Women and the Anti-com­mu­nist Black­list

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight | History -

Carol A. Sta­bile, Gold­smiths Press (OC­TO­BER) Hard­cover $29.95 (320pp), 978-1-906897-86-4

Carol A. Sta­bile ex­plores the “cleans­ing” of pro­gres­sive women writ­ers, artists, and per­form­ers from post­war Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion in The Broad­cast 41. It’s a chill­ing ac­count of the con­certed re­stric­tion of an in­flu­en­tial medium.

Sta­bile fo­cuses her ex­ten­sive re­search on the forty-one women listed in the in­fa­mous 1950 Red Chan­nels re­port pub­lished by a group of EX-FBI agents. That re­port ag­gres­sively mar­keted ef­fec­tive pro­pa­ganda and cen­sor­ship cam­paigns. Without so­cially con­scious voices, tele­vi­sion came to re­flect a white­washed de­pic­tion of Amer­i­can life, de­void of non-nu­clear fam­i­lies and non­stereo­typed im­mi­grants, mi­nori­ties, and gay men and les­bians.

Some Broad­cast 41 mem­bers are well known, like Lena Horne, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Lil­lian Hell­man, though many read­ers may be un­aware of their strug­gles with ha­rass­ment and cen­sor­ship. Most other Broad­cast 41ers were not as suc­cess­ful. In-depth anal­y­sis of their post-black­list chal­lenges is in­cluded, and an ex­am­i­na­tion of the ad­di­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion faced by women of color and dif­fer­ing sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions is high­lighted.

The book in­cludes spec­u­la­tion about how Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion might have looked without anti-com­mu­nist cen­sor­ship, de­pict­ing a fas­ci­nat­ing al­ter­nate world stripped of a steady fare of west­erns, cop shows, and Ozzie and Harriet–style sit­coms. It is not averse to call­ing out J. Edgar Hoover, avun­cu­lar ac­tor/in­for­mant Ron­ald Rea­gan, and Mccarthy lawyer and Trump groomer Roy Cohn for their acts of rigid G-man mas­culin­ity and white supremacy.

Broad­cast 41 is an im­pas­sioned, in­dig­nant doc­u­men­ta­tion of the 1950s “war over popular cul­ture.” As Sta­bile notes, the fight to erad­i­cate big­otry and sex­ism from the tele­vi­sion air­waves and so­ci­ety at large is still un­der­way.

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