The Communist Plot that Worked
Created | Updated Jan 31, 2010
This essay is affectionately dedicated to our wonderful editor B'Elana, who thought a recent reference to the 'Red Scare' meant Red Indians. I love you, you know that?
I think it is safe to say1 that for me, as for most Americans born in the early 50s, everything we needed to know in life, we learned from television. We were the first generation that could say this2. From television, we learned that:
- Communism was evil.
- Communists wanted to bomb us.
- If a Communist-launched atom bomb exploded, you should hide under your school desk3.
- In addition to trying to bomb us, Communists wanted to wash our brains. We shouldn't let them do this.
The brainwashing part sounded painful, and I wanted to avoid it if I could. During the week, television presented thrilling dramas about the fight against the Red Menace. My favourite was I Led Three Lives, in which the intrepid and dashing Richard Carlson went undercover to expose Communist cells. This led me to the conclusion that Communists lived like monks – another reason not to join, since I was a Baptist4. From a legal drama called The Defenders (a remarkably enlightened show, practically left-wing by American standards), I gleaned that Communism had something to do with ducks5 and was catching. If you caught it, you were in trouble. I thought I should avoid catching it – probably by keeping my head out of water and staying away from ducks.
Little did I know that it was too late – the Bacillus of Socialist Thinking was already rampant in the systems of all American children, and would flower, bear fruit, and cast its seeds6 in the decades to come.
The week's television viewing belonged to the sane, rational world of grown-ups, who knew that:
- If Walter Cronkite said it, it was true.
- What was good for Detroit was good for the nation.
- Jack Paar was probably a fellow-traveller7.
- White shouldn't be worn after Labor Day.
We kids were unconscious agents of our own brainwashing. Every Saturday morning, while our parents slept the well-earned sleep of the innocent taxpayer, we would creep out of bed at dawn in our pajamas. After a quick trip to the kitchen to make messes, we would ensconce ourselves in front of the TV – black and white, of course – and wait for the set to 'warm up'. The programming didn't start until 6am. Until then, we'd stare at the Indian chief on the test pattern and munch our corn flakes. Then the cartoons would start, and then the live-action drama...
...and the indoctrination would begin.
What our sleeping parents did not know was that the propaganda we were watching was the fault of that guardian of American values, the House Un-American Activities Committee.
HUAC - Whacking Commies Upside the Head
They didn't mean to, you know. What the House Un-American Activities Committee wanted to do when they held the hearings into Communist influence in the media was to rid the cinemas and airwaves once and for all of the Red Menace. Hollywood moguls – nothing if not patriotic8 – created a blacklist. The sign over the entertainment industry said 'No Radicals Need Apply.'
Out went Howard Fast and Dalton Trumbo, not to return until Kirk Douglas was brave enough to make Spartacus9. Out went Bertolt Brecht, in what the other Marx, Groucho, would have called 'a huff and a half'. Out went lots and lots of talented people, rejected for their iffy politics...
Yes, out they went. But where did they go? To the UK, of course, where their writing was less likely to annoy the government.
So how did they end up on our television screens?
He called the bravest archers to a tavern on the green...
First of all, you have to realise that important people like politicians don't pay any attention to children except to pat them on the head during election years. Education is a fine thing when you need a scapegoat for what's wrong with the world – 'no child left behind' is a wonderful slogan and all – but, hey, nobody ever got rich teaching, now, did they? The same thing goes for kiddie literature10 and kiddie TV – especially back in the days before Sesame Street. The entertainment of one's snot-nosed offspring could safely be left to those talentless fools who didn't even have the gumption to make a buck in the Real World.
To attack the dragon, you strike the soft underbelly...
We didn't know we were being infiltrated. All we knew was that the dumb old cartoons were gone, and we were watching live action, 35 mm film with terrific production values11 and splendid actors like Robert Shaw, all telling stories just for us. We ate it up.
While our parents snored, we learned about socialism...
From Robin of Locksley, of course.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen...
Nobody outside the film industry reads credits12 – and anyway, they used pseudonyms, the Commie sneaks.
From Robin Hood, we learned that:
- Governments were not right if they didn't care about the poor.
- If the government was not right, you should fight it, even if you had to pick up a bow and arrow.
- If you're fighting for freedom, sometimes your friends turn against you.
- Freedom fighters get all the cool chicks.
There were other shows, as well, from the same producers, with the same subversive messages: The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (ponces in iron shirts with feathers), The Buccaneers (now, think about it, do you want your kids admiring Caribbean pirates?)13...we decided that outsiders were in, and you always rescued people when they were in trouble, you shared your loot, and...
Not until they sent us four guys from Liverpool to shake up the music scene did the British do so much to pay us back for the inconvenience caused in 1776.
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, dum-de-dum-dum-dum...
Over in the US. of A, we got a big dose of left-wing thinking over our breakfast cereals in our formative years. But don't think you were safe, oh our British cousins...no, indeed...
I happen to figure you all saw those Communist television shows, too. How do I know?
It was the late 60s. There we slouched in front of our TV sets – colour, now, and we were taller. We had long hair and love beads14, argued with our parents about what war was good for and just why Bob Dylan knew where it was at, man, er, Dad....
...and there it was. The proof. That we had allies on the other side of the Pond. You see, there was this totally mad show, on Sunday evenings, the parents didn't object because, frankly, they might as well have been speaking Chinese for all these Yanks could understand, but we'd been brought up with British actors on Saturday mornings, and then we'd listened to the Beatles, and Jagger, and Herman's Hermits, and...
...and there it was: The 'Dennis Moore' sketch. Dennis was a good-hearted lad but hadn't quite got the hang of being a highwayman. He stole lupins, of all things, and then he got a lecture on the 'redistribution of wealth'. And in between, Monty Python sang away, that lovely old tune about Robin Hood...'Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore'...the words and ideas fit exactly...
Which just goes to show you. Lord Wellington said that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. I believe that the seeds of the anti-war movement were sown in the Saturday morning living rooms of America, when we sang along:
'...they handled all the trouble on the English country scene, and still found plenty of time to sing.'15
''Come on people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together try to love one another right now.'16
Fact and Fiction by Dmitri Gheorgheni Archive