Black Invisibility, White Science, and a Night with Ben: 1950s–1960s
Something was wrong. In the sleepy, affable small town of Santa Mira, the idyllic 1950s peace was being disturbed by a dangerous “them” which worked to intrude upon the community’s “us.” The town began reacting swiftly, albeit controversially, to the threat. When interstate buses delivered outsiders to Santa Mira, the interlopers found themselves ominously met by the town’s sheriff, immediately placed into the back of his patrol car, and taken away, never to be seen again. Control and conformity were Santa Mira’s new preoccupation; hence, its inhabitants would no longer tolerate visitors (outside agitators) who possessed the potential to ask questions and to inﬂ uence others with their differing agendas. With each passing day, its citizenry tightened the reins, eliminating all manner of variance. A swing/jazz band who had arrived just months earlier to play in one of the town’s popular restaurants, thereby marking Santa Mira’s ﬂ irtation with progress — “We’re on the way up” — was, in this new climate, let go. The band was replaced by a pre-programmed jukebox. On the whole, this was a lamentable
America, one that was repressing its citizens’ humanity: to be “mechanical” in this way was to be “a walking zombie!” 3
The horror/sci-ﬁ ﬁ lm Invasion of the Body Snatchers ’ (1956) ﬁ ctional town of Santa Mira served as a metaphor for the many threats that 1950s America struggled with — change, (atomic/cold) war, foreign invasion, communism, and racial integration. It evidenced, as did many ﬁ lms of the 1950s and 1960s, a “strong resonance between the elements in the ﬁ lm and various anxieties existing in the broader culture.” 4 In the ﬁ lm, that the notion of safety-in-sameness happened to be delivered by otherworldly (illegal) aliens did not obscure the fact that Americans were happy to secure insularity and stability by any means necessary. Invasion , a horror ﬁ lm without any Black characters, evidenced how some Americans came to believe that while the road to cultural fascism could be unpleasant — a sort of standing in front of the schoolhouse door to ward off individualism — the end was certainly justiﬁ able.