Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films

Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films

Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films

Paranoia, the Bomb, and 1950s Science Fiction Films

Excerpt

Giant ants, prehistoric monsters brought back to life, humans replaced by uncanny doubles—these and other elements characterize the 1950s B-science fiction film. While the cult-following films such as Them!, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers have often predicated on ironic laughter at films frequently considered to be no more than museum pieces, this study takes a very different approach to such films and others related to them. In my contrastive view, 1950s sf films open a window on the cultural paranoia that characterized America at this time, a cultural paranoia largely triggered by the discovery and use of nuclear weapons during World War II.

I read these films both within a psychoanalytic conception of paranoia and within the historical context of what constituted cultural paranoia for postwar America. I believe that paranoia provides a strong model for analysis of sf film, especially because film makes possible a visual forum for representing the totalizing systems of the paranoiac. The worlds created by sf films provide a representation of the visual, frequently cinematic delusions of paranoiacs. Film supplies a medium whereby the auditory and visual hallucinations of paranoia can approach a tangible existence on the screen. Thus what might be called metaphorically the private film in the head of the individual paranoiac may be transformed into a systematized light-and-sound delusion available to an audience.

In a time when we are re-evaluating the cultural paranoia that shaped Cold War American life, re-examination of how popular entertainment both reflected and shaped this paranoia provides a means of helping us to come to terms with a recent past in which paranoiac logic resulted in human radiation experiments, executions, and blacklisting— to name just a few postwar ills.

Although I use clinical case studies of paranoia as touchstones for understanding paranoiac systems, my concern here is with a cultural paranoia in which delusion moved beyond individual psychosis into what was almost universally accepted in the postwar period as social reality.

It is my argument that the sf films I have chosen to examine represent different metaphorical embodiments of a varied and complex cultural paranoia. Postwar paranoia may have stemmed from the atomic . . .

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