Magazine article The Spectator

Cold War Paranoia

Magazine article The Spectator

Cold War Paranoia

Article excerpt

The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird, is an animated adaptation of Ted Hughes's fable which recruits it for a role in Hollywood's continuing attempts to re-mvthologise the 1950s according to 'progressive' notions. The old mythology, now long discredited so far as Hollywood and the media are concerned, was that during that period God-fearing Americans living decent, hardworking lives with their happy nuclear families in middle-class suburbs were the backbone of American power. They showed their moral fibre by supporting their government's admirable resolution in standing up to godless, corrupt and oppressive communism during the tense early years of the Cold War when Soviet power threatened to subjugate the whole of Europe.

Hollywood's re-mythologisation of this story is based on two assumptions. One is that the happy families were not really happy but instruments of both oppression (of women) and repression (of everybody) and that the popular culture, especially rock'n'roll, played an important part in breaking these shackles. The other assumption is that communism, though perhaps a failure as an economic system, never really posed a threat to the American way of life at all. The Cold War was simply a product of mutual fear and misunderstanding, and the greatest danger the country faced during the period came not from the Soviets but from the US government's paranoia and propensity to violence.

The Iron Giant makes both of these assumptions. Its hero is a boy called Hogarth (voice of Eli Marienthal) whose mother (voice of Jennifer Aniston) is a single parent and has to work as a waitress to support her fractured family. There is no mention of what happened to Hogarth's father, but the implication is that he was never a part of the boy's life. Hogarth lives in a small town in Maine which, we are given to understand, is in the grip of Cold War paranoia. Only an improbable beatnik called Dean (voice of Harry Connick Jr) who lives in a junk yard and makes sculpture out of scrap metal stands out against prevailing modes of thought among the credulous and simple-minded villagers.

Just as unexplained as the absence of father is the presence of the eponymous Giant, a Promethean and messianic figure from outer space which only Hogarth knows about and which he keeps in the barn. Why a single mom who works as a waitress lives in a house with a barn is also unexplained. …

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