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Invasion of the Body Snatchers

In the sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a small town is gradually overtaken by a race of aliens. Since the aliens essentially clone their victims, there is no easy way to tell the humans from their conquerers, and everyone becomes suspect.

Released during the Cold War, Body Snatchers can be read as a metaphor for the dangers of Communism–or, paradoxically, for the tyranny of Commie-hunting McCarthyites.

Whether they intended to or not, the creators of Body Snatchers picked up on a core truth about conspiracy theories: Secret organizations typically form to combat secret organizations. Conspiracy theorists have a peculiar tendency to resemble their enemies. As historian Richard Hofstadter once noted, the Ku Klux Klan imitates Catholism by donning priestly vestments and developing elaborate rituals and hierachy. The far-right John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-conspiratorial operations through "front" groups.

For the creators of Body Snatchers, the mechanisms of conspiracy were especially close to home. On and off since the 1930s, the House of Un-American Activities had lashed out at Hollyhood for spreading "communist propaganda" (meaning films that portrayed the working class sympathetically or explored issues like racism and poverty). Bruised and battered, Hollywood steered clear of political controversy ("propaganda") and instead started cranking out anti-communist propaganda. In the new, HUAC-friendly genre, commies were bad, mean people who "didn’t have children, exhaled cigarette smoke too slowly, and murdered their friends."1 Here, then, was a case where accusations of conspiracy were used to engineer an actual conspiracy: Supposedly subversive movies were simply replaced with a different form of propaganda.–CM