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Thoughts on the blacklist


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The recent Spotlight treatment on it, and last night's focus on the great Zero Mostel provides material for reflection.  One thing that has struck me is the incongruity of the fact of the blacklistee's activities and the reaction to it.  Naturally, the object of the congressmen's persecution of the Hollywood Ten was publicity and power, taking advantage of social currents and playing on people's ignorance and fear.  And the less of substance there is to any issue, the better it is for blowing up into a PR fandango.  But as has come up in recent discussions, the activities of the blacklisted and the organizations they were involved with were so inoccuous--to the point of being pathetic--that I find it hard to accept that the members of the HUAC, masters of demagoguery though they were, could puff up this little matter into what they did.  Now, nobody feels greater outrage than I do at the soulless, calculating way they were treated by the committee, but I can't help wondering if the accused weren't somehow complicit in their own persecution.

I'm the last person to blame victims.  I don't buy into theories that they invite their attackers in some way.  But in this instance, it would have been possible to diffuse the energy of the attack against them by pointing out the simple fact of their lack of any threat to the United States.  The absurdity of Congress' directing its massy powers at a handful of movie types--as if they could bring down the nation.  The proverbial cannon to kill a mouse.  Of course, these guys were nothing like real Communists, not as Marx envisioned them, or Lenin fashioned them.  Maybe I see it with the benefit of distance, but they all seem more to me as romantic idealists, esoteric products of bourgeois society, rather than agents of its downfall.  No doubt they were sincere in their beliefs, or self-deception, and took their attackers as seriously as they did themselves.  So they made a serious defense, and in doing so, validated the threat they were said to pose.

And I'm wondering if egotism on their part did't enter into it.  For all their involvement in what went up on the screen, they weren't the face of Hollywood.  After laboring and sacrificing for years in The Cause, and perhaps having silent fears of it's inconsquence, here was recognition.  Dire as the results of Congressional attention were, it was a world stage to make their case, and be treated as equal players in making history.  As pop-psycology has it, even bad attention is better than none.  And if martyrdom went with it, wasn't that also validation they weren't wasting their time on pointless activity?  Someone was taking them seriously enough to put them in jail.

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Read Edward Dmytryk's ODD MAN OUT: A MEMOIR OF THE HOLLYWOOD TEN. It's probably the most honest and objective (despite being written by a target of the HUAC) look at the blacklist, what led up to it and the fallout.

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2 hours ago, slaytonf said:

I'm the last person to blame victims.  I don't buy into theories that they invite their attackers in some way.  But in this instance, it would have been possible to diffuse the energy of the attack against them by pointing out the simple fact of their lack of any threat to the United States.  The absurdity of Congress' directing its massy powers at a handful of movie types--as if they could bring down the nation.  The proverbial cannon to kill a mouse.  Of course, these guys were nothing like real Communists, not as Marx envisioned them, or Lenin fashioned them.  Maybe I see it with the benefit of distance, but they all seem more to me as romantic idealists, esoteric products of bourgeois society, rather than agents of its downfall.  No doubt they were sincere in their beliefs, or self-deception, and took their attackers as seriously as they did themselves.  So they made a serious defense, and in doing so, validated the threat they were said to pose.

For comparison, try going back to the 80's, or the 60's, and tell them that Russia's nuclear and satellite program was as much of a military laughingstock back then as North Korea's is today...You couldn't do it.  Kruschev was just THAT much of the perfect fantasy Hollywood villain.

Yes, if you've seen the "Red Hollywood" documentary, the Ten were laughably soapboxing, and we didn't notice because most of the "Fight fascism", "John Doe, American working-stiff" and "Rich people are evil and crazy" was coming out of the Depression and into WWII, where everyone else was using it for cheap applause.  But we'd also come out of the Depression where very, very would-be American Socialists, trying to turn the labor-union movement into their own hopeful foot in the door, were as vocally and unstoppably obnoxious as Bitcoin fans, proclaiming "the final death of Capitalism!"...And because we had no idea how it'd caught on in Russia thirty or forty years earlier, no particular reason sprang to mind as to why It Couldn't Happen Here.  Obviously not, once FDR's New Deal made banks and capitalism popular again, but everyone, especially responsible grownups, loves having something to fear.

Most of the actors were just dabbling in part-time intellectual hobby-philosophies, the same as actors today throw their own anti-Trump politics around in interviews--Ours today just don't have studios and organized press campaigns to worry about their images for them, start panicking, and telling them to go with the hearings or else.

(And yes, I didn't know that 40's MGM was grooming Zero Mostel to be the next Phil Silvers, in "DuBarry Was a Lady"--Like everyone else, I just thought he, y'know, started with Fiddler on the Roof and The Producers.  :huh: )

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8 hours ago, slaytonf said:

 I find it hard to accept that the members of the HUAC, masters of demagoguery though they were, could puff up this little matter into what they did.   

And you also brought up playing on people's "ignorance and fear", so it makes me wonder where you've BEEN the last couple or so years.  Replace the Hollywood 10 with Muslims and illegal immigrants and it's easy to see how HUAC could pull that off.  That sort of thing can get people ELECTED.

None of those 10 had any notion of "pulling the country down".  They were simply insisting that their voices be allowed to be heard, as was constitutionally guaranteed. And NONE of the movies they starred in, or wrote(in the writer's cases) suggested a communist "takeover" of the United States.  I always felt it had more to do with egotism more than any real threat.  That ANYBODY, especially pampered Hollywood types, should suggest that congress bend to the will of the people they were elected to SERVE obviously seemed too radical for them to handle.

Sepiatone

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