Choosing Sides : Right-Wing Icons in the Group Research Records

Envisioning Enemies > Introduction

In the divided worldview on display in this exhibit, taking pride in one's fellow travelers is balanced by overwhelming fear of an encroaching enemy. The specifics of this fear vary--they include worries that a strong government will infringe on personal liberty, that liberal politicians and commentators will irreparably harm US values, that cultural or racial clashes will lead to chaos and crime, and that communists, Catholics, Jews, or some other fifth column will subvert the US government. But the general purpose of these works is to enlist their patriotic viewers for action while fear of an already present enemy highlights the urgency of that call.

Individuals showcases instances where conservative artists identified specific people whom they thought held positions of power and used them for ill. Although artists utilized these individuals as stand-ins for larger groups of similar enemies, the specific name or face dominated their aesthetics.

In contrast, Archetypes is filled with caricature: social or cultural groups like students and musicians, religious or ethnic ones like Jews and African Americans, and communist partisans are represented here not by actual people, but by a general set of characteristics that supposedly defines all those who might identify with one or the other group. The effect is to heighten fear by suggesting the overwhelming numbers of the enemies while making the fear less rational by divorcing its origins from specific individuals or policies that might be targeted in response.

Two institutional sections round out this portion of the exhibit: The Federal Government and The Institutional World. Because they were at once specific and faceless, conservative activists found institutions to be perhaps the most insidious of all enemies. Because of the delicate balance between the protection of individual rights and its power to limit them, the federal government came in for particular notice by these activists.

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