Carol A. Stabile explores the “cleansing” of progressive women writers, artists, and performers from postwar American television in The Broadcast 41. It’s a chilling account of how FBI and conservative leaders worked to cement historically dominant white Christian male power in American society by restricting the increasingly influential mass medium of television.
Stabile focuses her extensive research on the forty-one women listed in the infamous 1950 Red Channels report published by a group of ex-FBI agents. That report aggressively marketed effective propaganda and censorship campaigns. Without socially conscious voices, television came to reflect a whitewashed depiction of American life, devoid of non-nuclear families and nonstereotyped immigrants, minorities, and gay men and lesbians.
Some Broadcast 41 members are well known, like Lena Horne, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Lillian Hellman, though many readers may be unaware of their struggles with harassment and censorship. Most other Broadcast 41ers were not as successful. In-depth analysis of their post-blacklist challenges is included, and an examination of the additional discrimination faced by women of color and differing sexual orientations is highlighted.
The book includes speculation about how American television might have looked without anti-Communist censorship, depicting a fascinating alternate world stripped of a steady fare of westerns, cop shows, and Ozzie and Harriet–style sitcoms. It unearths outrageously misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and xenophobic notes and statements by government and industry men, and it is not averse to calling out J. Edgar Hoover, avuncular actor/informant Ronald Reagan, and McCarthy lawyer and Trump groomer Roy Cohn for their acts of rigid G-Man masculinity and white supremacy.
Broadcast 41 is an impassioned, indignant documentation of the 1950s “war over popular culture,” highlighting the work of some particularly talented women heroes who could have shaped television programming to reflect real American values and diversity. As Stabile notes, the fight to eradicate bigotry and sexism from the television airwaves and society at large is still underway.
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