On a cold December night in 1950, red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy spent a charity dinner at Washington’s Sulgrave Club trading insults with liberal journalist Drew Pearson. McCarthy had attacked Pearson on the floor of the Senate, calling for a boycott of his radio show. Pearson had attacked McCarthy on air and in his newspaper column, accusing the senator of lying about communist infiltration of the American government.
And so on. Then Pearson played himself in the famous 1951 SF film The Day the Earth Stood Still.
In response to the movie, McCarthy called Pearson a “communist tool.” But anti-communist conservatives didn’t just hate the movie because Pearson was in it. The Day the Earth Stood Still told the story of an extraterrestrial who descends to Earth, displays nearly supernatural power, dies at the hands of soldiers, and is resurrected. Before his ascension back to the heavens, he talks about space as a paradise of pure reason, ruled over by impassive robots unhappy about Earth’s nuclear weapons. He gives humans a choice: live in peace or be destroyed.
Conservatives by far preferred the other flying saucer movie of 1951, The Thing From Another World. That movie featured a monstrous alien imbued with all the traits they associated with communism: a lack of emotion, a lack of normal sexual interests, and a boundless desire to destroy. Only the fallible but plucky everyman heroes of the U.S. Air Force could stop such evil, over the objections of a fey, vaguely effeminate scientist that even Time magazine thought was “suggestively costumed like a Russian.”
In the movie’s telling, communism, intellectualism, and effeminacy were all the same thing—and alien to red-blooded, all-American men. The film depicts its scientist as overreaching, reckless, and willing to sacrifice safety and security to cater to a monster from beyond. Producer Howard Hawks had infused the film with both anti-science and anti-communist ideas then popular to make the movie feel contemporary.
This is the part that fascinates me, because I never noticed the political subtexts of those two films (both of which I’ve rewatched in the past couple years). Hollywood usually portrays scientists as overreaching and untrustworthy, because that way they function as convenient villains.
The essay goes on to describe how McCarthyism transitioned into right-wing conspiracy theorizing about UFOs… which is most visible these days in the person of Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, about whom a judge dismissed a defamation suit on the grounds that no reasonable viewer would mistake Carlson’s program for factual. But of course many people do take Tucker Carlson and Fox News, who of course support D**** T****, to have believed the narrative about the “stolen” election, etc. etc. And so the assault on the Capitol, via connections the article discusses.