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Greta Garbo in "Ninotchka", a 1939 film about a stern Russian woman falling in love in the decadent West
Greta Garbo in "Ninotchka", a 1939 film about a stern Russian woman falling in love in the decadent West

John Doyle: Television

The heartbreaking truth about the war for our minds Add to ...

If you can be drawn away from the comedies and dramas tonight, there’s an interesting look at our recent past, one that offers some lessons about our contemporary age.

There is comedy in it, but there is no laugh track. There is drama, but it is more heartbreaking and real than anything you’ll see on Person of Interest or Private Practice tonight. It’s a history lesson about what it calls “the global fight for your mind.”

Previous columns by John Doyle

Take this declaration – “The idea is that the suburbs are the backbone of the nation. A man with his own house and his own yard can’t be a communist. He’s got too much to do.” Who said that? Why it was William J. Levitt, the developer generally considered the founder of North American suburbia.

Love, Hate & Propaganda: The Cold War (CBC, 9 p.m. on Doc Zone) is the program in which Levitt turns up, along with Stalin and Senator Joe McCarthy. Hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos, the four-part series (continuing next Thursday) is a pop-serious look at “the role of propaganda as a weapon of mass persuasion” in the period from 1945-1992. It’s a follow-up to the previous Love, Hate & Propaganda series on the Second World War and precedes a new series on the war on terrorism, which will arrive next year.

It begins in the spring of 1945, when the Soviet Union’s Red Army and American GIs met and partied in the ruins of Berlin as the Second World War ended. From there it skips and jumps through several decades of key events in the battles to control how people felt about both the Soviet Union and the West.

There’s an interesting bit of information about Stalin striving to create the impression that he was personally responsible for the defeat of Nazi Germany. Apparently he personally supervised a movie in which he arrived in Berlin – a place he never visited – to celebrate the end of the war and he hand-picked an actor to play him. We’re told he oversaw every aspect of the movie and it was the bedrock of the establishment of his image in the Soviet Union as “jovial and affectionate” and the “little father of the people”

Over on the Western side of things, we’re told about the Greta Garbo movie Ninotchka (1939) – about a prickly Russian woman going to Paris and falling for a man who represents Western decadence – having already established the use of Hollywood movies as propaganda.

That’s really how the series progresses – illuminating the use of propaganda on both sides of the Cold War. We don’t need to be overly reminded, and we’re not, that sometimes the actions on one side were mirror images of those on the other side. It’s not that the two systems are equated, but the use of media and imagery to further paranoia is established as similar.

Among the characters we meet is the man who became known as “the Candy Bomber,” Colonel Gail Halvorsen, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force who dropped candy for kids during the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949. Just as the Soviet Union was trying to strengthen its grip on Berlin, the simple act of giving candy to children was an act of propaganda that began as an act of basic generosity.

We are also taken through the era of Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunts against alleged communists in the USA, and Stalin’s show trials against alleged enemies of the state in the Soviet Union. We see how the Korean War was shown on early U.S. TV news and how television furthered the idea of the suburban life as the embodiment of American values.

What’s truly intriguing but not stated is the fact that the basic tenets of propaganda have hardly changed at all. Whether it’s overt or subtle, the battle to assert ideals about a country and its values goes on. Any thinking person can see how “the global fight for your mind” continues, using similar tactics but different media, today.

ALSO AIRING TONIGHT

Community (NBC, CITY-TV, 8 p.m.) is a clever comedy I like a lot. And Alison Brie, who plays Annie, (and Trudy Campbell on Mad Men), is a goddess to me. NBC has, however, “benched” the show. It will be off the air in January and might return in the spring, or it might not. What went wrong? The ratings were mediocre, largely because the show quickly evolved from a smart comedy about oddballs at a community college to an intricate send-up of TV formats and genres. In-jokes abounded. Some visual gags were funny but obscure to many viewers. It’s too clever for the network and time slot.

Prime Suspect (NBC, Global, 10 p.m.) is shutting down production. Not officially cancelled by NBC, it is unlikely to return. What went wrong? Well, any remake of the British series and the character established by Helen Mirren was going to meet skepticism. In this case, the series went over the top with its depiction of the sexism faced by the main character (Maria Bello) in the police force. Then it became a bland procedural.

Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 
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