Review: Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961/american Theater in the Culture of the Cold War: Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962
Wolf, Stacy, Women's Studies Quarterly
REVIEW: COLD WAR ORIENTALISM: ASIA IN THE MIDDLEBROW IMAGINATION, 1945-1961, BY CHRISTINA KLEIN. BERKELEY: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, 2003. 316 PAGES.
AMERICAN THEATER IN THE CULTURE OF THE COLD WAR: PRODUCING AND CONTESTING CONTAINMENT, 1947-1962, BY BRUCE MCCONACHIE. IOWA CITY: UNIVERSITY OF IOWA PRESS, 2003. 363 PAGES.
Christina Klein's Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961, and Bruce McConachie's American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War: Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962, both participate in and expand the conversation around the ideological work of U.S. culture in the mid-twentieth century, and both are excellent, welcome additions to the field. The two books also speak to each other, either directly (McConachie cites Klein's dissertation, on which her book is based), or indirectly, through their readings of the same texts. In addition, both authors explore the relationship between U.S. public policy and the construction of "American" identity at the time, and both are primarily concerned with the operations of middle-class, middlebrow culture on predominantly white theatre spectators, film-goers, and readers. Finally, both authors organize their projects in relation to the idea of containment, but trom entirely different perspectives.
Since the 1988 publication ot Elaine Tyler May's Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era, scholars of mid-twentieth century U.S. culture have developed illuminating analyses of Cold War politics in the context of domestic issues. May's groundbreaking book observed how politics played out as thoroughly gendered both on the home front and in the home itself, with women's bodies being portrayed as bombers, and the "good mother" preserving not only the family but also the entire country. By analyzing how government policies inflected everyday practices, May joined political and cultural histories, showing how "containment" pervaded every aspect of daily life.
Klein's Cold War Orientalism takes on May's thesis to assert that while containment was indeed a prevalent aspect of Cold War policies and culture, integration was an equally powerful objective. Without rejecting the "containment" thesis, Klein instead focuses on the United States' effort to promote a universal understanding and tolerance of Asia and the Pacific. She sees this project originating with the U.S. government, being articulated through U.S. public policy, and then being affirmed through popular magazines, novels, travel writings, and Broadway musicals. These texts, as Klein writes, "performed a certain kind of cultural work: they helped to construct a national identity of the United States as a global power" (9). Taken together, these representations ultimately "generated ... a wide-ranging discourse of racial tolerance and inclusion that served as the official ideology undergirding postwar expansion" (11).
In her introduction and first chapter, Klein lays out the terms of this integrationist project: orientalism and the middlebrow. Crucial to her understanding of "the middlebrow imagination" is sentimentality, which dominated U.S. writers' construction of Asia's otherness. By historicizing both the "middlebrow" and the "sentimental," Klein recuperates their current negative valences. Postwar middlebrow writers and intellectuals were self-consciously so, and they aimed to render Cold War politics as "something that ordinary Americans could take part in, as a set of activities in which they could invest their emotional and intellectual energy" (7). (For more critical readings of "middlebrow," see Joan Shelley Rubin, Janice Radway, and David Savran.) They articulated global connections in "personal terms," in sentimental narratives that portrayed the "self-in-relation," that emphasized how "bonds are forged across a divide of difference" characterized by "reciprocity and exchange," and that foregrounded emotions "as the means for achieving and maintaining this exchange" (8,14). The very project of sentimentality was feminized and feminizing, with an image of the good mother at its center.
Other chapters look closely at a range of cultural texts. One explores two magazines, the left-leaning Saturday Review and the conservative Reader's Digest, which both constructed Asians as children to be cared for by U.S. citizens, even while urging their readers to accept cultural difference. Another examines travel writing, including James Michener's The Voice of Asia (1951), which assured readers that well-behaved Americans were welcome in Asia, and, in contrast, J. Saunder Redding's An American in India (1954). In Redding's book, the author, an African scholar, portrays his visit to India as a failure, since his lecture audience wanted to align with him on the basis of race and "did not believe" that Americans were truly sympathetic to Indians. In the book's second half, Klein presents extended readings of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "oriental" musicals-South Pacific (1947, film 1958), The King and I (1951, film 1956), and Flower Drum Song (1957, film 1961).
While elegant and persuasive readings of magazines, novels, travel writing, and Broadway musicals provide the evidence for Klein's incisive cultural analysis, she constructs an equally rich and lively historical context for the production and reception ot each of these texts, whether written or performed. Each text converses with public policy-from Elsenhower's People-to-People exchange program, to the Children's Christian Fund adoption program, to economic support of Thailand-and Klein traces their connections in fascinating ways.
Although many figures appear in both books, and although McConachie gives a passing nod to the importance of national and global integration, his project, with extensive and detailed evidence, supports the containment thesis. American Theater in the Culture of the Cold War begins not with a discussion of U.S. history (or even theater), but with an argument for the usefulness of cognitive psychology in understanding theatre audiences. Citing the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, McConachie asserts its value tor historians "because it encourages them to discover cultural patterns in embodied actions centered on primary metaphors, including dramatic performances on the stage" (10).
From the 1947 National security Act until the mid-1960s, the cognitive metaphor of containment dominated U.S. culture. For McConachie, Lakoff and Johnson's schema of containment facilitates a series of metaphors that organized almost every element of politics, society, and theatrical production and reception, and his array of examples is impressive. In the first chapter, after his initial discussion of Lakoff and Johnson, McConachie compares Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing (1935) with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) to illustrate the shift from a photographic culture to a radiophonie one, from realism to metatheatricality, and from history to allegory.
McConachie organizes the three chapters that follow according to figures of containment: the "Empty Boy," the "Family of Man," and the "Fragmented Hero." After astutely outlining key political events and vibrantly recounting their social and cultural contexts, McConachie moves among several performances in each chapter. "The Empty Boy," for example-"a mixture of innocence and independence, vulnerability and strength"-emerged in relation to the threat from without and from within both the country and the person (57). McConachie finds this type embodied in the characters of Johnny Pope in Michael Gazzo's A Hatful of Rain (1955) and Richard Sherman in George Axelrod's The Seven Year Itch (1952), and also in Tennessee Williams's A Cat on a hot Tin Roof (1955). Audiences could interpret such a figure because texts and representations that used related metaphorical schemas pervaded the culture, including the star persona of Montgomery Clift, Freudian psychology, and popular texts such as David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd (1950).
Furthermore, all elements of Cold War-era theatrical practice-both production and reception-relied on similar metaphors of interior and exterior, of restraint and compulsion, of selt-possession and abandon, and extended the literal into allegoresis. In each of his extended examples, such as William Inge's The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1957), Archibald MacLeish'sJ.B. (1958), Martha Graham's Night Journey (1947), Miller's The Crucible (1953), and Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun (1959), McConachie expands the containment schema's relevance beyond a study of theatrical representations to analyses of theatrical space, set and lighting design, and acting and directing techniques. His evocative explorations of Elia Kazan's directing, Lee Strasberg's acting techniques, and Jo Mielziner's set designs-to note some of the key theatrical players of the time-underline the pervasiveness of the containment schema. Such attention to the multiple ways that theatrical performances are constructed is surprisingly rare in theatre histories. Thus McConachie's new book joins his Melodramatic Formations as a key text in theatre history as well as theatre reception studies.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, composer and lyricist ot Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Dmm Song, and The Sound of Music, occupy central roles in both Klein's and McConachie's books, as they were the creators of extremely influential and pervasive middlebrow, middle-class culture, as well as intentional supporters of global humanitarianism and accidental perpetuators of liberal racism. Klein's and McConachie's excellent work on the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein contributes to musical theatre studies in important and original ways. Interestingly, their different readings of The King and I foreground the distinction between these two books and illustrate how, taken together, they offer a rich and complex perspective on Cold War culture.
Klein locates the musical as an educational arena for both the nonwhite characters and the presumptively white Broadway (or film, she assumes) theater audience. After summarizing the U.S. political and economic support ot Thailand, she maps a narrative of "sentimental modernization" through three musical numbers: "The March of the Royal Siamese Children," "Getting to Know You," and "The Small House of Uncle Thomas." Anna's education of the Siamese people is "tigured in cultural-as opposed to military or conventionally political-terms: the embrace ot Western, specifically American, cultural forms marks the successful modernization of the country" (207-88). By the end of the musical, Anna, the white woman, is the only adult left. Through emotional attachment, mimicry, and analogy, Anna, the quintessential American middlebrow intellectual, teaches Asians to act civilized, to act modern; that is, to act American.
Klein's reading of The King and I follows an analysis of the almosterotic polka "Shall We Dance?" with speculation about audience response: "Just as the King is drawn in to Anna's liberal political ideology by joining her in song and dance, so we are led to embrace the ideals of international integration and Third World modernization by our own sense of participation" (211). Klein's use of first person plural in this example is unexpected. Throughout the book, Klein admirably accounts for white readers' likely interpretations by creating an identifiable context with particular horizons ot expectations. Although not explicitly invested in reception, Klein's analysis of historical audiences is superb. In this instance, then, while I agree with her model ot how a musical works to interpellate its audience, I find the presumed "viewer" surprisingly ahistorical.
McConachie, in contrast, first otters a history of representation of bad mothers in the immediate postwar period to chart the representational shift to good mothers. He then examines the influence of Method acting practices on musical theatre (which was a star-driven enterprise), and reads YuI Brynner (as the King) and Gertrude Lawrence (as Anna) through questions of surface and depth. He stresses the King's harsh exterior and childish interior, Anna's feminine exterior (made more complex by the hoop skirts that the language-lacking Siamese women find so amusing) and masculine interior, and the utter lack of continuity between the races of the nonwhite actors and their Siamese characters. As McConachie argues, costume and makeup are necessary to construct Siameseness, which becomes "a performance in itself" (159). McConachie also finds Mielziner's set reminiscent of suburban houses of the time. For McConachie's spectator, The King and I offers the empathetic positions of mother or child, or an experience in which "shifting between the pleasures of mothering and being mothered effectively creates a third position-empathizing with a mother-centered family" (145).
Both Klein and McConachie see Anna as the good mother and the musical's overall objective as a pedagogical one, but Klein's larger context is international politics and McConachie's is the American family. Still, both authors are fundamentally concerned with an American ideological project: with how white, middle-class spectators might make sense of this oft-repeated story and be persuaded (or reminded) that U.S. expansion (cum capitalism) is a good thing because, underneath, Asians are (or can be made to be) "just like us."
McConachie's model of containment metaphors is at once thoroughly persuasive and useful and also occasionally seems to fit his examples so well that I wonder if there are limits to this schema. If everything fits, then how does it illuminate differences and distinctions among texts? In the end, though, McConachie's history and historiography offer much more than his application of Lakoff and Johnson's theory of metaphors. Still, the theoretical model-cognitive psychology's use of metaphors-will no doubt prove immensely useful to theater historians studying audiences.
Given his attention to detail and to the nuances of acting, directing, design, playwriting, and criticism, I was surprised that McConachie incorrectly credits Julie Andrews with creating the role of Maria in the Broadway production of The Sound of Music. Not insignificantly, Mary Martin, one of the two queens of the Cold War Broadway musical, actually debuted in the role, after acquiring the rights to Maria Von Trapp's autobiography and convincing Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the role for her. No doubt Andrews now (and forever?) occupies the role of Maria in our cultural imaginary, as she played the role in the 1965 film version, but Martin originally created the character of tomboy-mother Maria. Martin, a middle-class dancer from a small town in Texas who became a rich and powerful Broadway star, would have made another interesting subject for McConachie's already exhaustively researched book, insofar as she embodied contradictions of surface and depth in her portrayals of Nellie Forbush and Peter Pan.
Both Klein and McConachie create rich, nuanced, and thoroughly engaging books, but their different disciplines weigh their projects differently. Klein's primary concern is culture's relationship to history and especially to public policy. In terms ot reception, she doesn't interrogate the distinctions among reading a magazine, reading a novel, listening to a lecture, or seeing a Broadway musical. McConachie, on the other hand, wanting his work to serve as a model tor historical reception studies, focuses on the influence of radio, of visuality, of the proscenium space of the Broadway stage. For both authors, the imagined audience of these texts and performances is white, middle-class, and middlebrow. I wonder how nonwhite U.S. audiences might have read them.
Overall, Klein and McConachie have made impressive and groundbreaking contributions to the fields of American studies, gender studies, and theater studies. Each book is a terrific, engaging read, and placed side by side, they create an extraordinarily animated sense of U.S. culture during the Cold War.
STACY WOLF is associate professor of theater and dance at the University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches in the Performance as Public Practice Program. She is the author of A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical. Wolf has written essays on musical theater, theater audiences, and feminist pedagogy. She also works as a dramaturg.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Review: Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961/american Theater in the Culture of the Cold War: Producing and Contesting Containment, 1947-1962. Contributors: Wolf, Stacy - Author. Journal title: Women's Studies Quarterly. Volume: 33. Issue: 3/4 Publication date: Fall 2005. Page number: 392+. © Feminist Press Spring 2007. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.