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What Have They Built You to Do?

The Manchurian Candidate and Cold War America

2006
Authors:

Matthew Frye Jacobson and Gaspar González

What Have They Built You to Do?

Reassesses the landmark Cold War film, from Kennedy to Reagan to Halliburton

In What Have They Built You to Do?—a key line of dialogue from the original film—Matthew Frye Jacobson and Gaspar González undertake an ambitious reexamination of The Manchurian Candidate. Through their multifaceted analysis of the film in all its incarnations, Jacobson and González raise provocative questions about power and anxiety in American politics and society from the Cold War to today.

Matthew Jacobson and Gaspar González have written a fascinating book.

Palm Beach Post

Considered by many to be the best political thriller ever made, The Manchurian Candidate is as entertaining, troubling, and relevant today as it was in 1962. Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, and Angela Lansbury, and directed with probing insight by John Frankenheimer, the film was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece. Largely out of circulation for the next two decades, it acquired a well-deserved cult following until it was rereleased during the last year of the Reagan presidency, when its pointed satire of political and media manipulation seemed more timely than ever.

In What Have They Built You to Do?—a key line of dialogue from the original film—Matthew Frye Jacobson and Gaspar González undertake an ambitious reexamination of The Manchurian Candidate, the 1959 novel by Richard Condon on which it was based, and—critically analyzed here for the first time—the 2004 remake directed by Jonathan Demme. Based on close readings of the film and broad investigations into the eras in which it was made and rediscovered, the authors decode the many layers of meaning within and surrounding the film, from the contradictions of the Cold War it both embodies and parodies—McCarthyism and Kennedy liberalism, individualism and conformity—to its construction of Asian villains, overbearing women, and male heroes in a society anxious about race, gender, and sexuality.

Through their multifaceted analysis of The Manchurian Candidate (in all its incarnations), Jacobson and González raise provocative questions about power and anxiety in American politics and society from the Cold War to today.

What Have They Built You to Do?

Matthew Frye Jacobson teaches American studies at Yale University. His books include Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post–Civil Rights America.

Gaspar González is an independent scholar and journalist in Miami. He has taught American studies at Yale University and film studies at the University of Miami.

What Have They Built You to Do?

Matthew Jacobson and Gaspar González have written a fascinating book.

Palm Beach Post

The prose zips along with gusto.

Journal of American History

This book is a useful addition to the field of media studies and will be valuable to scholars interested in such a vibrant and complex artifact of the Cold War.

Journal of Popular Culture

A valuable resource for students and scholars of Cold War culture. Jacobson and Gonzalez have compiled a collection of thought-provoking commentaries on the values and prejudices of American society during the Cold War.

Scope

What Have They Built You to Do?

Contents

Introduction

1. Backstory: Frank Sinatra and the Politics of Cold War Cultural Production
2. A Culture of Contradiction: Affluence and Anxiety
3. Five from the Fifties: Threat, Containment, and the Rise of the Security State in Postwar Film
4. Bullwhip and Smear: Reading McCarthy
5. Like Fu Manchu: Mapping Manchuria
6. The Red Queen: Sexuality, Subversion, and the American Family
7. Strangers on a Train: The Perils of Cold War Courtship
8. Cold War Redux: From Kennedy to Reagan’s America and Beyond

Postscript
Acknowledgments
Notes

Index