, allow him to combat the perceived threats to Depression-era America. While American men may have felt powerless to act in this time of fiscal inequality, Superman used his own strength to bring corrupt officials and crime lords to justice. American men may have felt emasculated because they could not provide for their families, but Superman was a relatable hero that was tackling important contemporary issues. This is why he resonated with males.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, his role developed to further represent the American viewpoint. Alongside the armed forces, Superman fought and defeated Hitler. A symbolically important action for a character created by Jewish writers, the character was used to promote the defence of freedom in the face of tyranny. In regards to developing gender roles, while women were working hard in factories and domestically, Superman maintained the image of masculine dominance during wartime. During the Cold War, the character further evolved to represent less radical ideals. His role changed to that of global peacekeeper and became overtly patriotic in the pursuit of the American way of life. This evolution shows how the character has developed alongside masculinity, playing on both the fears and fantasies of the American public. Following in the footsteps of the American Cowboy and Gangster, Superman represents contemporary issues. However the roots of his character have provided him with longevity and prominence in American iconography. 

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On June 21st 1957, Rudolph Ivanovich Abel was arrested in Brooklyn, New York, charged with spying for the Soviet Union and sentenced to 45 years imprisonment. Few know that Abel was born William Fisher (July 11th 1903) in Benwell, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK to German parents who had emigrated from Russia due to political circumstances. After spending his early life in the North East, Fisher had acquired a respectful education in Whitley Bay, returning to Russia in 1921 after the revolution – his parents strong supporters of communism and claiming links to Lenin himself.

Fisher worked as a translator for the Comintern during WW2, being fluent in five languages. In 1946 he joined the KGB and trained as a spy, arriving in the United States in 1948. He was tasked with smuggling nuclear secrets to Russia although his success is disputed; much information having already been passed on by his predecessors. Following betrayal by a drunken associate Fisher was uncovered and captured. His arrest was hugely significant at the time due to east/west cold-war paranoia.

Fisher was later traded for captured US spy plane pilot Gary Powers in 1962.

Fisher’s case highlights the common fear of communist aggression held by the US and UK in the immediate post war years. It was that same fear that led to the U-2 spy plane overflights from which Powers was later shot down. It also shows the willingness of both countries to embrace immigrants and many would argue that this has been a weakness exploited by our common enemies.

 

 

Sources

Kahn, Jeffrey, ‘The Case of Colonel Abel’, Journal of Nation Security Law & Policy, Vol. 5, 2011

Whittel, Giles, Bridge of Spies, A True Story of the Cold War (UK: Simon & Schuster, 2011) pg. 17

FBI: Famous Cases and Criminals, Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case), (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/hollow-nickel) Accessed 18th Feb, 2014

 

 

 

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This rather striking image comes from the album cover of the RAC Warriors an Oi! rock band. Many of these bands have an association with  extremist politics and white nationalism.The album was released in 2007. This band has very little history behind them and may also have links with Aryan and Neo-Nazi ideology.

The slogan ‘Better Dead than Red’ has a muddled past , however some suggest that the slogan originated in Nazi Germany in reference to the horrors of the Eastern Front. The slogan was adopted in the USA during the Cold War for use in public and usually unofficial publications, but also made its way into national politics when describing Soviet encroachment around the world. The lyrics of this particular song talk of sacrifice and defending ones homeland, these notions are very much associated with the Cold War and US ‘containment’ policies. The slogan gained further popularity during the McCarthy period of the 1950’s.

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