Books by Christopher Vials
Since the birth of fascism in the 1920s, well before the global renaissance of “white nationalism, ” the United States has been home to its own distinct fascist movements, some of which decisively influenced the course of US history. Yet long before Antifa became a household word in the United States, they were met, time and again, by an equally deep antifascist current. Many on the left are unaware that the United States has a rich antifascist tradition, because it has rarely been discussed as such, nor has it been accessible in one place. This reader reconstructs the history of US antifascism the twenty-first century, showing how generations of writers, organisers, and fighters spoke to each other over time.
In the aftermath of World War II, the United States emerged as the dominant imperial power, and in US popular memory, the Second World War is remembered more vividly than the American Revolution. American Literature in Transition, 1940–1950 provides crucial contexts for interpreting the literature of this period. Essays from scholars in literature, history, art history, ethnic studies, and American studies show how writers intervened in the global struggles of the decade: the Second World War, the Cold War, and emerging movements over racial justice, gender and sexuality, labor, and de-colonization. One recurrent motif is the centrality of the political impulse in art and culture. Artists and writers participated widely in left and liberal social movements that fundamentally transformed the terms of social life in the twentieth century, not by advocating specific legislation, but by changing underlying cultural values. This book addresses all the political impulses fueling art and literature at the time, as well as the development of new forms and media, from modernism and noir to radio and the paperback.
Although fascism is typically associated with Europe, the threat of fascism in the United States haunted the imaginations of activists, writers, and artists, spurring them to create a rich, elaborate body of cultural and political work. Traversing the Popular Front of the 1930s, the struggle against McCarthyism in the 1950s, the Black Power movement of the 1960s, and the AIDS activism of the 1980s, Haunted by Hitler highlights the value of “antifascist” cultural politics, showing how it helped to frame the national discourse.
Vials examines the ways in which anxieties about fascism in the United States have been expressed in the public sphere, through American television shows, Off-Broadway theater, party newspapers, bestselling works of history, journalism, popular sociology, political theory, and other media. He argues that twentieth-century liberals and leftists were more deeply unsettled by the problem of fascism than those at the center or the right and that they tirelessly and often successfully worked to counter America’s fascist equivalents.
Realism for the Masses is an exploration of how the concept of realism entered mass culture, and from there, how it tried to remake “America.” The literary and artistic creations of American realism are generally associated with the late nineteenth century. But this book argues that the aesthetic actually saturated American culture in the 1930s and 1940s and that the left social movements of the period were in no small part responsible. The book examines the prose of Carlos Bulosan and H. T. Tsiang; the photo essays of Margaret Bourke-White in Life magazine; the bestsellers of Erskine Caldwell and Margaret Mitchell; the boxing narratives of Clifford Odets, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren; and the Hollywood boxing film, radio soap operas, and the domestic dramas of Lillian Hellman and Shirley Graham, and more.
These writers and artists infused realist aesthetics into American mass culture to an unprecedented degree and also built on a tradition of realism in order to inject influential definitions of “the people” into American popular entertainment. Central to this book is the relationship between these mass cultural realisms and emergent notions of pluralism. Significantly, Vials identifies three nascent pluralisms of the 1930s and 1940s: the New Deal pluralism of “We’re the People” in The Grapes of Wrath; the racially inclusive pluralism of Vice President Henry Wallace’s “The People’s Century”; and the proto-Cold War pluralism of Henry Luce’s “The American Century.”