In the postwar American media landscape, "the bomb" symbolized both security and insecurity. Two of the nation's leading syndicated cartoonists—the Washington Post's Herbert Block and the Village Voice's Jules Feiffer—played on this paradox by parodying the arms race, civil defense, nuclear testing, and deterrence. But the schisms within progressive politics in this period distinguished Block and Feiffer as social critics. At the height of anticommunist hysteria, Block's single-panel cartoons often featured the anthropomorphized Mr. Atom, who became a spectral figure within the Cold War imaginary. In the post-McCarthy era, Feiffer's narrative-driven strips spoofed military Keynesianism by critiquing the role capitalism played in the nuclear crisis. While Block and Feiffer both recognized the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, they were representative of a left-liberal divide at a point when humor was undergoing transformations in the wider culture and a political struggle over the bomb's future was being fiercely waged. By foregrounding these cleavages, this essay argues that satirizing the full slate of contradictions of the nuclear era meant questioning the basic assumptions of the Cold War rivalry and breaking from the consensus framework altogether. Only by critiquing the ideology of the American Cold War commitment could the absurdities of the arms race be laid bare.


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pp. 235-266
Launched on MUSE
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