G-Men, Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture

By Richard Gid Powers; Daniel M. Finnegan | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

For nearly forty years J. Edgar Hoover was an American political
giant, quick to anger and terrible in wrath. His Federal Bureau of
Investigation was venerated like no other institution in a country where
even Christianity and baseball have to tolerate disbelievers. His millions
of admirers slept better knowing Hoover was on guard against crime
and communism, while fear of Hoover kept millions of other Americans
awake at night: fear that Hoover was putting the stamp of orthodoxy
on his own brand of intolerant traditionalism, fear that his attacks on
dissent were silencing free expression, fear that his dragnets for subver-
sives had crippled freedom of political association, fear that a careless
remark or youthful indiscretion uncovered in an FBI security check
might ruin a reputation or destroy a career. For most Americans
Hoover's FBI was a national security blanket. For a great many others
the bureau was a symbol of fear.

At the same time Hoover was casting his shadow over American public life, his agents were the stars of movies, radio adventures, comics, pulp magazines, television series, even bubble-gum cards. Hollywood celebrated the FBI as the nation's crime fighting elite, the government's official anticrime strike force, by giving it exclusive possession of the nickname "G-Men," which had been for years underworld slang for all government operatives, treasury agents, postal inspectors, and military intelligence, not just FBI agents. Meanwhile the director himself broke bread with Hollywood stars and hobnobbed with the oil-well aristocracy. Hoover's arrivals and departures were chronicled in the gossip columns, his speeches were featured at rallies and conventions, his ghost-written "cases from the files" appeared in popular mass circulation magazines. The director and his G-Men were American legends. Their adventures were American mythology.

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