At the Modern Language Association (MLA) Annual Convention in Los Angeles this month, one of thousands of English professors gave a lecture on a popular film. Although millions have seen this particular movie, it may be safe to say that few of those viewers have examined Dr. Strangelove with the interpretation offered at the MLA.
Dr. Joseph Litvak of Tufts University argued that Dr. Strangelove is not just a former Nazi, but that he is also a Jew—a claim Litvak makes based on somewhat questionable evidence (the doctor’s hair and crippled body, and the fact that his creators listed several Jewish people as having inspired his character). The fact is, while Litvak argued that Dr. Strangelove’s possible Judaism is an “open secret” with “radioactive potency,” the “open secret” is never actually acknowledged. As a further part of his thesis, Litvak argued that the struggle between Dr. Strangelove’s left and right arms represents the struggle post-blacklist Hollywood faced in rebelling against the “vast military industrial complex” of the right-wing.
Strangelove’s “Nazi identity is as irrepressible as his [left] arm,” which is always going into a Nazi “erection,” Litvak argued, going on to say that Strangelove’s left hand “struggles in vain” to keep his right hand down—representing the struggle between left-wing Hollywood actors and the allegedly right-wing leadership of America prior to and during the filming of Dr. Strangelove.
According to Litvak, Dr. Strangelove’s character explores “what it might mean to be a Jew and a Nazi at the same time” and “takes aim at the fascist underbelly of American masculinity.” Litvak argued that “castration anxiety” and “homoeroticism” are at the heart of the movie.
Litvak argued that Dr. Strangelove “hyperbolizes the eroticism” of Americans obsessed with the military. He talked about how strangely familiar the situation portrayed in the movie is to today, with ‘war-mongering generals” who have “more power” than “a vaguely liberal president.” Litvak argued that the reason the generals in the War Room are never fazed by Strangelove’s Nazi outbursts is that the generals are right-wing—and therefore, Litvak must assume, have no real problems with Nazism.
Litvak concluded that the ending of Dr. Strangelove (in which those selected to survive the projected nuclear holocaust decide to live in a mineshaft) provides a “typification” of the American Dream: according to Litvak, having all the generals and political leaders live in a mineshaft would produce a “splendid isolation in which we can produce the erection that our military strength had only been able to mime.” Further, Litvak said, true “American dreamers” want to live “down the mineshaft.”
Litvak’s paper on Dr. Strangelove was presented at a panel entitled “Jews, Paranoia, and Conspiracies” at the 2011 MLA Annual Convention. He teaches English at Tufts University.
Allie Duzett is the Director of Strategic Operations for Accuracy in Media.
If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org