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Citizen Spy

Television, Espionage, and Cold War Culture

2005
Author:

Michael Kackman

Citizen Spy

A revealing examination of American espionage television programs

Looking at secret agents on television in the 1950s and 1960s, Michael Kackman explores how Americans see themselves in times of political and cultural crisis. From parodies such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart to the more complicated situations of I Spy and Mission: Impossible, Kackman situates espionage television within the culture of the civil rights and women's movements and the war in Vietnam.

A stunning study of the confluence of the world of real spies and reel (as in TV) spies.

Robert Vaughn, Napoleon Solo, The Man from U.N.C.L.E

In Citizen Spy, Michael Kackman investigates how media depictions of the slick, smart, and resolute spy have been embedded in the American imagination. Looking at secret agents on television and the relationships among networks, producers, government bureaus, and the viewing public in the 1950s and 1960s, Kackman explores how Americans see themselves in times of political and cultural crisis.

During the first decade of the Cold War, Hollywood developed such shows as I Led 3 Lives and Behind Closed Doors with the approval of federal intelligence agencies, even basing episodes on actual case files. These “documentary melodramas” were, Kackman argues, vehicles for the fledgling television industry to proclaim its loyalty to the government, and they came stocked with appeals to patriotism and anti-Communist vigilance.

As the rigid cultural logic of the Red Scare began to collapse, spy shows became more playful, self-referential, and even critical of the ideals professed in their own scripts. From parodies such as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart to the more complicated global and political situations of I Spy and Mission: Impossible, Kackman situates espionage television within the tumultuous culture of the civil rights and women’s movements and the war in Vietnam. Yet, even as spy shows introduced African American and female characters, they continued to reinforce racial and sexual stereotypes.

Bringing these concerns to the political and cultural landscape of the twenty-first century, Kackman asserts that the roles of race and gender in national identity have become acutely contentious. Increasingly exclusive definitions of legitimate citizenship, heroism, and dissent have been evident through popular accounts of the Iraq war. Moving beyond a snapshot of television history, Citizen Spy provides a contemporary lens to analyze the nature—and implications—of American nationalism in practice.

Citizen Spy

Michael Kackman is assistant professor in radio-television-film at the University of Texas, Austin.

Citizen Spy

A stunning study of the confluence of the world of real spies and reel (as in TV) spies.

Robert Vaughn, Napoleon Solo, The Man from U.N.C.L.E

The first comprehensive and critical assessment of prime-time secret agents during the height of the Cold War.

Michael Curtin, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A welcome addition to contemporary television studies and television history.

Film International

Kackman has brilliantly set the spy programs in historical perspective. Citizen Spy captures the period and the shows very well. We may never know how J. Edgar Hoover or Allan Dulles or another high-level bureaucrat was responsible for the use of these programs for their own purposes, but this book gets about as close as possible to that tantalizing question.

Television Quarterly

Citizen Spy chronicles the rapid evolution of the genre and its production techniques through the harrowing years of McCarthyism, civil rights struggles, the Vietnam war. It provides very revealing and often humorous illustrations from production notes drawn from archival research. Surveillance Studies researchers will find valuable resources in Kackman’s extensive synopses, primary archival material, and his entertaining dialogue excerpts.

Surveillance and Society