DAVID BRIAN HOWARD
Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, Canada
Between the launching of the first orbiting Earth satellite, Sputnik I, by the Soviet Union in 1957, and the opening of the New York World’s Fair in the spring of 1964, the Cold War entered its most intense phase of nuclear terror. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were accumulating thermonuclear arsenals of such overwhelming destructive power that the survival of humanity itself was now being called into question. Moving rapidly to exploit the American public’s anxiety over the existence of the so-called “missile gap” with the Soviet Union, Cold War pragmatic liberals sought to distance themselves from the apparent vacillation and weakness of the Eisenhower Administration’s inadequate response to the ostensible Soviet technological, and by extension, military triumph by radically exaggerating the threat this posed to national security. However, this reorientation of pragmatic liberalism under the banner of Kennedy’s New Frontier was not solely limited to issues of national defense but was extended to include a broad range of social and cultural issues. In particular, pragmatic liberals such as Kennedy and New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller promoted the perception that Eisenhower’s America had slipped into a more decadent and effete civilization as a result of an overemphasis on consumerism that by implication weakened the resolve of the nation, especially its middle class, to fight and win the Cold War. A new cultural strategy was desired that would resonate with one of the central myths of American identity formation: the concept of the ‘frontiersman’. This paper will examine the unveiling of the new pragmatic liberal cultural agenda that emerged in the aftermath of Sputnik I, as the antidote to an overly soft and effeminate consumer society; an agenda which would reach its penultimate expression within the United States at the New York World’s Fair of 1964.
Keywords: New Frontier, modernism, avant-garde, Pop Art, missile gap, military-industrial complex, World’s Fairs, Pragmatic Liberalism, American Exceptionalism.