There is much public and legal attention being paid to what the Russians have been up to for the past several years, in terms of interference with our electoral system, undermining confidence in our media and elected representatives, and turning media-savvy skills to the pursuit of evil and harm. There’s also no shortage of homegrown fear-mongering propaganda tactics being deployed by the forces of division coming from the American right, especially in the runup to the midterm elections.
But it was the Soviets who raised these insidious communication and control strategies to a whole new level. A new exhibition at Culver City's Wende Museum of the Cold War takes an important and increasingly timely look at the psychological sciences and emotional aesthetics of government mind control, tendrils of its societal legacy, and salient contemporaneous strategies for resisting it.
Although Vietnam and nuclear annihilation were the headlines of the day (rather than, say, terrorism and racism), the language and graphic hot-button stylization, the crafting of state news, the bullying of so-called enemies, and the use of dramatic renderings, pop culture idioms, and childhood indoctrination will be familiar to anyone following the cross-platform battles on social media today.
“War of Nerves: Psychological Landscapes of the Cold War” explores these questions through contemporary art, ephemera, and artifacts from the era. From children’s toys to military training videos, from sponsored to protests to very real and risky resistance movements, from film and music to comic books and visual art, magazine spreads and heavy-handed messaging — the major takeaway is not how much has changed in style, but rather how little has changed in substance.
The Wende Museum of the Cold War has moved into its permanent home, the poetically perfect refurbished Culver City Armory, itself once a bustling operations center of Cold War intelligence gathering. “War of Nerves: Psychological Landscapes of the Cold War” is on view through Jan. 13.
A free self-guided tour of the Wende and the nearby Culver City Historical Society and Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum takes place Friday, Nov. 9, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a reception at the Wende at 6 p.m. Free with RSVP.