Thursday, March 15, 2012

McCarthyism and Television

McCarthyism and Television: In the early 1950s, the U.S. government embarked on a witch hunt to cleanse itself and American society of potential communists. Led by Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the witch hunt developed into a full-fledged ideology, as the -ism that bore his last name became a culture war (Second Red Scare). And it's important not to divorce McCarthyism from its impact on television. For cultural historian Thomas Doherty, television signaled a "cool medium" in the midst of an emerging Cold War, as it was largely a passive activity that required little interaction. But the first televised hearings of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which should not be confused with Senator McCarthy, had enormous ramifications for the entertainment industry. Suspected communists in Hollywood were often brought before the Committee to testify about their political beliefs. And HUAC had help, especially from the anti-communist pamphlet Red Channels, which in 1950 published the names of 151 suspected communists in the entertainment industry. McCarthy, however, focused his attention on identifying potential communists in the U.S. government, particularly in the Army and State Departments. In what became the most famous televised exchange of the McCarthy era (June 9, 1954), he was publicly rebuked by the Army's lead attorney Joseph Welch with the question, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

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