Containment Culture

American Narratives, Postmodernism, and the Atomic Age

Containment Culture

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: Published: November 1995

Author: Alan Nadel

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Cultural Studies

Alan Nadel provides a unique analysis of the rise of American postmodernism by viewing it as a breakdown in Cold War cultural narratives of containment. These narratives, which embodied an American postwar foreign policy charged with checking the spread of Communism, also operated, Nadel argues, within a wide spectrum of cultural life in the United States to contain atomic secrets, sexual license, gender roles, nuclear energy, and artistic expression. Because these narratives were deployed in films, books, and magazines at a time when American culture was for the first time able to dominate global entertainment and capitalize on global production, containment became one of the most widely disseminated and highly privileged national narratives in history.
Examining a broad sweep of American culture, from the work of George Kennan to Playboy Magazine, from the movies of Doris Day and Walt Disney to those of Cecil B. DeMille and Alfred Hitchcock, from James Bond to Holden Caulfield, Nadel discloses the remarkable pervasiveness of the containment narrative. Drawing subtly on insights provided by contemporary theorists, including Baudrillard, Foucault, Jameson, Sedgwick, Certeau, and Hayden White, he situates the rhetoric of the Cold War within a gendered narrative powered by the unspoken potency of the atom. He then traces the breakdown of this discourse of containment through such events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, and ties its collapse to the onset of American postmodernism, typified by works such as Catch–22 and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.
An important work of cultural criticism, Containment Culture links atomic power with postmodernism and postwar politics, and shows how a multifarious national policy can become part of a nation’s cultural agenda and a source of meaning for its citizenry.


"[An] interdisciplinary account of a culture dominated by the Cold War consensus and its eventual unraveling; from the sexualised polarities of the Truman Administration's 'containment' policy essays, through the lifestyle features of Playboy magazine, the shooting of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, to the Bay of Pigs, the Free Speech Movement and the emergent fiction of black women writers. . . . [This book is] a welcome advertisement for the creative possibilities of applied theory and impressive in its inderdisciplinarity.” — Ben Andrews , Journal of American Studies

“For those confused by the giddy climate of recent Cold War revisionism, Nadel is a sure-footed guide to the cultural politics of the period. In pursuit of its solid claims, Containment Culture makes satisfying connections between far flung domains of American expression.” — Andrew Ross

"In Containment Culture Alan Nadel conducts a cultural critique of postwar literature, film, and popular culture in order to show how the national culture during the cold war worked to contain subversive energies. With its power lying not in abstract formulation, but in the incisive readings of a wide array of works, this book will significantly advance our evolving understanding of cold war and post-cold war U. S. culture." — Pat O’Donnell, Purdue University

"We are just beginning to grasp the extent to which U. S. culture of the past fifty years has been dominated and guided by Cold War paradigms. Containment Culture will add significantly to that growing body of scholarship." — Barbara Foley, Rutgers University


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Price: $28.95

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