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The early 1960s saw a string of popular Cold War spy movies and television shows that illuminated the complexities of life in Cold War America. Movies like Ian Fleming’s Dr. No and From Russia with Love popularized the spy movie, while movies like Dr. Strangelove and The Manchurian Candidate grappled with the fear that the government couldn’t be relied on to guarantee American safety. This paper draws upon these movies from the years 1962-1964, the events surrounding the release and consumption of the movies, previous historical research into the culture of the Cold War, and the reaction to and reception of these works. In doing this, this paper attempts to understand how Americans understood the fears and adversaries they faced, and investigates how the public confronted and coped with those fears.
This paper consists of two primary narratives. The first explores the way in which the spy movies grappled with the new realities of the changing Cold War by introducing heroes who dealt with realistic crises in satisfyingly unrealistic ways. In that way, the spy movie became a constructed coping mechanism to the randomness of the Cold War, wherein the actions of one person could single-handedly keep the country safe. The second part of the paper centers on films that explore the cultural fears that the spy movie comforts. Those movies confront the fear that Americans had just as much to fear from their own leadership as from the global communist threat. These movies present the antithesis of the spy movie, the truth that one person cannot save the world, but one could end it.
My research brings together the study of American cultural history and the study of the history of media in America, expanding and complimenting both by understanding how film and television reflect, influence and public understanding of their place in the world and their own identity.