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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: September 2010

21 - Reading, viewing, and tuning in to the Cold War


For many years the historiography of Cold War culture was dominated by two rather parochial clichés. The first held that studying the Cold War and culture meant discussing the impact of the McCarthy-era purges on cultural production in the United States; the second, that it meant the study of films or literature with explicit Cold War content. Recent scholarship has taken a much broader approach. Within the United States, the Cold War has provided the dominant framework for thinking about culture in the 1950s. President Harry S. Truman’s notion of containment is now as readily applied to the lives of American women of the era as to their government’s relations with the Soviet Union. Beyond this, the cultural Cold War has emerged as a major concern of international history. The literature, film, and broadcasting of the Cold War period is at last being understood by historians, as it was by protagonists, not only as a product of the politics of the era but also as a front in the Cold War as real as that which divided Berlin, bisected Korea, or ran through the straits of Miami. With this in mind, this chapter will consider, first, how the governments of East and West shaped culture during the Cold War and, then, how writers, filmmakers, and broadcasters responded to the conflict. The analysis will focus on the middle years of the conflict, but the conclusion will examine the ways in which these influences played out in the 1980s.