Bowdoin Reads

Marilyn Reizbaum is reading...

The Un-Americans: Jews, the Blacklist, and Stoolpigeon Culture
by Joseph Litvak

Joe Litvak is a former member of the Bowdoin English Department who left in 1999 to join Tufts' English Department. His book revisits the aims and cultural effects of the House Un-American Activities Committee. JL considers the Jewish witness, so often before the committee, and how he came to be the embodiment of an epitomic undesirable type, the antithesis of what was being forged as the American. As he puts it, "the committee's official project, the investigation of communism, served mainly as a screen for its even more obsessive and therefore much less allowable business: going after those smart-alecks who, without even having had to appear before it, embarrassed it by their very being--by embodying not just the comic, but the whole scandalous, indeed criminal, conspiracy of smartness, acting, pleasure, happiness, imitation, mobility, and play, centered in yet reaching well beyond Hollywood and New York, and that I will be here delineating under the rubric of comicosmopolitanism." Along the way, JL looks at Hollywood films that coincide with various stages of the blacklisting of its directors and actors, contemporary television as the Cold War medium, and the postwar musical. I have read and heard parts of this book before, but am only now beginning to read it cover to cover. The book is concurrent with the return lately to this subject of the American Red Scare, but it has surprising moves. And a dazzling rhetorical style. It will be very helpful to my own project on the ways Jews figure in and configure modern arts, especially for Chapter 2, which concerns the American director, Mervyn LeRoy.

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