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Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare raises a number of questions. Throughout the exhibit’s run, JMM will be posting questions here and on social media. Please share your thoughts on the exhibit’s themes, issues, and contemporary connections.

All defamatory, abusive, profane, threatening, offensive, or illegal materials or language are strictly prohibited. Jewish Museum Milwaukee reserves the right to remove comments that are inappropriate.

  1. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    A group of A-List stars formed the Committee for the First Amendment to respond to what they saw as HUAC’s overreach. Stars like Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, and Danny Kaye broadcast a radio show and flew to the hearings to show their support for the unfriendly witnesses. Once people linked to the Communist Party were blacklisted, this political activity stopped. This is one example of how celebrities use their fame. Does celebrity interest change the way we understand an issue?

  2. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    The House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Hollywood figures to explore Communist subversion in Hollywood films in 1947. If you were a witness with connections to the Communist Party, you did not have the opportunity to respond to questions around subversion—you just responded to questions about your membership in the Party and your union. In a Congressional Hearing, there is limited opportunity to cross-examine or to redirect questions. Do Congressional hearings reveal the truth? Why or why not?

    • TJ Brefka says:

      Congressional hearings only reveal the truth that they are looking for. When the hearing is called the members are looking for something specific and will press to make sure that what they are looking for is present or not. When the House Un-American Activities Committee held the hearings they were not looking for any specific examples of subversion from the witness, but wanted the ‘truth’ of whether or not the witness had membership in the Communist Party. The truth of whether or not the witness was a member of the Communist Party was then used to blacklist the members from Hollywood and prove the existence of subversion, regardless of if there was actual subversion from the witness. Congressional hearings reveal the truth, but sometimes that truth is not relevant or is used in a way that is harmful to the witness or the community as a whole.

      • John Doe says:

        I agree with TJ above, the hearings only find what the facilitators intend to find. These hearings hosted by HUAC were really only a public questioning on a certain person’s relations to the Communist Party and all they could do was answer with no explanation to back it up.

    • Quinn Nelson says:

      Congressional Hearings are not great, they are partisan and can be used to conduct politically motivated ‘witch hunts’. Sometimes, congressional hearings can give a public shaming to people or cooperation that deserve it, that are abusing their power or taking advantage of citizens. The hearings at times can be unfair and seemingly a waste of time, as shown in the case of the Hollywood Blacklist but other times, they bring forward hidden actions of powerful people, causing public outrage and further change cooperate behavior. Such was the case in the Facebook hearings and a Wells Fargo hearing that revealed that they had opened millions of fake accounts in the name of their unknowing customers.

  3. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    Should political stances be a consideration for employment decisions? Are there any contemporary examples?

    • Sophie S says:

      According to the New York Times, “the First Amendment’s guarantee offers no protection from being fired for something you’ve said, either in the workplace or outside of it, as on social media. That’s because the amendment addresses actions by the government to impede free speech not by the private sector.”This can be the same for being hired as well as fired. Looking at the First Amendment, it can be said that having certain political stances can be considered when it comes to employment decisions but at the end of the day it all comes down to the individual employer.

    • Amy G. says:

      I believe that political stances reveal a lot about a person, but that they shouldn’t be used to discriminate against people when employing. If we did discriminate in that way, it would be no better than refusing to hire or promote women or Muslims.

    • Grace C says:

      Political consideration should only be taken into account if the job is for a political campaign or for a certain political party. Otherwise, people should be hired based on their skillsets.

    • Alexis Countryman says:

      The issue with considering political stances in employment decisions is that there is a potential for a polarization of ideals within the group. This therefore becomes an issue of diversity. How important is it to have people who have come from different walks of life in the same places? In my opinion, very. In this way, decisions can be made with many more people in mind. Let’s say that there is a decision being made within a school about whether or not there should be guns given to teachers to protect students. If the school’s employer believes very strongly that teachers should NOT have guns in the classroom, he/she is much more likely to employ those who agree with the ideas they have. This is true for any other political stance and makes it difficult to challenge the views presented by the employer.

  4. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    Friendly and Unfriendly witnesses had very different experiences when appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Friendly witnesses were allowed to speak broadly about what the film industry, while unfriendly witnesses (those who were suspected Communists) were constrained to answering questions about their membership in their union and the Communist Party. Are there other ways in which people are treated differently under the law?

    • Joy C says:

      Yes, many times voices get unheard because certain laws are only upheld to certain groups due to opinions of the country. For example, within the period after slavery got abolished, African American witnesses to crimes rarely got heard because they didn’t have as much respect and power as White witnesses. Most African Americans couldn’t even enter where the court was taking place. Thus, many times, White criminals got away with crimes that the law clearly stated was punishable because African American Witnesses weren’t taken seriously and were treated differently under the law because of race.

    • Sophie Semanko says:

      The writers of the Declaration of Independence said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .” However, sometimes this is not upheld. Unfortunately people have biases and these biases affect how we see the world and particularly the people in the world. This can lead to people making decisions of how to treat individuals in an unfair way.

      • Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

        Both Joy and Sophie point to inherent issues of equality that are built into the American system. There are so many ways in which people do not receive equal treatment under the law historically (slavery is a HUGE ding against “All Men are Created Equal”–not to mention the women who aren’t even included) and currently. We hope that examining these historic inequalities provides ways to understand contemporary concerns–where do you see this inequality today?

  5. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    How do government policies and business interests intersect? What are the benefits and challenges of individuals?

    • Jacob Beine says:

      According to The Sustainable Business Case Book, there are three primary models of how businesses and the government interact. The first is that they are at odds with each other. This view is held by those that believe a free market with as little government interference will produce the strongest, most vibrant economy. This school of thought primarily sees government/business interactions as businesses fighting for as much freedom as possible. The second perspective is that governments should be working to incentivize businesses as they provide jobs, ingenuity, and ultimately, positive societal growth. Thus, governments should grease the wheels for business so that they may thrive for the nation as a whole to thrive. The final general view is that businesses and the government are united in an effort to focus on fixing societal issues. In practice all three of these exist, and ultimately, all three result in business being highly interested in political action, which generally results in them getting involved through such actions as lobbying and campaign donations. As far as how this affects individuals, it is hard to say. Overall economic growth and job creation generally benefit all of society, but at the same time companies given free range may become unfair to its customers or even its employees. This is where the challenge presents itself to individuals, and appropriately on election day. They must remain active in political discourse to help maintain the balance between these two powerful entities.

      • Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

        The partnerships you identify between business and government are super clear. In thinking about the Hollywood Blacklist, one piece that JMM noticed in its research is the outsize pressure that the government can exert. The Blacklist happened when the government, which can regulate tarrifs and foreign markets for studios, said take care of this issue. In that case, the check and balance between private and public interests was lost.

        Your comments are pretty important on this, Election Day.

    • Grace C says:

      Some policies are obvious such as labor and minimum wage law, and in my opinion is needed. Conflict comes from looking at the amount of power government has over the business. A free market allows businesses to run without federal regulations. This free market opens up a competition which lowers prices and options- both of these effects benefit individuals. However, with no government regulation at all, individuals working for these businesses can be hurt along with consumers.

  6. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    What role should the media play in reporting on government checks and balances? How should partisan issues play in the media?

    • Sophie Semanko says:

      The word media is derived from the word “medium”, meaning mode or carrier. The role the media should play on reporting government checks and balances is being that carrier to share what branch of government is being checked and for what. The media’s job is to give the facts of what is going on yet sometimes partisan issues can lead to biases. It is important to look at multiple sources of media when looking for your information.

      • Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

        This is a question for everyone–how does the perception of bias or fake news change the way that people view the media. There are SO many more media sources today than there were in 1952 at the height of the Hollywood Blacklist, which on the plus side means that more stories can be covered, but it is unclear if many of these sources are fulfilling the standards of journalistic excellence. How much of what we got on our varied means of communication are opinion pieces without research and sources?

    • Joy C says:

      The media should describe the events of what is happening for government checks and balances, but they should try to limit bias. It is understandable that some bias will occur with partisan issues but striving to keep it more centered will allow Americans to see only the facts and create their own opinions on the issue.

    • Andrew K says:

      The media is a vital linkage institution in US politics. The media is responsible for keeping the public informed on what is happening in local, state, and national politics and should strive to remain as unbiased as possible. By keeping the public informed, the media enables the public to use their power to vote to ensure that check and balances are maintained in the government.

  7. Darrian Garrett says:

    As Benjamin Franklin once declared, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I believe that governments should only infringe on civil liberties to provide security only when absolutely necessary.

  8. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    How should the government balance security and civil liberties?

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