Projecting the End of the American Dream: Hollywood's Visions of U.S. Decline

By Gordon B. Arnold | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Rising Paranoia

Life was good at the midpoint of the twentieth century for many Americans. The nation had not only survived a war five years earlier; it had also achieved a decisive victory that yielded an emerging new life of convenience and bounty. But there was a flip side to this story with a much darker and more foreboding nature. The world seemed safe from the threat of fascism, but whether it would remain secure in the face of communism was an open question.

There were lurking dangers beyond the nation’s shores. These, and emerging perceptions of threats embedded in life closer to home, were a nagging presence in the American psyche. Such dissonant feelings found expression in a variety of cultural forms and contexts. At times, they collectively fed a profoundly anxious subtext in American life. Indeed, a dark and sometimes nightmarish counterpart to the American Dream became increasingly common in political rhetoric and popular-culture forms of expression.

American cinema was one of the most prominent arenas in which insecurities resulting from the tumultuous political world were played out in the era. Sometimes such fears were evident in films. At other times, it was Hollywood itself that aroused suspicion, as had been the case in previous years. A new wrinkle in the latter came when the Supreme Court controversially reversed an earlier decision, the 1915 Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission case, which had denied films’ First Amendment protection of free speech. Now that this legal restraint was removed, critics of the film business wondered whether Hollywood could be trusted to produce

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Projecting the End of the American Dream: Hollywood's Visions of U.S. Decline
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Chapter 1 - American Ruin, the American Dream, and Hollywood 1
  • Chapter 2 - Backstory 21
  • Chapter 3 - A Dangerous World 39
  • Chapter 4 - Above and below the Shiny Surface 61
  • Chapter 5 - Rising Paranoia 81
  • Chapter 6 - Eruption 113
  • Chapter 7 - Disillusion 143
  • Chapter 8 - Shimmering Façade 169
  • Chapter 9 - Hollow World 195
  • Chapter 10 - Apocalypse Realized 223
  • Notes 247
  • Selected Bibliography 265
  • Index 273
  • About the Author 281
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