PROPAGANDA & SCIENCE FICTION DURING THE COLD WAR

The Cold War was and had a significant impact throughout the world. Not only it affected the economy, social, cultural and artistic development of some nations but also created rivalry between the The United states and The Soviet Union. In the late 1940’s, The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States was a half century of military build up and political maneuvering for international support. My goal throughout this research is to show how the political hostility between the Soviet Union and United States of America originated controversial and enemy propaganda against each other and became a power battle between both nations to try and sell their ideologies and beliefs to the entire world. Through the use of articles, selected films, books and making reference to primary and secondary sources, I will demonstrate how the use of propaganda was more powerful than a battle itself and how the films selected under this research portrayed similarities and different ideologies with the help of the Science Fiction genre.

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The Hollywood Ten 

During the Cold War, films functioned as means to influence and control public opinion internally. The cold War originated the rise of film propaganda in the 20th Century, discussing specifically how films can be used to manipulate public perception and opinions, as stated by authors James and Sara Combs in their book Film Propaganda and American Politics: An Analysis and Filmog raphy. The United States and the Soviet Union invested heavily in propaganda designed to influence the hearts and minds of people around the world, especially using motion pictures. Cold War films produced by both sides attempted to address different stages of the power conflict and wanted to influence both domestic and foreign opinion. The gap between American and Soviet films gave the Americans a distinct advantage over the Soviet Union, because America was prepared to utilize their cinematic achievements as a way to effectively impact the public opinion in a way the Soviet Union could not. By doing this, Americans hoped it would help close the gap caused by Soviet development of nuclear weapons and advancements in space technology. The use of film as an effective form of widespread propaganda transformed cinema and propelled what we know now as the Cold War battlefront. Book author Tony Shaw, compares and examines the complex relationship between filmmakers, politicians and government propagandists in his book Hollywood’s Cold War. Shaw explains how Science Fiction shocker films played a critical role by teaching millions of Americans why Communism represented the greatest threat their country had ever faced.

In order to dive into the nature and essence of this research, I must define the reason why these two nations were urged to use enemy propaganda against each other and make reference to two of the films that were released while the Cold War was taking place. The two films I will be conducting the base of my research are the 1972 Soviet film Solaris directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, which provided American audiences with a rare look at Soviet Cinema. The film portrays astronauts who investigate a planet that proves to be capable of affecting the dreams of humans who land there. The second film is The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is a 1951 Science Fiction drama film directed by Robert Wise. What really created the use of enemy propaganda and Science Fiction films during this dark period of human kind was the conflict in ideologies between Capitalism and Communism that resulted in one of the greatest conflicts of the twentieth century. The belief that freedom and democracy would stop under a communist regime caused the United States to start a conflict that lasted for decades. The decisions made by the United States in World War II created tensions to rise between the United States and the Soviet Union. The Fear of Communism in capitalist nations, caused the United States government to use propaganda to raise Cold War anxieties. Furthermore, the American media influenced the attitudes of Americans, making a hatred of communism spread though the nation. Thus, the United States caused the conflict known as the Cold War through its political policy and propaganda it also proved that science and technology reassured both superiority and mutual destruction throughout the era.

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the Blacklist

The Soviet Union and the United States according to their cinematic use of Science Fiction in the late 1950’s and 1960’s also coincided with the period of de-Stalinisation in the Soviet Union, and late McCarthyism in the United States. As book author Natalia Voinova explained in her book, The Cold War in Science Fiction: Soviet and American Science Fiction Films in the 1950’s. She stated Science Fiction genre provided an opportunity to express the powers on scientific stand off through fiction, and served as a vehicle for the dissemination of ideas and propaganda. 

Now will examine why these two films are so different from each other. They both provide a Science Fiction perspective within their own and unique context, creating a moment for the audiences at the time, while getting them ready for a marketed war. One of the films, actually targets the fact of a possible alien innovation in a more peaceful way, yet still misleading audiences that alien enemies are capable of controlling time, energy, human thoughts, dreams and the the pace of life. As we are able to see in the films The Day the Earth Stood Still and Solaris. Even though there was plenty of films that came out during the Cold War, which by all means had the purpose of creating enemy propaganda against each other and had a very harsh impact on the population like the theme plot from invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1951. But, yet the two main mentioned films above had a softer side in their theme and used their ideologies to promote propaganda and create some type of tension through the use of the Science Fiction genre due to their technological advancements in cinema. The United States wanted to infiltrate into people’s minds in order to brainwash a nation and so was the Soviet Unions’s ideological plan. This may sound confusing if I am trying to contrast the main goals of American and Soviet Filmmakers during the Cold War, because the purpose of the nations was similar if not the same. Both nations wanted to create and propel massive hysteria.

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Films, like the already mentioned American Film Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1951 and My Son John from 1952, touched the idea of an enemy nation in a small town that changed people’s ideas and behaviours. The idea of an alien or enemy attack on a population; represented a similar to a remote attack on the American Soil from the Soviet Union. An attack that will bring soviet troops all over the United States and will change a nation’s mentality forever. This was the goal of many of these films during the Cold War, the goal to promote a massive panic and a sense of hopeless feeling among the citizens of a nation. This ideology is reflected in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Not to left out the feeling of hate that will be infiltrated through the main theme of the film by the use of special effects showing alien beings arriving from out of space in a flying saucer, which only mission is to take control of the nation. Many Americans developed a sense of hate and anxiety towards the Soviet Union, since many American films portrayed the so called aliens which were compared to the Soviets as evil and a nation ready to destroyed and taken into full control.

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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

As we know enemy propaganda can be defined as, an attempt to mold and change the opinions and attitudes of his intended victims to his own purposes. In this case to change the audience ideas though  the use of Science Fiction films. Division, fear and doubt are the main thoughts that the enemy propaganda uses within one nation and among allied countries arrayed against him. Their purpose is to promote mental confusion, contradiction, indecision, and panic as the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers showed and the so famous quote said by senator Vandenberg to President Truman, which stated “It’s time to scare the hell out of the country.” Meaning it was the right time to initiate mind control as a counter weapon. The type of mind control that was going to invade all of the American homes as well as homes in other nations after watching the film.

Going back to the main chosen films I have selected, The American film The Day the Earth Stood Still and the Soviet film Solaris, and in order to draw a preliminary comparison on how these two Science Fiction films were also used as a weapon of enemy propaganda in a much softer way. One must start by analyzing both films, their plots and critical reception. The Day the Earth Stood Still, as already mentioned is a 1951 American black and white Science Fiction film from 20th Century Fox, directed by Robert Wise. The main plot of the film shows a humanoid alien visitor named Klaatu, who arrives on Washington, D.C, accompanied by a robot named, Gort. Their goal and purpose is to deliver an important message that will change the pattern of the entire human race. Upon their arrival in an unidentified flying saucer from out of space; time on earth stops completely, as well as the electricity; thus creating chaos all over the world. Humans are not able to operate any type of machinery such as cars and trains and all type of work is also placed on standby. We can see the actual context of enemy propaganda through the Science Fiction theme of the film embedded in it. Yet, we are able to realize that if by any reason the Soviet Union decided to invade the United States, the result will be chaotic as the film portrays in the opening shot.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still

The approach of the film was without a doubt a bit warmer when it came to alter the audiences’s minds and way of thinking. The film shows how an alien visitor arrives on earth, this will be the arrival of the soviet Union in the United States, than we see how our everyday actions from operating a vehicle, to riding the train to working in a factory are all stopped and affected by the arrival of this foreign entity. This is the effect of a global attack from one nation against the other one. In this case the attack from the Soviet Union on the United States. Even though the film initiates this type of hidden enemy propaganda, later on it warns us that maybe, we have just seen enough of the Cold War and we maybe ready to put an end to all of it. This is shown throughout the film when the main character who portrays the alien, says he is only trying to bring a message of piece to the world. According to Film Critic Ernesto Laura in a 1957 writing issue of Bianco e Nero, he suggested that the approach of most films during the Cold War, including the one from The Day the Earth Stood Still, had to be shocking and mind altering. As we needed to understand that the citizens of a nation are and could have being changed into Communists when we properly understand the allegory of the film. The allegory many people did not understand at first, but was the cause of media manipulation all over the planet.

Robert Wise, who directed the film, was certainly showing both sides of the so called Cold War propaganda and the use of Science Fiction by letting the audience know that they were nothing compare to a powerful entity that may have better technology and weapons of destruction. It could take minutes before this entity could take control of the nation, but Wise also showed a softer side emerging within this whole chaos the world was going through. The caring side of an entity that just wanted to negotiate, understand and work together along humans.

Ultimately this was not the case in which most audiences grasped the idea of the film. Audiences were still shaken by the idea of global domination by another country. According to fiction writer Martin Gardner, who indicated many statements about Science Fiction films during the Cold War in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, including an analysis on the film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gardner argued that the UFO Myth, was incorporated into the films as a more comprehensive myth and belief. The myth of  the extraterrestrial life, that leaded

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Duck & Cover

astrobiologists to generate research programs to search for extraterrestrial origins. Gardner’s logic explained that if our visiting aliens developed nuclear power and successfully avoided self-destruction, perhaps they can teach us how to establish peace and avoid the threat of nuclear self- annihilation. He also stated that Peace on earth can be won through the advances of extraterrestrial science.

On the other hand we have the Soviet Science Fiction film, Solaris from 1972 directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Even tough during the Cold War, Soviet Science Fiction films were rarely seen in the United States, they too engaged in contemporary social issues. Solaris, Based on the novel by Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, has a plot that reflects experiments with parapsychology that took place within the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Perhaps more profoundly, it reflects concerns with the increasingly mechanized modern world and the human loss of connection to the natural world and each other. In the film, Psychologist Kris Kelvin travels to the Solaris space station to evaluate the situation; only to encounter the same mysterious phenomena as the others. The main idea behind Solaris, is to show how after a complete take over or invasion from another nation, we as a human race will most likely end up creating a world that is perhaps not real and is just within our own boundaries and limits of the human mind. Citizens will be locked up in an imaginary world in order to escape reality. The escape from the reality of having our thoughts, dreams and goals taking by some other beings that will enter into out lives. This makes reference to the United States taking the dreams and thoughts of the Soviet Union, by the use of enemy propaganda.

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Solaris – 1972

Perhaps the most important conclusion behind the film is that involves human space journeys and encounters with a transforming alien intelligence, which creates places or people from clues obtained by reading the human mind. This is perceived within the idea of the United States sending spies in flying saucers to uncovered the plans of the Soviets and an attack on the population’s thoughts. The film also proves the ultimate inadequacy of communication between humans and other species. More like the communication the United States and the Soviet Union had during the Cold War. A communication that went way too far behind Science Fiction films.

Solaris came out almost twenty years after The Time The Earth Stood Still came out, but yet there are similarities in both films and how they tried to change people’s ideologies during the Cold War. Both Solaris and The Time The Earth Stood Still, acted as a metaphor for The Cold War superiority. Ultimately space colonization was the catalyst to American exploration in Science Fiction and unidentified flying objects (UFO’s) propaganda. When the Americans landed their astronauts first on the moon, it was a victory for America’s imagination, people and their agenda. Thus, leading to a huge increase of hate by the Soviets. Both films relate to each other because they are Science Fiction films, especially from the American side, since it tried imaginative narratives and special effects. The special effects presented indirect expressions of anxiety about the possibility of a nuclear holocaust or a Communist invasion of America.

These fears were expressed in various subjects, such as aliens using mind control, mutants unleashed by radioactive failure, radiation’s terrible effects on human life, and scientists obsessed with dangerous experiments. Although both government and private groups discouraged criticism of United States policies and expressions of fear about national security during the Cold War, the producers of Science Fiction films were generally left alone by government regulators and the private groups that tried to shape public opinion. Travel in space became a reality on October 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, which was the first artificial earth satellite. This demonstration of scientific and technological progress by the Soviets began a new wave of panic and paranoia in the United States.

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After breaking down the topic and providing an analytical research on how enemy propaganda and Science Fiction films emerged during the Cold War. I can also conclude that the resulting wave of Science Fiction films also addressed scientists as troublesome idealists because they wanted to save a destructive species or phenomenon in order to perform a study and find out answers to inexplicable questions. Scientists were often represented as responsible for the problems that arose, or responsible for finding solutions to the problem. Government officials and the military were often represented as heroes who fought the enemy. Aliens were portrayed as superior beings with better intelligence and technology, perhaps representing what Americans feared in the Soviets. Thus, leads to show how the Cold War was more of a self marketed medium between the ideas of two powerful nations and their conquest to take control of everyone’s mind by using new advancements in film technology and production.

Works Cited

Combs, James. Combs, Sara. Film Propaganda and American Politics: An Analysis and Filmog raphy, New York: Garland Publishing. 1994. Print.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Science Fiction Films and Cold War Anxiety. January 1, 2003. Article.

Shaw, Tony. Hollywood’s Cold War. Edinburgh University Press. 2007. Print.

Voinova, Natalia. The Cold War in Science Fiction: Soviet and American Science Fiction Films in the 1950’s. Anchor Academic Publishing. June 1, 2013. Print.

Finney, Jack. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. New York. Award Books. 1954. Print.

Laura, Ernesto. Religious and Political Allegory. Bianco e Nero. Rome. 1957. Article.

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. New York: Dover. 1952. Print.

Filmography

The Time The Earth Stood Still. Dir. Robert Wise. Perf. Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe and Sam Jaffe. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp, 1951. DVD.

Solaris. Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky. Perf. Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis, Jüri Järvet, Vladislav Dvorzhetsky, Nikolai Grinko, Anatoly Solonitsyn. 1972. DVD.

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dir. Don Siegel. Perf. Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan and Carolyn Jones. Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. 1956. DVD.

Written by Felipe Medina for The Film History Before 1959 course at Concordia University in Montreal.

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