Red Scare: The Cold War & Television

 < PALEYEDUCATION : Online Classes

Grades 10–12

Class Description

In an effort to aid at-home learning, we are making selected media for this typically on-site class available here online, including pre-viewing focus questions and post-viewing discussion questions.

During the 1950s television emerged as the most powerful mass medium since the invention of the printing press. At this time, America was gripped with fear and anxiety about the possibilities of war and nuclear threat, and television reflected this paranoia. Through close examination of 1950s television, including news, public service announcements, documentaries, and science fiction programming, this class investigates the ways that television reflected and perpetuated fear and hysteria during the Cold War period, a pivotal moment in modern history.

Class length: one hour

Below are some examples of advertising from the 1950s and 1960s. The first video is a public service announcement from 1951 funded by the US Federal Civil Defense Administration called “Duck and Cover.” The second video features two different presidential campaign ads from 1964, one for Republican candidate Barry Goldwater and the second for the incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat. These pieces of media capture the emotions of the Cold War exceptionally well; one can’t help feeling the stress, anxiety, and fears of the era jumping off the screen.



As a group, provide definitions for the following words and concepts, which will be referenced during the class.

BLACKLIST: A list of persons who are disapproved of or are to be punished or boycotted. An entertainment industry-wide policy of refusing to hire alleged communists, former communists, and communist sympathizers, although formal blacklists were not permitted to exist.

COLD WAR: A conflict over ideological differences carried on by methods short of sustained overt military action and usually without breaking off diplomatic relations.

COMMUNISM: A theory advocating elimination of private property; a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. A totalitarian system of government in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production; the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equally.

HOUSE UN-AMERICAN COMMITTEE (HUAC): A congressional committee that held hearings on the film and entertainment industries in 1938, 1947, 1951–52, 1953–55, and 1957–58. The committee also looked into alleged pro-communist activities of teachers, professors, and other individuals and organizations.

MCCARTHYISM: A term first coined in 1950 and later defined in 1954 as a public accusation of disloyalty unsupported by truth; also refers to an unfairness in investigative technique.

SENATOR JOSEPH MCCARTHY: United States Senator from 1946–1954 known for his extremist anticommunist pursuits.

RED SCARE: Anticommunist fanaticism that flourished in the United States roughly between 1947 and 1960, representing the notion that "Reds"—communists—were an overwhelming present danger to the United States and its citizens.


Duck and Cover Public Service Announcement (1951)

Pre-Viewing Focus Question: Notice everything about the problem and solution proposed in this PSA.


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions: Summarize and describe the PSA. 

●    Who is the main character of this PSA? Why do you think they chose to use an animated turtle?
●    Who are the other characters featured in this PSA?
●    Where does it take place? How can you tell?
●    What is the slogan? Why?
●    Who is the target audience? How can you tell?
●    What kinds of feelings does this PSA evoke? Why?
●    Describe the music. Why do you think they chose the music that they did?
●    How would it be different if they had used dramatic or suspenseful music?
●    What is the message? What does it reflect about 1950s/Cold War culture?
●    What did the makers of the PSA want you to learn/remember? Did they succeed?
●    Do you think it is an effective PSA? Why or why not?
●    What connections can be made to the present day?


Compare and Contrast These Ads:


Pre-Viewing Focus Question: How are these competing campaign ads catching the viewer's attention?

Barry Goldwater Presidential Campaign Ad (1964)


Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Campaign Ad (1964)

[starts at 47 seconds]


Post-Viewing Discussion Questions:
●   Summarize and describe the Goldwater campaign ad.
●   Who is featured in the ad*? What is he saying about America?
●   What images of Americans do we see? Who are they? What are they doing?
●   When we meet the candidate, Barry Goldwater, what does he say? What is his campaign platform?
●   What emotions is this ad trying to evoke?
●   What persuasive technique is this ad using?
●   Summarize and describe the Johnson campaign ad.
●   Who is featured in the ad? Describe what she looks like and what she is doing.
●   What happens to her?
●   What is the narrator saying? Describe his words and tone.
●   Although we don’t see the candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson, we do get a sense of his campaign platform - what is it?
●   What emotions is this ad trying to evoke?
●   What persuasive technique is this ad using?
●   What is the same about these two ads? What is different?
●   What did the makers of these ads want you to remember?  Did they succeed?
●   Do you think either (or both) of these ads are effective?  Why or why not?
●   What connections can be made to the present day? 

*Nikita Khruschev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War as the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1953 to 1964 and as the Premier from 1958 to 1964.


Pre-Visit and Post-Visit Information

This section makes use of Acrobat Reader software. To see the content we've created, you need the Acrobat plug-in for your Web Browser. Download the Acrobat Reader now.
alt Pre-Visit Activity | Post-Visit Activity



For more information, visit these websites:

CNN’s interactive site companion to the 1998 series Cold War

The Cold War Museum