America during the time period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s was a country plagued by fear. More specifically, the socio-political environment of that time revolved around concerns about the impeding Communist threat or “red scare”. From this environment arose the anticommunist and, at times, controversial governmental organization called the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). This organization sought to question and prosecute any individual who it believed to either be a Communist or to be associated, in any way, with the Communist party. Leading the way was Senator Joseph McCarthy who accused thousands of Americans of associating themselves with Communists. This in turn led to the so called McCarthy era, which was fueled by nationwide fears of a breach in national security by Communists from both within the country and abroad, and became known as a social and cultural force that negatively affected varying levels of the film, sports, and music industries.
During the McCarthy era the American film industry was scrutinized by the HUAC as more and more directors, actors, and writers were called in for hearings; and some were even blacklisted from the industry (and by the industry) altogether. As a result, individuals within the film industry who were considered by the HUAC to be threats to America soon found themselves unemployed. Nevertheless, movies were still produced. In fact, the low-budget film, High Noon, was received with instant praise by the film industry, but also received criticism from McCarthy and the HUAC. Although there are many interpretations of High Noon, it is imperative for the purposes of this paper that I focus on its significance to and representation of the McCarthy era in which it was produced.
One interpretation of the Film is that it is anti-HUAC. There is no doubt that, while the Film was being produced, Carl Foreman, the main writer, was called in for questioning by the HUAC. Knowing this, one can interpret Kane, the protagonist, to represent Carl Foreman; the Miller gang, antagonists, represents the HUAC; and the townspeople represents the American population that did not dare oppose the HUAC. However, a more widely-accepted interpretation of High Noon is that it portrayed the lack of responsibility and the growing fear that American society struggled with as materialism and, to some extent, self-preservation trumped the notion of community. For instance, every person that Kane went to recruit had an individual reason for not helping him out in that time of need, even though Kane saved the town from the Miller gang in the past. Furthermore, the scene that took place in the church is particularly important because it further supports the individualistic and materialistic mindset that led to the town’s decision to abandon Kane: the mayor, for instance, urged people not to help Kane and wanted Kane to flea before the Miller gang arrived because he did not want a shoot-out to deter out-of-town investors from investing in the town. The scenario above can be seen throughout the film as each person avoids the moral responsibility of supporting Kane.
Moving forward, McCarthyism also had a negative impact on American sports as athletes who were believed to be supporters of the Communist party were quickly persecuted by the HUAC. For instance, Paul Robeson claimed that Blacks would never pickup arms against the Soviet Union, which led to his exile from the United States. Although Robeson did not say that he supports the Communists, his statement was interpreted by the HUAC as anti-patriotic and thus the mentality of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’ prevailed throughout his trial. Furthermore, during this era, sports became a tool for instilling obedience and anticommunist readiness in American society. This is an important point because it portrays the HUAC as a dictatorship that is, somewhat ironically, taking every measure it can to avoid a socialist government in America. In addition, it is also believe that McCarthyism was detrimental to the civil rights progress made after Word War 2.
In addition to the impact that the McCarthy era had on films and sports, it also had a negative impact on the music industry of that time. As McCarthy’s Communist-centered accusations continued, more and more musicians found it increasingly difficult to make a living. Once popular bands such as “The Weavers” came under attack by the HUAC, which led to losing their right to perform on television and radio. Other musicians such as Harry Belafonte also felt the McCarthy era wrath. Like many artists of the day, Belafonte was also blacklisted on the grounds of being a Communist supporter. However, Belafonte persevered and introduced America to a new style of folk music that incorporated music from the Caribbean. As a result of his overwhelming success, more and more musicians followed in Belafonte’s footsteps by adding a Caribbean sound to their music. Thus, although bands and artists such as “The Weavers” and Harry Belafonte suffered during the McCarthy era, some musicians prospered towards the end of the era and especially during the years after (i.e. Harry Belafonte).
Thus, the McCarthy era, which was fueled by nationwide fears of a breach in national security by Communists from both within the country and abroad, was a social and cultural force that negatively affected varying levels of the film, sports, and music industries. McCarthyism and its influence can be seen in the popular, but controversial, film High Noon, in which interpretations of the Film’s meaning center on the socio-political context of the day. Moreover, this era also led to the persecution of athletes like Paul Robeson, who openly opposed fighting the Soviet Union. The same can be said for the music industry as hundreds of musicians were blacklisted for believing to be associated (in some way) with the Communist party. All things considered, the HUAC’s persecution of filmmakers, athletes, and musicians during the McCarthy era was unfortunate and, the majority of the time, completely unnecessary.