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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:

    Are there any parallels one can draw between the Hollywood Blacklist and contemporary issues? If so, what are they?

    • Jacob Beine says:

      Fortunately, there has not been such a widespread, collective effort by both the government and society to isolate a group of people since the Hollywood Blacklisting, however there have been lots of events that do have a fair amount of similarities. Today’s political climate is perhaps more harshly divided than ever as there are many groups of people on both sides who are all too willing to completely shun and disregard anyone who openly demonstrates strong support for their political party without doing so in any disruptive or disrespectful way.

      • jmm says:

        How do we bridge the divide? What are ways to create to dialogue between those poles? One of the major challenges of the Red Scare is how little communication there was across divisions. I would love to find ways to engage these differences.

        • John Snow says:

          There are many things that we can do to start a dialogue however it may be hard to find people that would want to start it as well. In this day, many people take offense when discussing their beliefs if the person they are talking to does not agree with those beliefs. The best way to start is to find someone open enough to discuss.

    • Richael Minaldi says:

      A few parallels between the Hollywood Blacklist and some aspects of the mass social media witch hunts that can occur. Clearly the Hollywood Blacklist is way worse, but through social media some individuals are being shamed for opinions they may have held decades prior and being harassed online. It isn’t a systematic persecution being sponsored by the government, but it definitely is comparable in the aspect that its mass hysteria that hunts down individuals.

  2. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    In December 1947, a group of film executives created the Waldorf Statement which said, “We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the Government of the United States by force, or by an illegal or unconstitutional method.” Those who were implicated by HUAC were considered unfit to work in Hollywood and many were kept out of the industry for more than a decade. Is it ever appropriate for a person to lose a job for his or her political beliefs?

    • Vince Carter says:

      I believe it is never appropriate to have a person lose their job over their political belief because it should be just about how well that person can do the job rather than personal feelings. Unfortunately, lots of times people are let go and fired because they say something or act a certain way that does not follow the company’s higher ups personal ideals, even though those people can do the job fine.

    • TJ Brefka says:

      I believe that a person should not lose a job just because of their political beliefs. The measure of a person’s work should be the basis of how they are viewed by the company and what their political beliefs are should never become part of that view. If political beliefs become what a company looks at in terms of compatibility for the job then many people become unfairly targeted and possibly fired not because they were not fit for the job, but because they thought wrong.

      • jmm says:

        How do you think this relates to the experience of Colin Kaepernick? Or people who lost their jobs because they were part of the Charlottesville protests? Is there any political opinion that should keep you out of work?

  3. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    The FBI started watching films to identify Communist subversion in 1942. They were particularly interested in how the American free market system was represented and if America “looked bad” in a film—did it show racism, poverty, violence? Films with portrayals of mean bankers (It’s a Wonderful Life) or anti-Semitism (Gentlemen’s Agreement) were deemed subversive. In the Blacklist exhibit, JMM highlights 10 movies with FBI files. Do you feel films with this kind of content were subversive? Why or why not?

    • Garrett D says:

      Considering the FBI had to search very hard for things that could be interpreted as subversive if you are looking for it, it is fair to say that most of these examples are not really subversive, or at least would not be effective on any large scale if they were actually meant to be. To be fair, just getting people to regularly see messages about an idea can greatly desensitize them towards it, but these kinds of films were not really subversive.

    • Jacob Beine II says:

      I personally believe that those kinds of films aren’t necessarily subversive, but given the hysteria of the time it makes sense as to why they would’ve overreacted. The FBI was afraid of subtle plots within the media to indoctrinate people, and when you’re chasing shadows you’re going to more often than not be chasing figments of your imagination and that’s ultimately what the entire Red Scare was. It’s easy to say that it was a just of people overreacting, but it in the context of the time they thought they were on a narrow line between all of their ideals and a world dominated by communists who would tear everything they held dear asunder.

  4. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    In 1947, Congress passed the Taft-Hartley Act, which among other things required union leaders to file affidavits with the Department of Labor saying that they did not support the Communist Party. This part of the law was in effect until it was struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1965. Are there any industries that require an oath of loyalty today?

  5. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    Congressional hearings have a number of possible functions: to obtain information and opinions on proposed legislation, conduct an investigation, or evaluate/oversee the activities of a government department or the implementation of Federal law. In addition, hearings may also be purely exploratory in nature, providing testimony and data about topics of current interest. The House Un-American Activities Hearings are one example of government hearings. Do you think the Hearings are an example of government overreach? Why or why not?

    • Jack Ravn says:

      No, Congressional hearings can be very effective for many purposes, such as those you described. They only become a problem in situations like that of HUAC when Constitutional rights are breeched. That, of course, would be government overreach, but Congressional hearings themselves are not by definition examples of government overreach.

    • Adam L says:

      I do not believe that Hearings are an example of government overreach. There are times when members of the government need to be held accountable, and hearings open a place for that.

    • Gloria Carter says:

      I believe that congressional hearings and are not a government overreach. They really analyze everything that you could and allow for the public to have some say in government proposals. The problem that can occur is what happened within the red scare which is that they used the hearing to conduct a biased investigation of people without giving them much say in the matter. So, I think this is a good system but shouldn’t be the deciding factor in a person’s punishment.

  6. Henry Jacobson says:

    It is never right to be decietful or lie for a job. If you do so you are likely taking a position away from a rightful employee and to do so is not right. It is not right to cross any line that requires dishonesty.

  7. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    During the height of the Hollywood Blacklist, paranoia reigned supreme. People were subpoenaed by HUAC and in order to keep working in the film industry, they had to name names of others in the industry. Some people felt that they had to do this and others drew a line in the sand, refusing to implicate others in order to keep working in Hollywood. What are the lines you would not cross to maintain employment?

    • John Doe says:

      As an employee of a company, I would not blame or point fingers for someone’s personal beliefs. Only if they were involved in some illegal activities would I point out the fact that something fishy is going on. However, someone’s personal beliefs, as long as there is no conflict of interest, should not be taken into account for the job that they are doing.

    • James Spangler says:

      To maintain imployment, I would find it hard to lie about others and put them out of employment. The story may change however when I know that they may speak out against me and put me out of unemployment. I am a firm believer that you should not burn any bridges in the professional world and I think that doing so would not be a wise decision.
      There are other lines I may cross to maintain employment however, especially if I was a sole provider for my family. If it came to lying about my personal life or off hour actions, I would be willing to lie knowing that it would be a matter of loosing my job, depending on the magnitude of the matter.

  8. 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?

    • Jacob Beine says:

      Society is strongly influenced by what celebrities’ opinions are on major issues, and many celebrities and popular figures are active in expressing their political beliefs. Celebrities have the advantage that much of the public’s attention is already directed towards them. This allows them to easily spread their opinions and beliefs amongst the masses, which gets people to listen to them regardless of if they agree. After all, as the recent presidential election showed, all press is good press.

    • Jack Ramierz says:

      When celebrities start to become publicly interested in an issue, more attention is given to it as both followers of theirs may learn about it for the first time through the celebrities sharing or they may realize or believe that the issue is larger than they may have though it to be as the information is important to famous people.
      Celebrities increase the knowledge of an issue and often times their interaction will heighten the perceived importance of such issues.

    • Andrew Haek says:

      While not always, Celebrities can also change the opinion of many of their followers as well when publishing their opinions as many people on social media are very impressionable and these celebrities are often times put on a pedestal. The followers opinions might be changed by the celebrity because they are thought to be smart, successful, and an expert despite the fact if they are actually involved or knowledgeable on the subject (an actor is often not an expert on international trade). Celebrities can change the opinion of their followers fairly easily due to the respect and position they are often put in.

    • Grace Cushing says:

      Society’s idolization of celebrities continues to grow, and with the introduction of social media, these celebrities opinions and thoughts about all sorts of issues can be easily viewed. Campaigns are even created and supported by those in the entertainment industry (i.e. Me Too, It Gets Better). People often give those in the spotlight a higher pedestal to stand upon and preach. Additionally, with the current president’s former job of hosting a reality show, it is pretty hard to argue that politics and celebrity interest are not intertwined.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. Jewish Museum Milwaukee says:

    How should the government balance security and civil liberties?

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