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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

The Hollywood Blacklist and Friendly Witnesses

We have spent a lot of time discussing the people who chose not to cooperate with HUAC throughout the class. The portion from Ron Briley's The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan, which stood out to me, was the reason why Kazan chose to name names. According to Kazan, he named names:

"Because it was the right thing to do, and that he did not cooperate simply to go on working in Hollywood, as he could continue to earn a lucrative living in the Broadway theater, which refused to institute a blacklist. He named names because it was his duty to expose a criminal Stalinist conspiracy" (Briley 44-46).

Some people who named names thought they exposed spies and unraveled international conspiracy theories. Others heightened the political narrative to equate communists with being an immoral person and perpetuated the idea that if one does not want to conform, they should "go back to where they came from." Some witnesses were enthusiastic about naming names to attract attention, while the government paid others to supply information. Some people provided names because they felt obligated or the political pressure became overwhelming. Reading about Kazan made me think about the social conditions and motivations one would feel compelled to name names.

Society often ascribes someone who tattles on the playground or being an informant as a "snitch" or "rat." These labels have negative connotations. Still, we encourage people to report coworkers/superiors' bullies or unethical behavior of coworkers/supervisors, and we praise them for courageously coming forward. Within the context of the Blacklist, people who cooperated with HUAC were rewarded. The courts protected them, companies continued to employ them, and the media romanticized their patriotic actions. A gray area seems to exist between helpful and unhelpful informing. Each situation requires context to determine the point at which a situation calls for attention by a third party.

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