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Old-Time Propaganda

With public concern growing over the suppression of dissenting political opinions and other possible effects of deregulated and consolidated media, American history may provide a unique insight into what the future holds. Author Howard Blue, whose Words at War examines the propaganda of radio drama during World War II and the evolution of the postwar radio blacklist, will speak at 7 PM as part of a Friends of WRPI benefit this Tuesday (Oct. 28) at the Arts Center of the Capital Region (265 River St., Troy).

Through interviews with veterans of golden-age radio such as Arthur Miller, Pete Seeger and Arthur Laurents, Blue tells the story of how morale-boosting radio programming eventually became a tool of right-wing political interests in the years following World War II.

“Coming out of the 1930s,” explains Blue, “we had a fairly significant isolationist sentiment in the United States. It was necessary for radio to describe the enemy. The American public needed to hear that our guys were an effective fighting force.

“[During World War II], the initial view put forth over the airwaves was that we had to defeat fascism abroad, as well as injustice at home,” continues Blue. “In the postwar period, these same voices became the targets.”

In Words at War, Blue describes a scenario in which the era’s radio artists fostered domestic unity through support for both American soldiers and their Russian allies, while also questioning many of the prejudices that divided the nation. Following the surrender of Japan and Germany, many of these same actors, writers and other radio personalities whose personal views associated them with more progressive, left-leaning politics, became targets of a blacklisting process which rivaled that of the more infamous Hollywood version. Popular liberal radio icons such as Norman Corwin quickly found themselves singled out by their former network employers and peers, as well as the American government itself.

“There were a number of occasions where they went after people for being Communists when they had no valid proof,” Blue says of the radio-blacklisting era. “You don’t have to be a total opponent of the blacklist to say that it was totally flawed.”

Blue explains how the then-CBS vice president in charge of enforcing the blacklist fired William Robson, a prominent director at the time, “not because [Robson] was a Communist, but because he had been accused of being a Communist.”

While the morale-boosting effects of programs such as The Man Behind the Gun, Lux Radio Theatre, and the Uncle Sam series had a significant impact upon the American public’s perception of World War II, the way in which personalities who were household names were transformed into enemies for political reasons is still cause for concern, according to Blue.

“In the last year, we have seen attacks on individuals who are in the public eye: actors and actresses and entertainers,” says Blue. “That’s scary to me.”

—Rick Marshall

Handbags & Gladrags

Photo: John Whipple

Once again, rags, scissors, sheet metal and bits of string (among numerous other cast-off materials) were assembled into stylish couture at the annual Discard Avant Garb fashion benefit. Held at Club Phoenix on Oct. 12, with musical accompaniment provided by the Erotics, Mitch Elrod and MotherJudge, the DAG raised funds for Youth Advancement Through Music and Art, and the Ark.r.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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