Reflections of Fear: Mass Hysteria in Cold War Cinema 1946-1991



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The Cold War was one of the longest and most complicated wars in American History. It lasted from 1946-1991 and was entrenched in every person’s life in the United States. It was a time of great fear and suspicion. Americans were living with a heightened anxiety that was reflected in the movies of the time, starting in the 1950’s with the fear of Communism right to the 1980’s with the fear of World War III and a post-apocalyptic world. This thesis will look at how these fears were reflected in the movies that were being produced. I will first look at the 1950’s with the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a reflection of the mass fear or hysteria regarding the infiltration of communism into America stirred by the McCarthy trials of the 1950’s. I will look at the 1960’s with the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction reflected in Dr Strangelove, or How I learned to Love the Bomb. The 1970’s were different in terms of Cold War fears: this was a time where President Richard Nixon was engaged in Détente and relations with China and the Soviet Union improved. The 1970’s was also a major time of economic crisis in the United States: the energy crisis so many Americans feared replaced the Cold War in importance. This fear picks up again with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and his hard stance against the Soviet Union. Many people in the United States were fearful of World War III and having to live in a post-apocalyptic world; these concerns are reflected in the films The Day After and Wargames. All four of these films together paint a picture of the real fears that led to the mass hysteria regarding the Cold War.



cold war, film studies