From World War II onward, the U.S. Federal Government were hard at work churning out ‘educational’ propaganda films to influence and educate American Citizens on matters of public safety and patriotism. Some of their most famous films include the famous seven part series on World War II Why We Fight (1942-1945), along with other notable short films such as The House I Live In (1945) and Duck and Cover (1952). Among these famous films, praised for their unique style and characteristics defining propaganda film, came a unique film during a peak of the Cold War. In 1962 U.S. Department of Defense Information and Education Division released a feature length film entitled Freedom and You (commonly known as The Red Nightmare), a film to truly capture the ideal American Citizen and their responsibilities thereof and to scare the American public with life in the Soviet Union. Hosted by Jack Webb and using the narrative style of The Twilight Zone, Freedom and You (1962) tells the story a father named Jerry and his ‘all-American family’ who awake to find their town under the influence of the Soviet Union.
The film plays a unique part of telling the history of fears in the United States as well as popular beliefs as to what ‘proper’ American life was really about. In the beginning of the film we see Jerry skipping out a working father’s duties such as meetings with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and labor union, even worse is Jerry’s notion to skip out on his U.S. Army Reserve training. The audience is told that his behavior is unacceptable as he is taking advantage of “freedoms” and “privileges” afforded to him by living in the United States. As he continues to take advantage of these liberties, Jack falls into a dream from a “guilty conscience” where he finds himself awaking in a reality where his town has fallen under the influence of communism.
Each section of Freedom and You (1962) exemplifies different aspects of American society considered to be the norm and essential for any American citizen. As Jerry discovers the newfound communist influence of American life, he finds his daughter leaving home for voluntary service on an industrial farm. Several military personnel who enter Jerry’s home forcefully remove her from the home despite her voluntary agreement to go to work an industrial farm. Representing the treat of the dissolution of the American family unit coupled with the loss of ‘inherent’ American rights. Jerry goes from a relaxed life where he has liberties to one where everything is taken away from him as he exists in a powerless society. Perhaps one of the most profound moments is when his kids threaten to report him to the authorities because of his vocal frustration with the new communist system. He tells his kids that he is enrolling them in Sunday school, and drags them to what use to be a church now converted to a State Museum.
Duty to the country through voluntary service in the armed forces; having a happy nuclear American family; practicing a healthy spiritual life; and the freedom to take action and 'think'. During both the First and Second Red Scares and into the 60s a perpetual feeling of uneasiness and paranoia existed among Americans, citizens constantly trying to blend into a mold of the model America. To stray away was to become a deviant, a trader, to the United States of America. Freedom and You (1962) came at a time when tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States were at a height from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and stands as a testament to just how crazy life was during the Cold War.
For more info about life during the Cold War and U.S. Propaganda, check out some of these suggested titles: