The Cold War As TV Entertainment

Television emerged as America's prime medium of entertainment and information at exactly the moment the nation became deeply embroiled in the Cold War. The United States was forced to adapt video to its social reality at the same time it was experiencing the anxieties of the East-West confrontation, fighting a limited war in Korea, and learning to live with John Foster Dulles' diplomatic philosophy of "brinkmanship," "massive retaliation," and the "liberation of captive peoples." Within this tense atmosphere TV was assimilated and became the most important vehicle through which citizens learned the latest developments in a rivalry that, in simplified terms, matched good Democracy against evil Communism.

As a persistent aspect of its dissemination of the news, television brought the international struggle into millions of homes nightly. In news, documentary, discussion, and similar types of actuality pro­gramming, the Cold War became familiar. Yet, such nonfiction shows were limited in how they could present the Cold War. Tied to fact and the presentation of actual events, news programs could not ef­fectively illustrate emotional ramifications, such as the nature of the enemy or the consequences of defeat.

These ambiguous qualities were best handled through literary and theatrical techniques. The more flamboyant images of the East-West battle emerged in entertainment programming. Here, throughout the 1950s TV plunged the nation into a bath of Cold War clichés and fear—a flood of propagandistic messages that urged the public to support unquestioningly the policies of the U.S. government.

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