Sa'more Cold War 6

Just a quick follow-up:

I saw the previews for Frost/Nixon. I’m going to see it tomorrow.

It appears we’re also invested in re-creating the mythos of cold war politics. In a way, our own political and social ecology mimic that of the cold war era. Are we on the brink of a new era of hope, or is society stuck in a constantly reproducing holding pattern of hope/belief/disappointment/ and devastation?

Here’s a new thought: maybe instead of re-live the cold war, we’re trying to re-write its mythos for political reasons. Maybe as a way of justifying a new movement in American politics? I suppose that, from a Marxist lens, you could evaluate movies as cultural engineering and social maintenance…

now that is an interesting thought.

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6 thoughts on “Sa'more Cold War

  • Mark Auslander

    A related problem is just what is meant by the “Cold War.” Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was widespread rhetoric about the Cold War ending. The implication was the Cold War had existed from c. 1947-1991. But for much of the 1970s and 1980s, it seems to me that most people did not think of themselves as living in the “Cold War”– rather, that phrase seemed to apply to the period of dramatic US-Soviet tensions from the Berlin blockade/air lift through the Cuban Missile Crisis. To be sure, the Vietnam conflict and Soviet occupation period in Afghanistan were prominent examples of East-West proxy conflict, but at the time they were not, so as I recall, spoken of as “Cold War” conflict. The “Cold War” already seemed to be past, associated more than anything else with images drawn from Dr. Strangelove. Only post 1991 was the phrase “Cold War” retrospectively extended to cover the entire post World War II period up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. (Sometimes, nowadays, the period from c. 1979-1985, roughly corresponding to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan) is spoken of as the “Second War Cold,” but I don’t recall the phrase being used at the time.)So when one speaks of present-day Cold War nostalgia, what period is the historical referent? Early James Bond, with its implications of unrequited misogyny, sexism, racism etc? Or, as in the film Charlie Wilson’s War, the age of Reagan? Or is the impulse towards the nostalgic emphatically not structured in reference towards historical specificity, but only (as in nostalgia for the “Victoian”) built through a diffuse collection of images and sensibilities drawn for a vast multiplicity of sources?

  • bryce Peake

    I think you’re definitely onto something Mark- that this is not so much a nostalgia for the time of the coldwar, but maybe a nostalgia for the mythological climate that surrounds it today. Maybe this is a cold war nostalgia for the present.

  • Ellen Schattschneider

    Well, all nostalgias are about mythos, not about the ‘actual’ time period in question…re The Cold War Museum website mentioned above: it looks rife with all sort of fascinating contradictions. Some of it is the expected mishmash of jingoistic boosterism from intelligence service vets, etc, but some of the historical sections (which it says were researched by high school students) aren’t as bad as they might be: they acknowledge CIA roles in coups, laying the groundwork with decades of instability and human rights atrocities in Guatemala, etc. The section on the ANC and Mandela doesn’t even get into Societ/Eastern Bloc financing of Umkhonto wa Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing. It is far from a Noam Chomsky or Gore Vidal inspired view of postwar American imperialism, to be sure, but this does suggest some interesting instability in contemporary US mainstream attempts to make sense of c. 1947-1991. It looks like the museum’s designers are going to have a very hard time putting a cohent narrative frame on the period.

  • bryce Peake

    Ellen, I completely agree with you that this highlights some instability in the now.What I was getting at in talking about the nostalgia as mythos of the present is that it is interesting that people who lived during those time periods may be altering their mythos that they experienced for the one that is being constructed now. In a sense, there is possibly a replacement of memory with (post)memory- which is very interesting to think about. Unfortunately, I didn’t articulate that as clearly the first time. I would really be interested in seeing this museum come to life, or even better, come to Boston.

  • Ellen Schattschneider

    Bryce, oh yes, I followed your point! Indeed, there is a long history to creative rewritings of the classic Cold War. An interesting example of this process is John Le Carre’s 1991 novel, Our Game– by no means his greatest novel, but interesting in that the double agent protagonist has great difficulty even in clarifying his own relationship to the historical period in question. So I could see the argument that the nostalgic appeal of the Cold War as mythic spacetime is not so much that it was a period of fixed binary opposition as that it afforded possibilities for almost endless self-other transpositions. There’s a line in The Spy that Came in from the Cold to the effect that any true, passionate hater of Communism is halfway to loving it, and it is that marvelous murky,liminal zone in the shadow interzone of Checkpoint Charlie that continues to engage our imaginations.