Giant insects, from the ants of Them! to the locusts in Beginning of the End, featured prominently in Hollywood's postwar science fiction boom. Critics and historians have invariably interpreted these cinematic big bugs as symbolic manifestations of Cold War era anxieties, including nuclear fear, concern over communist infiltration, ambivalence about science and technocratic authority, and repressed Freudian impulses. This essay argues that Hollywood's mammoth arthropods should be taken more literally, less as metaphors than as insects, and that the big bug genre should be analyzed in the context of actual fears of insect invasion and growing misgivings about the safety and effectiveness of modern insecticides in 1950s and early 1960s America. In movies like Them!, worries about real-life insects on the loose, notably gypsy moths and imported fire ants, and uneasiness about pesticides like DDT were refracted through a cultural lens colored by superpower rivalries, nuclear proliferation, and a wide range of social tensions.

Author notes

He is the author of Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and co-editor (with Michiko Ito) of In Godzilla's Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006). His current research focuses on the environmental history of Japan and the Japanese empire during World War II.