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

By Wolf, Stacy | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

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). …

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