This week I have been continuing work on some sample chapters for my new book, and I am surprisingly pleased by how well the story’s pieces have clicked into place. All of the parts fit together in harmonious ways I wasn’t entirely expecting. As most of you are aware, I’m planning to tell the story of the various moral panics that arose in 1947 surrounding communists, gays, and UFOs, and I want to do so by filtering it through the framework of pop culture and the ways that the arts shaped and channeled the direction these panics took.
I have found myself surprised by the sheer volume of important things that happened between May and October of 1947 that ended up shaping the course of the following decades. It wasn’t just the start of the communist and gay panics, or even just the start of the UFO flap. Virtually everything I touch on in my planned book grows out of the events of that long summer, and I simply would not have believed so many coincidences could occur had I not researched them myself. It’s interesting, for example, that the FBI was investigating the Fortean Society for communist and anarchist subversion (at the insistence of an ex-assistant attorney general of the U.S.!) the day before Kenneth Arnold saw his flying discs, since Ray Palmer drew on Fortean material to develop the myth of the flying saucers from Shaver Mystery spare parts, and earned an FBI investigation of his own.
One of the smallest coincidences also served as a poignant symbol. I discovered that the Warner Bros. producer who attempted to develop an early adaptation of Rebel without a Cause in the spring and summer of 1947 was simultaneously in charge of transforming the first bestselling American novel to deal frankly with homosexuality, The Fall of Valor, into a heterosexual story by trimming out all of the gay stuff. Given what became of the Rebel property in the next decade, and the subversive homoerotic content that Nicholas Ray and James Dean inserted under that title, the irony is rich, and, selfishly, it makes for an artistic bit of foreshadowing and counterpoint to the later chapters. I only learned of this by mistake, however, when I was researching an unrelated topic in 1947 back issues of the New York Times, and the Rebel without a Cause name caught my eye flipping through the pages.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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