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Pulp Vietnam

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Pulp Vietnam is an accessibly written, yet well-researched monograph on the ways pulp fiction magazines from the 1960s have negatively shaped the way many generations in America tend to approach gender and gender roles. Giving often despicable written and visual examples from a large number of magazines, Gregory Daddis shows us the way this popular mass media was used to spread racism, sexism, white supremacy, orientalism, and romantic ideas of imperialism and colonialism.
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Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men’s Adventure Magazines by Gregory Daddis is a scholarly work which is an eminently readable and well researched examination of how masculine culture was evaluated and treated from the 1950s to the early 1970s, primarily as it influenced experiences of the Vietnam War.

Daddis’ interest is in how larger cultural conceptions and concerns around masculinity in the early Cold War were dealt with in popular culture, particularly in macho pulps which flourished in the 1950s and 1960s. These works appealed to both veterans of World War II and Korea as well as their sons, all of whom might have questions about whether they had what it took to be a man in a rapidly changing world. While it might be easy to dismiss the impact of these works, it is noted that they had a monthly circulation in the millions during the mid-1960s and were among the most purchased magazines at PX posts in Vietnam. The issue then is how young men immersed in this vision of masculinity as “physically powerful, emotionally shallow and sexually aggressive” held up in a war which seemed to deny them the conferral of heroism and reward they had expected.

The pulps had promised war as an opportunity to stand up for the side of right, to demonstrate courage under fire, to receive sexual reward and to be validated in one’s manhood. But what happened to the soldier whose experience was a rear position with amenities or on the frontline waiting to be attacked by a vanishing enemy? What happened when one experienced psychological trauma unknown to the emotionally invulnerable hero of the pulps? What if the local women didn’t want to give themselves to you? The author notes: “The American experience in South Vietnam exposed the lie of pulp war stories. Sons came home thinking their World War II fathers, so prevalent in the magazines, had somehow deceived them, their initiation into manhood betrayed by a gruesome, deadly and ultimately unsuccessful war.”

While the focus of the work is on pulp magazines handling of masculinity in the Cold War, Daddis masterfully sets the issue in the larger cultural context. Senator Estes Kefauver’s concerns about the military readiness of American men articulated in a 1955 article for Real Adventure is mentioned along with President-elect John F. Kennedy’s The Soft American for Sports Illustrated in 1960. When detailing the insecurity men felt in the post-War corporate and consumerist culture, novels such as Revolutionary Road and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit are examined. Furthermore, the films of John Wayne are put forward along with Paul Newman’s The Rack and Frank Sinatra’s The Manchurian Candidate. There is also an evaluation of how the pulps approved of certain actions overseas which would not be tolerable in domestic society.

Daddis is particularly well suited to examine this subject given his own background in the United States Army and academic accomplishment. He went through West Point, served in the Middle East and retired a colonel. In addition to his academic attainment and teaching post, he has published three other works on the Vietnam War. This work will leave the reader with a desire to dig into the author’s corpus. Recommend for those interested in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, American masculinity and the impact of popular culture in American history.
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Daddis (San Diego State University) provides a compelling account of the attitudes towards war and martial masculinity in the "macho pulp" magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. Courting mainly working class (and presumed white) male readers, these magazines promoted a strict idealization of a type of militaristic service that dangerously tied into ideas of colonialism, the "savagery" of overly sexualized women, and a conqueror ethos that paid little attention to nuance and the experiences of others. Though he doesn't use the word, the war stories and ideas about manhood in these magazines (with titles like STAG, MALE, and BLUE BOOK) resemble exploitation films in their lurid reduction of complex issues into sensational adventure stories that focus on violence and sexual elements. 

Daddis aptly points out the somewhat complex line these magazines had to walk, though, in their navigation of Cold War-era taboos (over issues like miscegenation), and their eventual retreat from gung-ho, pro-war positions once public opinion over the Vietnam war began to turn. Through overwhelming examples from the literature (to the point where some sections feel repetitious), the book shows how these pulps sold men on a set of nationalism ideals, exoticism, and sexual prowess, while at the same time providing almost an almost wholly inaccurate account of the experience of going to war, and in the process probably helped promote dangerous attitudes of superiority between G.I.s and the people of Vietnam (especially their allies in the south). He is good on charting the fictional pulp version of the Vietnam war versus the reality, especially when adding the voices of veterans who later protested the war, as well as Vietnamese women, back into the conversation.

The pulps are an exemplary set of "bad objects,"and Daddis rightly criticizes them, even as he informs on their once massive popularity and probably wide sphere of consequence.
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A well illustrated, semi-academic text that takes an in depth look at pulp magazines from the 1950s to the 1970s, and how the stories they published may have influenced men's behavior during wars, most pointedly the Vietnam War. This book is easy to read, approachable, and well written, examining the ways published displays of masculinity shaped cultural values and men throughout the Vietnam War period. As a woman, I found a lot of the source material and columns to be startling and infuriating, but provide a great example of the values of the times. Very interesting to see how things have changed, especially yin considering how women and men are presented in media and what "makes" a man today.
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Daddis provides a thought provoking analysis of material culture during the Vietnam War.  The work is a valuable contribution to cultural history, gender studies, and popular literature.  The argument that  toxic aspects of hyper-masculinity can be weaponized by the state is not new, but Daddis succeeds in illuminating the way in which it effected soldiers at a deep, subconscious level.  I was struck by the way in which Daddis' examples  illustrated the connection between the pulps of the 1960s and the tradition of pulp literature dating back three to four decades earlier. Arguably, the masculinity presented in the pulps at the height of the counter-cultural movement of the 60s was, by that time, becoming a relic of the past.  However, the author convincingly illustrates the powerful hold these views of 'traditional' masculinity had on men fighting in Vietnam. 

This book pairs nicely with Christian Appy's "Working-Class War: American Combat Soldiers in Vietnam" as the later enhances the class analysis present in the above work.
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I want to start this review by saying that I do not have any type of academic background in the history of the Vietnam War, or gender studies. My thoughts and opinions are entirely based on the experience of reading this book as an interested layperson. With that out of the way, on to the actual review. 

In Pulp Vietnam, Daddis introduces the reader to the men’s pulp adventure magazines of the Cold War era. These magazines contained stories that glorified what Daddis refers to as “militarized masculinity,” and explicitly linked military and sexual conquest. The pulp magazines didn't invent these concepts, but their wide circulation and dedication to those ideas certainly helped generate a common language to talk about these cultural norms. The lived experiences of recent veterans who did not find combat to be a path to manhood or crowds of women waiting to grant them sexual pleasure while overseas were never addressed by the pulps. As the young men who read these magazines were drafted to Vietnam, they experienced severe disillusionment. 

Prior to this book, I had no knowledge of the genre of pulp adventure magazines, let alone their reach. Daddis is careful to point out that the consumption of these stories cannot be labeled as the cause of violent and racist behaviors exhibited by GIs in Vietnam, but they did help create an image of the world where that violence was normalized. The enduring importance of these fantasies in American culture probably shouldn't have been so surprising to me, but it does make me re-evaluate how we currently portray war and memories of combat today. While I occasionally felt bogged down and as though the book was dragging, it was definitely interesting and made a clear argument. Recommended for people interested in cultural history or the creation of norms around gender expression.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review.
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Pulp Vietnam: War and Gender in Cold War Men's Adventure Magazines by Gregory A Daddis is accessibly written research into the role that men's pulp magazines played in shaping men, masculinity, and in particular the negative aspects of both.

The examples are far more numerous and disturbing than I had expected even though I vaguely remember these magazines from my youth. Though Daddis makes clear, on more than one occasion, that whatever causality exists is just part of a larger cultural tapestry there is no doubt that the portrayals in the fiction and the "advice" in the nonfiction contributed to how many men of the period came to see masculinity, war, and women. These pulp images reflected much of the mainstream concern that men were being emasculated and society was being feminized, so to what degree these publications led or followed the concepts, they definitely contributed to bringing them to the blue collar and military men.

While many of the stories and columns were infuriating and startling, and I'm guessing that most readers will find the ones that speak to them the most, I found some of the material that masqueraded as advice or help columns to be most disturbing. For example, in a publication from 1966 a quote reads (this quote occurs early in the book and colored my reading of the rest of the book): "Many women, young ones in particular, are 'sexually reversed' in their actions, that is whatever they say can be taken to mean the opposite. 'I absolutely don't want to sleep with you' for example, means precisely the opposite."  The quote is from the magazine itself, not Daddis paraphrasing. In other words, men are being encouraged to rape women, in popular national publications aimed at young men. 1966 folks, this is not ancient history and those same readers then raised boys of their own, so the cycle repeats, only the message has been reshaped and distributed with a bit more subtlety, though the results remain the same and have, over the past three years, lost any claim to subtlety.

This is highly recommended for readers who read sociological texts on masculinity as well as any reader who wants to better understand how to take in any form of popular culture actively rather than passively. While much of what Daddis does here requires the distance of time to grasp, the basic processes can and should be used when we watch, listen to, or read any type of popular culture. We can no longer be passive consumers molded by the work, we must engage and make conscious decisions about what we internalize and what we reject.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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A well illustrated, semi-academic text that takes an indepth look at pulp magazines from the 1950s to the 1970s, and how the stories they published may have influenced men's behaviour during wars, most pointedly the Vietnam War.

(When I say 'semi-academic', I just mean that the book has the thoroughness of an academic study, but not the structural rigidness of such texts. In short: it's easily readable.)

Daddis has worked through what must be a small mountain of magazines, and uses many examples to construct an image of what these magazines saw as a 'real man'. Generally the stories were written by seasoned pulp writers who hadn't seen much action themselves, but the idea underpinning all their writing: war makes a man. Young boys grew up with endless stories of the heroic deeds of their own fathers during the Second World War, laced with a sad misogyny. Pulp stories would generally only present women as 'lovelies', prizes to be won during conquest. Furthermore, the stories were filled with barely concealed racism and orientalism. Daddis makes a strong case for the pulp magazines not being directly responsible for civilian abuse, murder and rape, but for them to be part of rape culture. The stories promised war to make men out of these boys, with beautiful foreign ladies throwing themselves at them. When this inevitably didn't happen, it can't be unthinkable that some of those men would vent their frustrations on the local populace.

The first three quarters of the book give a good overview of the kind of stories that were published, and there is quite a few that made me laugh in their cheesiness. But it's the last quarter where things get serious, turning into a mix of the bizarrely uncritical stories that were published during the Vietnam War, and the very real atrocities that were being perpetrated by a sizeable chunk of US soldiers. It is not an easy read, but only goes to strengthen Daddis' central thesis.

Recommended for anyone interested in toxic masculinity, its prominence during the Cold War and the Vietnam War especially.
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