Who Will Defend Our Minds? The Male Hero of 1960s Film and the Battle for American Autonomy Open Access

Melcher, Daniel (Spring 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/sq87bv53z?locale=en


The 1960s represent the pinnacle of Cold War tensions in America. The Berlin Crisis and Bay of Pigs Invasion both took place in 1961 and Cold War tensions were driven to an all-time peak with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Although President John F. Kennedy helped avert a nuclear holocaust, the fear of communism and imminent global destruction left a lasting impression on the collective American psyche. As these seminal events were unfolding on the global stage, at home forces such as suburbanization, consumerism, the growth of corporate America, and the perceived threats of subliminal advertising posed a threat to traditional American masculinity and fueled fears that the average American was vulnerable to two forms of subversive mind control, communist mental manipulation and capitalist subliminal influencing aimed at fortifying cultural conformity.

This paper will show that 1960s Cold War-era films, which enjoyed success in American box offices, particularly ones from the genres of the Spy Thriller and Western, worked to counteract growing societal concerns regarding the potential for external infringement on American autonomy. Relying on a stoic, moral and strongminded archetype of masculine heroism whose narrative journeys mirrored the trauma and triumph of the heroic American World War II fighting man, these films conveyed the message that American masculinity was still capable of overcoming significant psychological threats. I aim to illustrate how Cold War films of the 1960s served to reimagine and assert a powerful brand of the American man, capable of rising to the terrifying psychological challenges of this modern age. brainwashing. 

While the majority of the paper will study how films from this period and genres helped convey the notion that masculine heroism was capable of defending American autonomy, I will devote the epilogue to analyzing how the model of masculinity set forth by these films was eventually coopted by America’s capitalist machine to were ultimately mobilized to perpetuate conformity. 

Table of Contents

1.   Introduction                                                                                                               1

2.   The 1960s Spy Thriller and the Fear of Mental Manipulation               9        

2.1          Behaviorism and the Seeds of Fear                                                          10       

2.2         The Communist Threat of Brainwashing and Mental Manipulation 16

2.3         The Spy Thriller – The Manchurian Candidate                                      24

2.4         The Spy Thriller – Her Majesty’s Secret Service                                     31

3.   The 1960s Western and the Fear of Cultural Conformity                  38

3.1          The Postwar Years and Anxieties of Conformity                                  39

3.2         The Advertising Industry and the Subliminal Manipulations of Capitalism        45

3.3         The Western – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance                              51

3.4         The Western – A Fistful of Dollars                                                            59

4.  Conclusion                                                                                                 67

Bibliography                                                                                                    71

Images                                                                                                              75

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