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Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America

JOHN SBARDELLATI and TONY SHAW
Pacific Historical Review
Vol. 72, No. 4 (November 2003), pp. 495-530
DOI: 10.1525/phr.2003.72.4.495
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/phr.2003.72.4.495
Page Count: 36
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Booting a Tramp: Charlie Chaplin, the FBI, and the Construction of the Subversive Image in Red Scare America
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Abstract

This article examines the battle over popular culture in the age of McCarthyism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, under J. Edgar Hoover, targeted Charlie Chaplin because of his status as a cultural icon and as part of its broader investigation of Hollywood. Some of Chaplin's films were considered “communist propaganda,” but because Chaplin was not a member of the Communist Party, he was not among those investigated by HUAC in 1947. Nevertheless, he was vulnerable to protests by the American Legion and other patriotic groups because of both his sexual and political unorthodoxy. Yet, although countersubversives succeeded in driving Chaplin out of the country, they failed to build a consensus that Chaplin was a threat to the nation. Chaplin's story testifies to both the awesome power of the countersubversive campaign at mid-century and to some of its limitations as well.

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