the CIA as Cultural Gatekeeper

Photo by Christopher Michel | CC BY 2.0

“There was a conversion of cultures between the milieu of the underworld and the world of the clandestine operative.”

– Alfred McCoy

“I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene… that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.”

― Mark Rothko

Recent writing on CIA’s role in the kulturkampf against the Red Menace paints an image of debonair spooks recruiting the most interesting Western artists and using them, unbeknownst, as a liberal wedge against radical movements at home and abroad. The Agency created cultural institutions, magazines and, most importantly, a financial market to support movements such as Abstract Expressionism; it penned articles in favor of a liberal-leftish ideology of self-expression that could exist only in the ‘democratic’ West; it organized exhibits, printed books, organized press conferences and it paid grants. Episodes from the operations resemble the work of a paranoid comic programmer with sinister preoccupations. It is as if Thomas Pynchon, MK GRVTI 49, was behind the whole thing, perhaps working both sides against the middle, like one of his characters.

The Dec 4 Guardian piece on the Berlin House of Cultures of the World, an incubus created by Allan Dulles’ sister Eleanor, even credits the CIA with excellent taste in art. What the hell is ‘taste’ anyway? Perhaps the spooks were a little chic, in the sleek and slippery manner…

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