Art as social commentary

In a 1977 interview, Theodore Sturgeon recounted something that happened during the time of the McCarthy hearings. Sturgeon owed Horace Gold (editor of Galaxy) a 20K-word story, and Gold called him up to ask where it was, and Sturgeon got very distressed about what was going on in politics.

...The whole country was in a strange type of fear, some great intangible something that nobody could get hold of. A very frightening thing.

I [had become] aware by that time that I had a fairly high-caliber typewriter, and I became alarmed by the fact that I wasn't using it for anything but what I call "literature of entertainment." I don't want to knock entertainment at all, but I felt I had the tool to do something but I didn't know what to do with it.

Horace listened to me with great care, and he said, "I'll tell you what you do, Sturgeon. you write me a story about a guy whose wife has gone away for the weekend, and he goes down to the bus station to meet her, and the bus arrives and the whole place is full of people. He looks across the crowd and he sees his wife emerge from the exit talking to a young man who is talking earnestly back to her. And he is carrying her suitcase. She looks across the crowd, sees her husband, speaks a word to the young man and the young man hands her her suitcase, tips his hat, and disappears into the crowd, and she comes across to [her husband] and kisses him. Now then, Sturgeon, write me that story, and by the time you're finished the whole world will know how you feel about Joseph McCarthy."

That conversation with Gold was what inspired Sturgeon to write the story "Mr. Costello, Hero," which is not nearly so subtle or indirect a statement on McCarthyism as Gold was talking about, but is well worth reading nonetheless. Paul Williams, the editor of the complete-Sturgeon series (whence I got the above story, pp. 384-385 of the trade paperback edition of vol. 7, A Saucer of Loneliness) adds:

"Mr. Costello, Hero" is a great story as a story, as a narrative and a work of language, but more than that it offers direct insight into the methodology by which psychopathic and power-hungry personalities manipulate other persons by engaging their fears and hatreds, even of people or things they never [before] thought of fearing or hating...

Which obliquely reminds me of an interesting historical note I discovered while looking up info about the good old House Committee on Un-American Activities, a.k.a. the Dies committee, a.k.a. HUAAC, established in 1938 (and it lasted until 1975). Britannica notes: "Although the committee was [originally] supposed to investigate fascist subversion as well, it quickly turned exclusively to supposed communist infiltration of American life."

In my current half-awake state, all I can add is: Interesting times call for interesting measures.

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