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Not quite Mad Max
July 17, 2012 12:12 AM   Subscribe

Back in the first half of the eighties, when the Soviet leadership was old, dementing and increasingly paranoid and president Reagan spoke of a winnable nuclear war and set in motion the Star Wars project to make it so, the nuclear holocaust was on many people's minds. It not only featured frequently in popular culture, but several films were made as explicit warnings of what a nuclear war would really be like. Of these movies, Threads (1984) was the most realistic and scary. The full movie is now available on Youtube for your "enjoyment". Warning: not very nice, sort of depressing.

The American equivalent, The Day After (1983, full movie youtube link) was less scary, less honest but still reportedly bad enough to scare Reagan when he saw it in a private showing in the White House.

Raymond Briggs was better known for his gentle Christmas fairy tale The Snowman but while When the Wind Blows (182/86) was animated in the same style, it was far from gentle.

For more British cheerfullness, The War Game (previously, 2007) was a 1965 pseudodocumentary about the effects of a nuclear attack on the United Kingdom. It was supposed to have been shown on television on the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, but had been "judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting" (Wikipedia.)


For the obligatory Canadian take on things, there's Countdown to Looking Glass (1984), about the leadup to a nuclear war during a crisis in the Persian Gulf.

More, much more can be found at the list of nuclear holocaust fiction on Wikipedia. Think of it as escapism: whatever problems you have, at least you're not dying of radiation sickness in a post-apocalyptic world.

That these movies were almost all released around 1983/84 is no coincidence, as that was the height of the new Cold War, after the 1970ties detente. It may have also been the period in which we came closest to seeing a nuclear war become reality, when the Soviet leadership was paranoid enough to think the NATO exercise Able Archer was a cover for a planned attack and made steps for a first strike. (Previously, 2009)

Sweet dreams.
posted by MartinWisse (165 comments total) 133 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, childhood...
posted by Artw at 12:14 AM on July 17, 2012 [11 favorites]


Ah, the reasons I was born.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:18 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Watching Threads as an adult, years after Glastnostand the threat of nuclear war reversing, I still needed a hug afterwards.
posted by Artw at 12:23 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I can't watch it at all as even just seeing small clips of it during a documentary was enough to trigger nuclear nightmares again.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:28 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember spending my childhood thinking that, if Nuclear war happened (which always seemed like a real possibility back then), it had better happen soon while i'm young so i'd be in the best shape to deal with the cataclysm. I always pictured the post apocalyptic world as a sort of exciting, albeit dangerous, playground for the young and strong; while the old do most of the suffering. This idea was of course fed by a constant stream of post-apocalyptic action-hero movies.

Threads cured me of that.
posted by jadayne at 12:33 AM on July 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Beyond Nuclear Denial: How a World-Ending Weapon Disappeared From Our Lives, But Not Our World
posted by homunculus at 12:40 AM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


As an American child of the 80s, I watched The Day After and it gave me nightmares. I remember crawling into my parents bed one night shortly after because I couldn't sleep alone. I was about 7 or 8.

More recently, I watched Threads. It's The Day After on steroids. Seriously disturbing stuff. Very well done for what was probably a pretty modest budget.
posted by zardoz at 12:46 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Day After *still* gives me nightmares and I haven't seen it in a decade or more. I like post-apocalyptic fiction in a lot of ways, but the depiction of radiation sickness, visually, is something I have realized I cannot handle. If that was the less scary version...

BRB, going to make sure I still have all my teeth.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:53 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was just growing up in the late eighties, it seemed obvious to me looking at a map that "USA" and "USSR" were obviously friends, what with the similar names and all. Of course I was correct, we were friends and neighbors working together through the challenges of sharing a planet. I'm very glad so many of the people with access to nuclear missiles in the USSR shared my childish point of view during the collapse of their country. As long as there are nuclear weapons, I can only hope that anyone with their finger on the button is naive enough to think nothing is worth destroying the world for.
posted by eurypteris at 12:57 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Very well done for what was probably a pretty modest budget.

They filmed it in Sheffield. Of course it was cheap. It's not like they had to build any sets or anything; for the "after nuclear Holocaust" shots, they probably just had to move down a couple of blocks from their original shooting location.
posted by daniel_charms at 1:02 AM on July 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


Required soundtrack: Young Marble Giants: Final Day, Sting:Russians, Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix)
Required contemporary visit: Secret bunkers in Scotland or at Kelevedon Hatch in England.
posted by rongorongo at 1:02 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Disclaimer: everything I know about Sheffield I learned from The Full Monty)
posted by daniel_charms at 1:04 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh Threads. Supplier of IMDB's saddest entry.
posted by Jofus at 1:04 AM on July 17, 2012 [49 favorites]


I am still hoping for an anime remake of Threads, with pastel colors and fairies. The plot will be the same, but it will be cheerful.
posted by problemspace at 1:04 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is kind of a double, isn't it? A horrifying, nightmare inducing double?
posted by a hat out of hell at 1:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you know, cold war might have ended, but I've never stopped being afraid of nuclear war. Its always close as long as we have the weapons, which means it will always be close.

I don't even have to watch Threads, just read the name, to get weepy.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am still hoping for an anime remake of Threads, with pastel colors and fairies. The plot will be the same, but it will be cheerful.
really?
posted by b1tr0t at 1:07 AM on July 17, 2012


From almost a decade later: By Dawn's Early Light
posted by XMLicious at 1:14 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, I forgot: for those who want the full Threads experience but in a short, text based package: The Manhattan phonebook, abridged by John Varley.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:15 AM on July 17, 2012 [40 favorites]


The movie Miracle Mile (86% of Rotten Tomatoes) is a very intense, psychological thriller that still gives me chills.

Anthony Edwards receives a panicked wrong number from someone claiming to be a soldier in a missile silo and that the US had just launched a first strike. This sets off a race against time that leads to increasingly desperate acts to reach safety... and all the while you're never really sure if the call is even real.

The premise might seem a bit flimsy now, but it worked disturbingly well at the time. The threat of nuclear holocaust was always hiding in the shadows, often seemingly no more than a phone call or news broadcast away.

(Great, now I'm probably going to have nightmares... but still, in a very weird way I can't help feel slightly nostalgic for the long lost terror of a nuclear holocaust. huh).
posted by Davenhill at 1:15 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, this thread reminded me about the last scene in Threads, and now I need a hug.
posted by a hat out of hell at 1:16 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My parents thought they were doing some sort of good thing by making me watch Threads (and The Day After, actually) when I was a child. Scared the living shit out of me. Years later when I visited the Nagasaki epicentre site as a young adult I spontaneously burst into tears, probably as a result of all the fear of nukes I had bred into me.
posted by iotic at 1:24 AM on July 17, 2012


I think I said this the last time Threads came up here, but even the wikipedia summary kept me awake and gave me bad dreams.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is kind of a double, isn't it? A horrifying, nightmare inducing double?

Kinda, but we should let it slide since Google Video shut down (following the link in the original takes you to a "not found" page).
posted by chimaera at 1:36 AM on July 17, 2012


Think of it as escapism: whatever problems you have, at least you're not dying of radiation sickness in a post-apocalyptic world.

The expanding genre of post-apocalyptic climate change films is of course nothing at all like these films about nuclear war.

That these movies were almost all released around 1983/84 is no coincidence,

C'mon. Nuclear holocaust was a well-worn subject since the 1960s. The closest America and Russia ever got to annihilating each other was during the Cuban Missile Crisis which was played out in public and immediately became part of the culture.
posted by three blind mice at 1:38 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This background childhood PTSD has a lot to do with why I own a pocket giger counter.
posted by clarknova at 1:40 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


C'mon. Nuclear holocaust was a well-worn subject since the 1960s. The closest America and Russia ever got to annihilating each other was during the Cuban Missile Crisis which was played out in public and immediately became part of the culture.

Sure. I wasn't talking about all nuclear holocaust movies, just the ones I linked to (had I found a good copy, I would also have linked to Ladybug, Ladybug, which is about a group of primary school children dealing with what they think is a nuclear attack on their town).

That the Cuban Missile Crisis was the most dangerous moment in the Cold War is only true up to a point. For a start there were far fewer nuclear weapons in the world than there were in the eighties; for another, few of them could reach the US, which was the whole point of putting missiles on Cuba in the first place. It wouldn't have been a good time to visit Florida, but a war then would not have been as big a disaster as a war in the eighties would've been.

Much of the nuclear paranoia in the US in the fifties and sixties was just misplaced, as the only way Russian bombs could've reached the continental USA was via long range bombers, like the Tu-95 Bear, while America had an overwhelming numerical supremacy and the means to cover the whole of the USSR. Up until relatively late in the Cold War (late sixties, early seventies) any nuclear war meant the total destruction of the USSR, the Us remaining relatively unscathed and Europe fucked.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:13 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I couldn't even click the youtube link for Threads. I watched it when I was 14 (and living near Sheffield in the Peak District). It gave me nightmares for years, and made me a join CND. I was convinced I was going to die and hoped it would be quick - at school we worked out where the nearest targets were, and guessed what would happen

i thought I'd avoided any flashback fears, and then I foolishly read the John Varley story (linked to by MartinWisse above). Now I'm donating to CND - foolish hope is better than none.
posted by Gilgongo at 2:16 AM on July 17, 2012


I never saw this as a kid, but I checked out a comic from the library once about an elderly couple who survive a nuclear war (for a while). I can't remember the title, but I think it was also British, and it was incredibly depressing. And traumatizing, of course.

One thing I do remember was the husband's insistence on following government instructions. He builds a small shelter structure from a door he takes off the hinges, which is where they spend their last days.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:22 AM on July 17, 2012


Joakim, that's When the Wind Blows, by Raymond Briggs.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:27 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, I just finished A Canticle for Leibowitz this evening.

I'd like to watch Threads at some point ... but it may have to wait for a time when at least one major political figure isn't beating the war drums and threatening a Flame Deluge. Right now it just seems all too real.

On second thought, I may be waiting a very long time.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, this is about the post with the most depressing fictional televisual content Metafilter's likely to ever see.

I wonder if we can lighten up the mood by finding a dubstep cover of duck'n'cover.

It does need "There Will Come Soft Rain" (as read by Burgess Meredith) for the full apocalyptic spread.
posted by Mezentian at 3:11 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is there anyone else who was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s who, like me, wasn't actually terrified of nuclear war? I was horrified at the stupidity of it, of the idea of war itself, but didn't spend any time actually worrying about the bombs falling. Conventional war seemed much worse, from a "if you have to suffer through it" perspective. We always lived near enough to a ground-zero target I figured I'd be fried quickly and thoroughly.

Must be a side effect that I've never really been frightened of death. Don't want to die, really don't want to die slowly and lingeringly, but the end result? Meh.
posted by maxwelton at 3:18 AM on July 17, 2012


Took the 'When the Wind Blows' video out of the local public library when I was 11. Yeah... bad idea.
posted by PenDevil at 3:29 AM on July 17, 2012


I am still hoping for an anime remake of Threads, with pastel colors and fairies.

They already made Grave of the Fireflies, that's kinda the same. It is not cheerful. (Full dubbed movie, tissues not provided)
posted by WhackyparseThis at 3:49 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh god, 'Where the Wind Blows'. That gives me cold horrors - I mean Threads was nightmarish but 'Where the Wind Blows' and those poor, ignorant old people with their lack of understanding of what's going on... ARGH. Too close to people I know, too close to home.
posted by andraste at 4:08 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Based on his own parents, who he also later did a graphic novel about: Ethel and Ernest.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:15 AM on July 17, 2012


Immediately following the 1983 broadcast of The Day After, a KC ABC afiliate aired a special news program featuring speakers and scenes from a local candlelight vigil. It's all up on YouTube as well and is a powerful window into how real it all was for us at the time.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:26 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is something Gen X can still hold over those Millennials- you didn't have to put up with half this crazy bullshit when you were kids.

Now get off my lawn! My smoldering, radioactive lawn with two people in rags fighting over a can of Puritan beef stew.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:28 AM on July 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


And the soundtrack to nuclear genocide is provided by none other than the lovely Tina Turner
posted by Renoroc at 4:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Back in the first half of the eighties, when the Soviet leadership was old, dementing and increasingly paranoid and president Reagan spoke of a winnable nuclear war and set in motion the Star Wars project to make it so

And speaking of a winnable nuclear war made possible by an invisible sky barrier isn't a sign of an old, dementing, and increasingly paranoid leadership?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:37 AM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Back in the first half of the eighties, when the Soviet leadership was old, dementing and increasingly paranoid and president Reagan ....

Reagan was old, demented, and paranoid too, fwiw.
posted by spitbull at 4:37 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sort of depressing?
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:50 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anyone is watching Threads for the first time maybe they could tape themselves, Astro Zombie style?
posted by Artw at 4:55 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had an uncle who worked in the Home Office and actually wrote various sections of the Protect and Survive public information series. Greenpeace and CND argued that it made nuclear war more likely, as it increased the public's perception that nuclear war was survivable.

In fact, according to my uncle, that was precisely what is was intended to do, but for different reasons. The planners of the day realised they didn't have the resources to control the widespread civil disobedience that would arise in the period of instability immediately preceding a strike, or to control outbreaks of disease that would arise from the millions of dead bodies strewn around the outdoors where they fell.

So they devised a process that would both keep everyone occupied and docile, and ensure they died indoors. Hence all the fuss about lengthy preparations for building shelters out of door frames and covering them in turf - completely ineffective, but time consuming and indoors.

Interestingly, this discipline of social engineering is alive and well. The whole business in the US and UK of instituting draconian martial law legislation, and the pre-emptive installation of the massive infrastructure of civil disorder control that will be required after the financial system collapses would have been impossible without the manufactured "terrorist threat" and associated culture.

It's not the surveillance cameras, and the trained staff, and the airport security apparatus, the body searches on old ladies in wheel chairs, the construction of mass detention centres, and the surface air missiles around sporting events.

It is the prize of getting us to accept all this as perfectly normal - the social engineering - so that when it is called upon for real we will submit more easily, that has been the triumph. It has a long and distinguished pedigree.
posted by falcon at 4:59 AM on July 17, 2012 [73 favorites]


Between the "this is awful, but we'll rally" Day After and the "your world is now completely fucked" Threads is Testament (also available in full on YouTube). It's the story of a small bedroom community outside San Francisco and how things fall apart after SF is nuked and the radiation slowly spreads their way. PBS made it for American Playhouse but it did have a brief theatrical release.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:06 AM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Our fifth grade class had to watch "The Day After" the night it aired. I was under the impression that every school kid in America had to watch it.

I'm pretty sure I've seen most of the more popular realistic nuclear apocalypse movies, but I don't remember the plots to any of them. I chalk this up to a mild PTSD type effect.

Looking back I feel kind of lucky to have grown up in the 80s. It was a pretty unique time culturally speaking. But man, there was some fucked up shit going on.
posted by nowhere man at 5:10 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hence all the fuss about lengthy preparations for building shelters out of door frames and covering them in turf - completely ineffective, but time consuming and indoors.


You mean this wasn't practical advice?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:20 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whoah, whoaaaaa notagonnaclickathattalink.

Am I in the right room for the 'Child of the '80s Traumatised by Imminent Nuclear Disaster Publicity" support group? Because I sure as hell could use a group hug right now, just thinking about Where The Wind Blows and Protect and Survive.

I was also one of those kids who never ever had their reading material screened, and I read On The Beach way too young.

Can we break for a cup of tea and a biscuit now?
posted by Catch at 5:21 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


but I've never stopped being afraid of nuclear war.

This is what we call "sensible" in my neck of the woods. It's the people who aren't afraid of nuclear war (or, honestly, war in general) that you have to watch out for. As, you know, the last decade has demonstrated....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:29 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unlike maxwelton, we weren't comfortingly close to any potential crispy drop-spots, so On The Beach, (in which the doomed populations down in the Southern Hemisphere wait and wait and wait for radioactive drift to reach them, and keep their government issued suicide pills handy) was particularly traumatising.
posted by Catch at 5:30 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


That cat looked pretty real - and ET on fire... this could be the prequel to Game of Thrones.
posted by a non e mouse at 5:31 AM on July 17, 2012


I lived through that time, and saw both those harrowing films.

The problem was that we had a clown in the White House who joked about nuclear war ("we begin bombing in fifteen minutes") and never missed an opportunity to ridicule the only reasonable leader the Soviets had ever had.

I admit, I always thought the world as we know it would end like the finish of Dr. Strangelove, with Reagan riding an ICBM down onto the Kremlin, waving his cowboy hat.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 5:34 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was convinced I was going to die and hoped it would be quick - at school we worked out where the nearest targets were, and guessed what would happen.

You were in Sheffield and you and your friends were doing that; I was in Eastern Connecticut and me and my friends were also doing that. And I'm sure we are far from the only kids who were doing that.

Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?

Am I in the right room for the 'Child of the '80s Traumatised by Imminent Nuclear Disaster Publicity" support group? Because I sure as hell could use a group hug right now, just thinking about Where The Wind Blows and Protect and Survive.

....In all seriousness - I know two songs by Bruce Cockburn that may help (they helped me after the fact). His song "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" first - he wrote that after watching his daughters, who were our contemporaries and who knew all about war and were going through the same bullshit, but were still getting crushes on boys and daring to fall in love, and it all seemed incredibly hopeful. (Barenaked Ladies did a cover, so here's Bruce and Stephen Page dueting on it.) And then if you read the story behind Wondering Where the Lions Are, it's another hopeful one.

I've talked in other threads about the nightmares I got from these films; not watching the links because I probably still would today. Gonna listen to some Bruce instead.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:43 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Also previously. (Links to the movie on Google Video; it's no longer there.)
posted by jiawen at 5:51 AM on July 17, 2012


Also, the threat of nuclear war is not a thing of the past.
posted by jiawen at 5:58 AM on July 17, 2012


Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?

My friends and I in Boston did this. One of them worried about his grandparents, who lived in northern VT or NH - can't remember which - and he was so afraid that they would suffer a lot before they died, instead of just being vaporized like us.

What a weird way to grow up.
posted by rtha at 6:11 AM on July 17, 2012


Between the "this is awful, but we'll rally" Day After and the "your world is now completely fucked" Threads is Testament

I'm glad someone brought up Testament. Great film. I think the most chilling part of it was how the dad just never came home.

Man, what a time to grow up. I know every generation has their thing but the cold war was just crazy. I remember having daily talks with my friends about "the button" and how when Reagan pushed it (because we knew he was going to push it) we were all just going to go get a lawn chair and sit by the local Army labs so it would be a quick death.

Then one day it just ended. No more USSR. We survived.

I remember when the first Gulf war happened I thought it was weird that it was a conventional war with tanks and soldiers with guns. I thought those sorts of wars were a thing of the past.
posted by bondcliff at 6:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [12 favorites]


Is this rising in the Zeitgeist or something? I've been revisiting a lot of these movies and the general insanity of the Cold War recently, and it seems it's been a popular topic.

There's a Russian expat fellow who lives in my neighborhood who is about my age and who grew up in Moscow during the insanity of the Reagan years and we've been trading stories from either side of the Iron Curtain. Just the other day we were talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis and he made some interesting points about the general lack of Soviet ICBM capability at the time and the fact that it was all a reaction to the US placing missiles in Turkey.

So in a very real sense Khruschev actually "won" the Cuban Missile Crisis by causing the US withdrawal of said missiles from Turkey, something that seems to be frequently overlooked or completely unheard of in the US.

Another thing that seems to make more and more sense as I get older is that it seems that much if not most of the Cold War was propelled entirely by the US "reactions" to threats that didn't really exist - either through bad intelligence, bad faith actions or outright cowboy jingoism like Reagan's.

Examples include the US reaction to the "missile gap" which never really existed.

Or the US reaction to the MIG 25 "Foxbat" which was seen as a high maneuverability air superiority fighter with capabilities so legendary that people are still confused about it today - when it was no such thing at all since it was a high altitude, high speed bomber interceptor designed to do one thing and one thing only - intercept high altitude B52s and shoot them down before they could reach their bombing targets like piloted missiles - which prompted the rapid design evolution and increased cost of the F-15 as an actual air superiority fighter that far exceeded the MIG 25 and everything else on the planet by 15+ years.

Patterns of reactionary paranoia like this repeat themselves throughout the Cold War from before the launch of Sputnik and the development of the H-Bomb, and they even happen internally in the US. See the intellectual and social destruction of Oppenheimer as he was ousted - who opposed the H-bomb and protested that it was a weapon of mass destruction and terror, and it's uselessness and madness of it as a defensive weapon - and Teller's take-over of the DOE/AEA.

And on almost all sides we have bullshit from the authorities like the infamous "Duck and Cover" Civil Defense films, or insanity about the "survivability" of a full scale thermonuclear war.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Two Tribes (Annihilation Mix)

Man, I haven't heard that extended mix in years and I practically forgot about it. I remember KROQ in LA used to play the full extended mix on the air and the samples and spoken word bits were terrifying. I remember my mom asking me what the heck I was listening to.

posted by loquacious at 6:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


Also it cracks me up when I think of how we all just assumed the President had a big red button on his desk that he could push at any time to launch all the missiles. I'm sure glad that wasn't the case.
posted by bondcliff at 6:13 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a Russian expat fellow who lives in my neighborhood who is about my age and who grew up in Moscow during the insanity of the Reagan years and we've been trading stories from either side of the Iron Curtain.

Russian joke from that time:

Ivan, what will you do if the civil defence alarm goes off?
Ah comrade, I will wrap myself in a white blanket and walk slowly to the cemetary
Why slowly?
Why comrade, I wouldn't want to cause panic.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:16 AM on July 17, 2012 [14 favorites]


Another thing that seems to make more and more sense as I get older is that it seems that much if not most of the Cold War was propelled entirely by the US "reactions" to threats that didn't really exist - either through bad intelligence, bad faith actions or outright cowboy jingoism like Reagan's.

"The Cold War wasn't to keep the Soviets in line, it was to keep us in line," as Sarah Schulman wrote in (I think) Rat Bohemia.

Honestly, I miss the Cold War. At least back when there was a Soviet Union the rich had to throw us a bone now and then out of fear that we'd say "sure, there's the gulag but at least you get medical care, schooling, housing and free vacations at the workers' beach resort" and go all commie. We had to be all "yay, free speech" back in the Cold War; capitalism had to appear to be something other than naked greed and violence by the poor against the rich - because we had to show that we were better than the alternative. Right now, the official line of the US "somewhat better than a very few extremely violent mass-terrorism advocating fundamentalist Muslims, maybe."
posted by Frowner at 6:18 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does anyone else remember "Special Bulletin"? Another 1983 made-for-TV movie, presented as a series of news reports about a group of scientists holding Charleston, SC, hostage with a homemade nuke.

That movie scared me much, much more than The Day After ever could.
posted by hanov3r at 6:19 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ooooh, that was a Freudian slip! "Naked violence by the rich against the poor", eh comrade?
posted by Frowner at 6:19 AM on July 17, 2012


I wasn't allowed to watch The Day After. Everyone at school was having these post-apocalyptic nightmares, and I missed out.

I hated grade school.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:21 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never really gotten the people who revel in postapocalyptic stuff, who apparently are able to imagine themselves surviving. I always assumed I'd be toast, either immediately or later, even when I was younger and stronger.

Getting older and more busted means that every time a new version comes out (like The Road) I just have a reiteration of "Hopefully I'll die right off; otherwise, hopefully I'll have the courage and opportunity to off myself before I have to die slowly and horribly." And then I don't read it/go see it because there's nothing else to say about it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:21 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos:
"Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?"
The ones who got religious became End Times believers.
My father was always a "we're gonna get nuked and die" kind of person. When that threat mostly ended and he eventually found religion, he became a "Jesus is coming back a generation after the founding of Israel" kind of person.

I feel the same pull but resist it. Once a year our local paper would print a map showing what would happen to the communities around Wright Pat if it got nuked. (My home town would have the windows blown out, anyone watching the initial flash would be blinded, radiation would take a good while to get here.) For most of my life, I literally imagined I could hear the drums of apocalypse pounding in the night - for a while in college I couldn't even sleep because at night some machinery in the distance sounding like a deep, pounding drum.

I grew up with the fear of nuclear war - it was burned into me. After that it was fear of social upheaval, economic collapse, some religious end time scenario, super viruses. The website Exit Mundi was the worst thing I could have ever found. My whole life has been lived under the shadow of cataclysm.

I think that has made me worse for caring about things now. Coping has made me avoid subjects like global warming and economic collapse. I live my life on the assumption that tomorrow will be the same as yesterday, because if I extrapolate all I see is useless ashes.

Fuck the Cold War. Fuck nukes. Fuck.
posted by charred husk at 6:22 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Does anyone else remember "Special Bulletin"? Another 1983 made-for-TV movie, presented as a series of news reports about a group of scientists holding Charleston, SC, hostage with a homemade nuke.

Yes!

I think there may have even been a Mefi post about it.
posted by bondcliff at 6:22 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]



Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?


I was on a beach trip last summer with a group of friends, all five to ten years younger than I. We were sitting on the front porch of the beach house one morning, and they were all romanticizing the hell out of various post-apocalyptic scenarios--discussing where they would go, what they would do to survive and the options for daredevilry once the laws governing the status quo had broken down. Their complete confidence that they would survive some apocalyptic event struck me as being arrogant and that the resulting chaos would be kind of fun was just unthinkable to me. I got sort of angry and as I sat there trying to suss out why I was mad, it occurred to me that none of them had any real memory of 80s. They hadn't spent most of their childhood paralyzed with terror at (what seemed to an eight year old in 1984) the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. And to the above point, I always assumed I was going to die. I hoped it would be fast. And I was terrified, really honestly terrified, of survival.

It all seems very melodramatic and a little bit hilarious now, but I remember watching the Berlin Wall come down and thinking to myself that I might actually make it to prom before nuclear winter after all.
posted by thivaia at 6:32 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I read the comic When the Wind Blows a few years ago. Visually it is pretty tame, but the affection, naivete and gentle confusion of the couple contrasted with their situation that persisted even until the end of the movie struck me deeper than anything I have seen before or since. I did not go to sleep easy that night.
posted by schroedinger at 6:33 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?

I always wondered if those "civil defense drills" where we knelt in the elementary school hallway ("protect your spinal column with your hands") weren't more for nuclear war than tornadoes.

I saw "The Day After" at age 11, and I still remember the scene with the orange. *shudder* I'd read enough Jerry Pournelle novels to know that I wanted to die in the initial blast. I still sometimes have intrusive thoughts about disasters and pandemics, and what I might do to protect my family. It makes me frantic for a while.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:34 AM on July 17, 2012


Everyone on here seems to be talking about nuclear holocaust as if it were some relic of the past, something some of us (myself included - those fallout shelter signs in NY buildings were a constant reminder of the impending danger) remember quite vividly, but I see absolutely no reason to be any less concerned about this potential nightmare these days, even though the mainstream media isn't pumping my brain full of fear about it (how many backwater 'Mericuns are waaaaay more frightened of the black man in the white house). It's not like there are any less missiles and warheads floating around these days, and a whole lot more lunatics, thieves and mobsters in government (in both the US and Russia), more widespread religious fanaticism, more pervasive ignorance, less global stability, all the kinds of ingredients that would make nuclear war all the more feasible. So pardon me if I continue to lose sleep over this scenario.
posted by dbiedny at 6:34 AM on July 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Between the "this is awful, but we'll rally" Day After

I don't remember the "we'll rally" part of The Day After. I remember Jason Robards standing in the ruins of his house while dying of radiation sickness. Holy God, that movie gave me nightmares for weeks.

what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?

When I was a small child I lived across the street from a Nike missile silo. Major Matt Mason and I used to climb on the sofa and watch the tests as the missiles rose out of their silos. At that age, of course, I just thought that they were super-cool rockets.

It all seems very melodramatic and a little bit hilarious now

I can remember many, many discussions through high school and into college where my friends and I just naturally assumed that, sooner or later, we'd all die in a nuclear holocaust. It was all very melodramatic, but not any less terrifying for that.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:57 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


those fallout shelter signs in NY buildings were a constant reminder of the impending danger

My Elementary School was a fallout shelter. Forgot about the impending nuclear war for a minute? Welcome to school, we'll remind you!
posted by Rock Steady at 7:00 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid in the 1960s, say until I was twelve years old, I used to have regular nuclear war nightmares. These were often extremely realistic, and I often used to panic inside the dream and tell myself I was only dreaming and had to wake up, which I often did in tears and terror. A lot of my friends in the US admit to having had similar nightmares as children.

When I moved to Hungary I asked people here if they had ever had similar nightmares. None said they did. Perhaps it was because they had not been exposed to nuclear apocalypse style school training videos, perhaps because they had less information about politics during their communist era. They had Soviet soldiers riding in tanks on the highway, but they slept better.
posted by zaelic at 7:05 AM on July 17, 2012


I'm not sure if growing up fundie in the 80's made it easier or not. On one hand, we considered nuclear war inevitable (all the nastiness in Revlation and the weirdness in Ezekiel was a result of the bomb, right?) but, since the rapture would probably happen before the nukes started flying, we Christians would be just fine.

But those beliefs didn't matter to me. I was absolutely terrified of what I thought my inevitable annihilation was going to be. Reagan was a shitty president in a lot of ways and he was especially bad for any kid in 81-84 who paid even a little attention to the news. "We just passed legislation outlawing Russia forever. The bombing starts in five minutes. Ha Ha Ha!" He had a great sense of humor.

Thank god for The Day After and Gorbachev since those two made Reagan snap out of it and the second half of the 80's, even before the Wall fell, wasn't nearly as scary.

Anyways, there's no way in hell I can watch Threads again. Once was enough. I tried playing Fallout 3 but the setting, as relatively mild as it was, triggered enough of the childhood anxieties and depressions that I had to stop.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:11 AM on July 17, 2012


I think I should point out game designer Greg Costikyan's very very short game called Nuclear Winter. It is available in the following address in all its glory. You only need a six-sided die to play!

http://www.costik.com/nukewin.html

My Firefox warned about this site being an attack site. I don't think it is (that particular page is just plain HTML and a link to CSS file), but if you are worried, you can try this other address. It's the archive.org version of the page.

Same page, in the Internet Archive

I'm not sure it's quite statistically accurate in all ways, but things should even out by the end of the game.
posted by tykky at 7:11 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


It wouldn't have been a good time to visit Florida, but a war then would not have been as big a disaster as a war in the eighties would've been.

Whcih is why, during my own Cold War panranoia-induced sonsumption of post-holocaust stories*, I found Alas, Babylon -- which I guess was supposed to be frightening when published in 1959 -- almost shockingly tame.

*I can echo the admiration for The Day After, Canticle for Liebowitz, On the Beach, Testament et al. And while it has the unhappy distinction of not being fictional, I think John Hersey's 1946 book Hiroshima deserves mention as well.
posted by Gelatin at 7:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope to never see a day when this world enters nuclear war, because it's most probably going to be the last day of life for most people on Earth..
posted by leevituulola at 7:15 AM on July 17, 2012


I don't remember the "we'll rally" part of The Day After.

You're correct. There was no "we will rally" part at all. One of the most powerful parts of that movie was when the president (a Reagan soundalike in the original cut) came on the radio and essentially said "We'll get past this. We're Americans! We're not going to let a little something like Nuclear War slow us down." and the listeners in the refugee camp, the people in the ruins of their homes, listened blankly for a while and then were quite angry at the empty platitudes.

That whole movie was hopeless. It was one of the qualities that made the conservatives at the time rail against it. National Review panned the film by saying "Nuclear war wouldn't be that bad. We'd rally!" showing they had just as good a relationship with reality then as they do now.

Still, The Day After was a happy walk through the radiated park compared to Threads.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:17 AM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I wonder if The Day After would air today. Such editorializing! It'd have to be immediately followed by Nukes: An Effective And Stabilizing Deterrent.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:19 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Good christ, what did it do to us that an entire generation of children was growing up actively figuring out the quickest way to die?

It's really difficult to think back now or to explain how convinced we all were that death was round the corner, or a slow and hideous decline.

Theres a short story by Charles Stross called A Colder War which is a cold war / lovecraft mash up - and it captures the overwhelming oppressive feeling of a self inflicted devastation just round the corner. We were going to kill ourselves, and everyone else, out of laziness and hate.

But it didn't happen, and the wall came down and the sun came up. I wonder how my children will remember their own global ticking clock of destruction in the future.

We're still here, and the world goes on (I like the Bruce Cockburn EmpressCallipygos linked to above. So I guess we can all light a candle to Stanislav Petrov and get to work on global warming and the new aristocrats who want to steal everything and burn it all down.
posted by Gilgongo at 7:20 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


How appropriate, too, that yesterday was the anniversary of the Trinity test.
posted by Gelatin at 7:24 AM on July 17, 2012


Also a notable bit of apocalypse-in-sitcom is that episode of "Benson" where the governor's crew goes through a simulated nuclear emergency in the bunker. Again, imagine an episode of How I Met Your Mother doing this.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Common playground discussion when I was in elementary school centered on whether one would try to get close enough to ground zero (and what methods we'd use to do so) to be vaporized by the bombs or hide in a shelter somewhere and attempt to live on afterward. Complicating factors were the sure knowledge we'd gained from films & comic books that nuclear survivors would become mutated zombies in fairly short order. It was a Catholic school so killing yourself outright was out because you'd end up in hell then. Commies were going to hell anyway because they were atheists.

Ah, the memories.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:33 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


thivaia: I got sort of angry and as I sat there trying to suss out why I was mad, it occurred to me that none of them had any real memory of 80s. They hadn't spent most of their childhood paralyzed with terror at (what seemed to an eight year old in 1984) the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

8 in '84 makes you just shy of 10 years younger than me (I graduated high school in '84). Perhaps that fear is specific to a specific window of time (say, not yet a teenager between '83 and '89)? I grew up in Maryland, minutes south of Andrews Air Force Base (home of Air Force One, and likely a primary target)[1], and I can't recall anything, either personally or observed in my peer group, like the terror you experienced.

I do recall watching any number of nukewar/post-apocalyptic movies, and reading "men's adventure" series books like The Survivalist, but I can't say any of those things really terrified me. Except the previously mentioned "Special Bulletin" - renegade scientists making a point scared me much more than the Russians ever did.

[1] Funny (to me) story: one day in high school, a girl in class gasped and pointed out the window. I looked, just in time to see a mushroom shaped smoke cloud rising over AAFB. There was a general "Oh, wow" reaction in the room before the teacher pointed out that if it were a nuclear bomb, we never would have had time to react. Turned out that they were testing the reaction time of the airfield fire department, and had lit a barrel of oil on fire.
posted by hanov3r at 7:39 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A grimly funny bit from the Wikipedia entry about the filming of The Day After:

On Monday, August 30, 1982, ABC shut down Rusty's IGA supermarket in Lawrence's Hillcrest Shopping Center from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. to shoot a scene representing panic buying. A local man and his infant son came to the market, apparently unaware that ABC was filming a movie. The man reportedly saw the chaos and ran back into his car in fear.
posted by emjaybee at 7:39 AM on July 17, 2012


One of the childhood possessions that I most regret losing was a vintage civil defense manual. It included chapters with instructions for building fallout shelters, etc. I recall that one chapter was about setting up a resistance after the invasion of the United States.

The fascinating thing about the cold war is realizing how much capitalism -- which is now practically viewed as natural law by most people -- in fact had a huge machinery behind it to ensure that it was not challenged.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:47 AM on July 17, 2012


It's too nice out for Threads, and this is coming from someone who has Miracle Mile in a Netflix envelope sitting on her TV stand. At 29, I'm not even old enough to remember most of the Cold War, and Threads utterly fucked me up. Not today, y'all.
posted by timetoevolve at 7:49 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my God, Anne McCaffrey's Dragonrider series is about having the power to fight back against inexorable death that falls from the skies, and she predated Regan's Star Wars insanity by 15 years.

(Sorry for the derail, carry on.)
posted by subdee at 7:52 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Trinity and Beyond" is my favorite documentary. I coerced some younger friends into watching it this weekend, and had to admit to them that I find visuals of nuclear explosions exciting. Yes, there is something horribly orgasmic about them.

I'm old enough to have grown up in the late 50s when propaganda was at its height, and I've collected several sets of propaganda films from the 50s and 60s that are available on Amazon. It's fascinating to see the contradictory messages that our government spread: it's survivable with just a simple basement shelter (and they never mentioned how to use the toilet), or it's horribly dangerous.

When I spent part of my childhood in the early 60s living in the Middle East, as the daughter of a State Department diplomat, it was terrifying on the few occasions when we'd encounter Soviets. I once saw a Soviet nuclear submarine in port in Algeria, and it depressed me for a week thereafter.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 7:53 AM on July 17, 2012


I wonder if The Day After would air today. Such editorializing! It'd have to be immediately followed by Nukes: An Effective And Stabilizing Deterrent.

It pops up on TV from time to time, I saw it about a year ago. They substituted a different voice for the Reagan sound-alike, which I never understood. What difference would that make?

posted by Melismata at 7:55 AM on July 17, 2012


subdee that series was one of my guilty pleasures as a child and I have only just seen that. Thank you!
posted by Gilgongo at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh, it's been awhile, but I do remember a (very small) bit of "we're Americans, we'll rally" in The Day After. Not that it wasn't devastating. Plus there was that followup about "what you've just seen was actually a best-case scenario, real nuclear war would be much worse".

Someone said in a previous Cold War thread that American nuclear war fiction often has a note of hope that isn't there in things like Threads, since the US is so big there is the chance you could find someplace at least partially intact. Maybe I'm projecting that onto my Day After memories.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:56 AM on July 17, 2012


rongorongo, shouldn't this be on the playlist as well: "Land of Confusion" by Genesis.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 7:58 AM on July 17, 2012


hanov3r: "Perhaps that fear is specific to a specific window of time (say, not yet a teenager between '83 and '89)? I grew up in Maryland, minutes south of Andrews Air Force Base (home of Air Force One, and likely a primary target)[1], and I can't recall anything, either personally or observed in my peer group, like the terror you experienced.

...

[1] Funny (to me) story: one day in high school, a girl in class gasped and pointed out the window. I looked, just in time to see a mushroom shaped smoke cloud rising over AAFB. There was a general "Oh, wow" reaction in the room before the teacher pointed out that if it were a nuclear bomb, we never would have had time to react. Turned out that they were testing the reaction time of the airfield fire department, and had lit a barrel of oil on fire."
posted by Reverend John at 8:01 AM on July 17, 2012


I graduated from high school on 1989, and I remember having nightmares about nuclear war as a child.

I watched Threads and TDA as a teen, and I remember loving the realism of it. I watched Threads on video ten years later and was seriously depressed.

The War Game linked to above is probably even more disturbing.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:01 AM on July 17, 2012


While the TV news and schools were warning parents about The Day After, my mother insisted that my sister and I watch it (I was 9 at the time) so we would understand the reality of nuclear war. It was a scary movie, but on the other hand I don't think I was "traumatized" by it. If anything it helped mold my liberal and pacifist beliefs.

I also remember Testament and Special Bulletin. The one thing that sticks with me about Testament is the mother's narration when the neighbor's child died as "she just curled up in the corner and died."
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:04 AM on July 17, 2012


@Gilgongo you are welcome! The other thing that occurred to me recently is that The Matrix perfectly captures the feeling of the late-90s bubble economy being Not Real.
posted by subdee at 8:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm young (22) and I'm a gamer. I grew up in the 90s with no talk of apocalypse except what I received through games.

I've played the Fallout series, and as a tabletop gamer one of my favorite settings has always been some variety of cataclysm. Whether that's set in a futuristic, modern, or historical setting, it rarely fails to be one of the most fun gaming experiences I have.

Recently, I think I've figured out why: It's deceptively simple. You the player don't feel any suffering or loss; you simply get to see the aftermath, and to be a strong survivor. The goals are clear: Here's how you survive, and once you've accomplished that you can think about completing the plot.

The film Naqoyqatsi comes to mind; I remember watching that film in highschool. Some of the most beautiful imagery were the slow-motion mushroom clouds. There is something inherently fascinating and weirdly beautiful about destruction when viewed from the perspective of one who feels that whatever they're watching can't harm them.

Not that it's a healthy perspective, mind you. I still maintain that the invincibility instilled in my generation is going to be the death of everyone. But, it does help to explain why the post-apocalyptic games (particularly those where the player is a survivor rather than a scrounger) are so popular. Movies like these are unknown to my generation - they involve too much thinking. It's much nicer to watch everything explode and delude ourselves by thinking that you'll be one of the young, strong ones left behind who will still manage to thrive and become the next legendary Vault Dweller.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I miss the Cold War. At least back when there was a Soviet Union the rich had to throw us a bone now and then out of fear that we'd say "sure, there's the gulag but at least you get medical care, schooling, housing and free vacations at the workers' beach resort" and go all commie. We had to be all "yay, free speech" back in the Cold War; capitalism had to appear to be something other than naked greed and violence by the poor against the rich - because we had to show that we were better than the alternative.

Really? Because I remember a vastly different Reagan's America; one where public funds were slashed from social programs across the board in order to feed lunacy like "peacekeeper missiles", Star Wars and wars by proxy in Central America, where End Times fundies were allowed political sway, where unions started to get stomped. Naked greed was pretty much the defining feature of the decade, too. This was apart from living in perpetual fear that the Soviets were just waiting for any opportunity to rain nuclear hell down upon us, so in my travels to and from school or friends, I would make a point to look for places where I might be able to hide from the initial blast (against the advice of my father, who suggested "give it a big kiss on the way down" rather than suffer a long, painful death to radiation sickness).
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


I wonder if The Day After would air today. Such editorializing! It'd have to be immediately followed by Nukes: An Effective And Stabilizing Deterrent.

The Day After actually prompted Ben Stein to write a rebutal that lead to the 1987 miniseries Amerika which was exactly the type of right-wing "nukes defend our 'Merican freedom" type of editorializing you'd expect.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:08 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking of Generation X and nuclear war, Douglas Coupland has a series of vignettes in his book Life After God called The Dead Speak which are chilling. (could only find them on Tumblr)

My teenage plan for the 4 minute warning in a suburb of London was to open the front windows, put Sound and Vision by Bowie on the stereo loud and then go out and lie on the wall listening to the song and waiting. I always assumed it would happen on a sunny day.

I wonder what it did to the mindset of generation X today that we all knew for a fact that we were going to die soon and then we didn't.
posted by merocet at 8:13 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Man, I am so glad to learn that I'm not the only member of Gen X who was f*cked up by The Day After and Reagan's insanity.

For quite some time after The Day After aired (I was 9 years old), I was convinced that the sound of any airplane in the sky was an approaching Soviet bomber. And I thought that anytime the President appeared in a special television event, it was to announce the start of a nuclear war.

I learned about Threads a few years ago via MeFi, and I knew right away that there was no way in hell I would ever watch more than 30 seconds of it. Just reading the wikipedia entry on it brings back all those old feelings.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Day After was directed by Nicholas Meyer, a dude whose previous project was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I get a big kick out of the fact that Meyer was on such a roll in the early 80s that he went from making one of the all-time landmark space adventures to making a movie that unquestionably made the world a better place-- I've read in a couple of different places (one for sure was David Hoffman's The Dead Hand, a great if terrifying book) that watching The Day After was directly responsible for Reagan's evolving view on taking a hard line against the Soviets and backing off from the aggressive sabre-rattling of his first few years.

There should be a statue of Nicholas Meyer somewhere, is what I'm saying.
posted by COBRA! at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Speaking of the nuclear destruction super playlist, Panic, by the Smiths was inspired by Morrissey hearing an announcement of the Chernobyl disaster followed by some insipid pop number by Wham on the radio.
See also: Everyday is Like Sunday inspired by On the Beach.
And: Ask, "If it's not love, then it's the bomb that will bring us together."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 8:25 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


8 in '84 makes you just shy of 10 years younger than me (I graduated high school in '84). Perhaps that fear is specific to a specific window of time (say, not yet a teenager between '83 and '89)? I grew up in Maryland, minutes south of Andrews Air Force Base (home of Air Force One, and likely a primary target)[1], and I can't recall anything, either personally or observed in my peer group, like the terror you experienced.

Bigger window than that. I first became aware-aware of nukes in 1979 on a family vacation when my parents had fallen asleep with the TV on and I stayed up to watch Johnny Carson, and then there was something on the SALT talks after that and I was watching that in horrified fascination because my then-persistent fear of the boogeymen in the dark was summoning the courage to turn off the TV; that broadcast turned it from a fear of the boogeyman in the dark to the fear of a mushroom cloud in the dark, because my kid-brain was processing the SALT talks as "there are these really big bombs somewhere that can kill everyone in the whole world and they can go off at any minute."

I was nine. My nightmares about nuclear war started then and didn't abate until I got to be about thirty.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 AM on July 17, 2012


I've been reading a lot of J.G. Ballard recently and, weirdly, he gave me a different perspective on the persistence of the Mad Max/disaster-porn/survivors-on-dune-buggies version of nuclear war (as opposed to the more accurate Threads/Manhattan phone book/you-and-everyone-you-know-dies version), though he wrote very little explicitly post-nuclear stuff. There's the straightforward promise of rugged individualism, your tedious life becoming Survival Adventure, and so on ... But at a deeper level it also offers the seduction of the inversion of death. Rather than the awful, quotidian fact that you will die one day and the world will carry on without you, it's the opposite: the world stops and you continue. All those vacant hotels, crumbling cities and streets choked with abandoned cars are an external expression of the moment following our personal death, when the world ends for us -- but the fiction promises that we get to be there, live through it, and end up on the other side of the terminus. Rather than leaving the human community, the community leaves us. The story of his that the New Yorker published immediately after his death really captures it: The Autobiography of J.G.B.
posted by finnb at 8:27 AM on July 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


Whoops, meant to link to The Dead Hand. Really, it's a great book.
posted by COBRA! at 8:30 AM on July 17, 2012


I think my Cold War paranoia began with reading A Cantlicle for Liebowitz at about nine or ten. The notion that the advanced technological civiliaztion I knew could be destroyed so thoroughly that it was centuries later regarded as almost mythical, save for a few misunderstood artifacts, and to the point where the hardscrabble and occasionally mutated survivors thought about *anything*, deeply impressed me.

Of course, it was also the time of the weekly Emergency Broadcast System tests, "tornado" drills and, as someone mentioned upthread, Fallout Shelter signs in schools and office buildings.

Later, as a gamer, the relentlessly bleak setting of Twilight:2000 also made a strong impression of a civilization in its death throes in which *nothing* the player characters did made all that much of a difference outside of personal survival (and often, not even that).
posted by Gelatin at 8:35 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some other fiction that can capture the appropriate mood is some of the Codominium books by Niven and Pournelle. They imagine a future where the US and the USSR team up to, basically, rule the world together with an iron fist. Perhaps I just read those books at a formative age, but that always seemed more likely to me than us actually destroying each other, barring accidents.

I was born in 1979, so I only remember the post-The Day After Reagan. While everyone likes to rag on '80s era ballistic missile defense, we learned a lot in the attempt. If all the nuclear powers worked together, we could replace the inherently aggressive structure of MAD with one where everyone can feel safe from ballistic missiles. Same result, less chance of whoops.
posted by BeeDo at 8:39 AM on July 17, 2012


In addition to the awesome ABC special I linked to upthread, you should check out this clip from the Nightline "ViewPoint" episode that immediately followed the original showing of The Day After.
It's a shame that its been wiped off youtube in its entirety but this clip gives you a sense of that night. ABC manned switchboards with suicide and depression counselors and invited Carl Sagan, Robert MacNamara, Henry Kissinger, and more to appear on this discussion afterward.

This is the same special where Sagan famously said “The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.”
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:45 AM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


While everyone likes to rag on '80s era ballistic missile defense, we learned a lot in the attempt.

Unfortunately, we -- or more accurately, certain influential military/industrial/political factions -- didn't learn that it just doesn't work.
posted by Gelatin at 8:45 AM on July 17, 2012


I was born in '82 and I think I just missed this era. I remember (vaguely) the wall coming down. I barely remember the '88 election and have no memory of Reagan's craziness.

I have a Ukrainian friend who is the same age as me, but for her, when she thinks of anything nuclear it's about spending two years of her early childhood on the Black Sea instead of in Kiev. (She has family in the area and her parents moved there for quite some time after Chernobyl.)

I think for my generation there was the idea that nukes might go off at some time, but it would most like be something that fell into someone's hands after the breakup of the USSR (the '93 WTC bombing and the '96 OKC bombing were huge events for me). But a nuclear apocalypse? We assumed that bullet had been dodged.

I am not sure how safe an assumption that is, but I still think that the next time a nuclear weapon goes off outside of Soutwest/South Asia it will be from a non-governmental activist group.

I kind of wonder what playing lots of Civilization did for my view of nuclear weapons. They devastated cities and caused massive harm, but they could be cleaned up eventually and in the later games you could build semi-effective defense systems.
posted by Hactar at 8:49 AM on July 17, 2012



Is there anyone else who was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s who, like me, wasn't actually terrified of nuclear war? I was horrified at the stupidity of it, of the idea of war itself, but didn't spend any time actually worrying about the bombs falling. Conventional war seemed much worse, from a "if you have to suffer through it" perspective. We always lived near enough to a ground-zero target I figured I'd be fried quickly and thoroughly.

Must be a side effect that I've never really been frightened of death. Don't want to die, really don't want to die slowly and lingeringly, but the end result? Meh.


I fall into this category. Here in L.A. there was an air raid siren across the street from my school, as well as a McDonalds that had a fallout shelter basement which all us second graders got to visit as a field trip.

I was a very early science fiction fan, and by the time The Day After rolled around, I was in high school, and mostly remember what weak sauce it was. Post nuclear war stories were had been a scifi staple for decades, and there was no shortage of horrible depictions of the aftermath. I was puzzled by the reactions by most folks over the movie. Hadn't anybody ever given any thought to what would happen in the event that the Cold War escalate into a hot war? It seemed so obvious to me that a nuclear exchange would result in horror that could exceed my twisted fertile imagination. And I imagined some pretty sick shit. I came to the conclusion that I would be better off killed outright. I never viewed this as anything but pragmatic.

It wasn't until adulthood that I got to see The War Game and Threads, both superior, IMO.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:58 AM on July 17, 2012


Unfortunately, we -- or more accurately, certain influential military/industrial/political factions -- didn't learn that it just doesn't work.

Not true, we just learned that it is really difficult. All of the stuff about how the most modern ICBMs and SLBMs cannot be cost-effectively countered is missing the point. The very idea rests on the fact that we don't really want to blow each other up.

As part of the process, you agree on a launcher than can be countered by the BMD system. Both sides inspect the other's facilities, and both sides agree to not deploy systems that can defeat the BMD. Sure, everyone knows how to theoretically defeat the BMD, but it takes time to build and deploy a new system... time which the other side would use to deploy their own, taking us back to the current status quo. It's just like when we have an arms reduction treaty, except with some positive defense against whoopsies and internal strife (leading to a rogue launch) built in.

Like all things nuclear, it is as much a political problem as a technical one.
posted by BeeDo at 9:06 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh. OH. This makes sense...born in 1986, so entered school at the very very end of the Cold War. We did tornado drills that in retrospect made no sense, but looking back I always assumed that it was just a stupid state regulation. It has just now occurred to me that they were actually drills for nuclear attacks. They stopped by the time I was in third grade.

Whenever there were actual tornado sirens in our area I'd freak out. I get all my stuffed animals and favorite books together and go into the basement of our home, begging my parents to come downstairs and stay with me. I had the "Wizard of Oz" vision of the whole house ripping away and my parents being born off while I watched from the now-exposed basement. My parents would hang out for me a little bit, then go back upstairs because "a tornado is not going to rip away our house." I sit in the basement for hours after the warnings passed, nearly sick with fear. The association with tornadoes as "the end of the world" (we were in a suburban area, not tornado alley) makes way more sense if tornado was often a euphemism for nuclear warfare.

Childhood neurosis, becoming clearer one day at a time.
posted by newg at 9:10 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, we also had a lot of tornado drills in my 80s childhood... but I grew up in Minnesota. And I remember several trips to the basement when the sirens went off with no visible storm... but our city and county were both large, and those warnings are usually issued on a regional basis.

I'm choosing to believe they were really for tornados, since they are a threat here and MN isn't much of a strategic target... but the idea that some of them might have been nuclear war drills just blew my mind.

(This post brought to you by ellipses)
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:20 AM on July 17, 2012


always pictured the post apocalyptic world as a sort of exciting, albeit dangerous, playground for the young and strong; [...] Threads cured me of that.

For me, it was The War Game (linked above -- not the Matthew Broderick one), which I saw in the late 70s sometime, just before this kind of realistic-catastrophe-stuff suddenly started getting popular. I would've been late teens (maybe twenty) when I saw it and definitely getting some entertainment value at the time from various post-apocalyptic scenarios I'd encountered (from books mostly, the occasional cheesy movie); imagining myself a survivor, dealing with mutants etc, a regular Charlton Heston. But The War Game killed all that. The War Game was bodies laid out along road sides, small children with their faces burned off, still alive, no doctors to help them. Utterly despairing, fun-free apocalypse ...

Is this rising in the Zeitgeist or something?

I kind of hope so. Much as a life without apocalyptic horror looming over one's head is a desirable thing, it's not attained by just ignoring the horror. You've got to negotiate it first, find a way to accept it's reality without having it crush you. And it's still definitely very real. We still have the bombs, the missiles, the viruses, the MEANS.

How did I negotiate it? Well, that's a very long story. But punk rock helped (and related extreme culture), and Marshal McLuhan -- something to do with saying "fuck you" to the notion of post-apocalyptic entertainments (zombies have long bored me) and embracing the far more relevant Apocalypse we're all living in, and have been from the day we were born. It started on Aug-5-1945, 8:15am, Hiroshima time. A genii got unleashed and we've been surfing its delirious energies ever since.

Or as a friend once said, (quite high on acid at the time -- it would've been, 1983-4, exactly when all these "entertainments" were playing out), "If you honestly think life is dull, you're stuck in illusion." And then we likely put on some more Bauhaus.

Ah, the good ole days.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on July 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Sorry if I missed mention of this among other things in this thread, but a few years back AskMe had a related question: Was your town a [rumored] Cold War missile target? That thread stands out as an outstanding example of spontaneous oral history/ethnographic outpouring from our common community experience.
posted by cgk at 9:22 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


when the Soviet leadership was old, dementing and increasingly paranoid

Didn't this apply to the US leadership as well?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:36 AM on July 17, 2012


It's so strange reading about these movies coming out during other people's childhoods and thinking of my own; is there any time I would feel comfortable showing my kid any of these movies? On one hand, his typical-little kid fascination with blowing shit up/war is cool attitude is not something he should have his whole life. And we try to tell him in gentle ways that real war kills people and is not fun or cool. It doesn't get through much, because blowing shit up remains fun and the feature of pretty much every boy toy invented.

Would he hate me for showing him something like this at, say, 12?

I only saw (part of) The Day After because I watched it in secret. I was 12. It fucked me up and I had nightmares for years. My parents didn't want me to watch it because it scared them too (they were the generation of Duck n' Cover) and, in my dad's case, he was sure the Rapture would come get us first anyway.

But maybe part of the reason it fucked me up was that I couldn't talk to my parents (or any adults) about it?

The comments upthread about younger folks not really understanding the reality of what nuclear war means, even while playing videogames about it, worries me.
posted by emjaybee at 9:37 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a bit of a reach, I admit, but I've always suspected the experience of growing up under threat of nuclear annihilation is what's at the root of Gen X's political apathy. I recall how terrifying it was as a kid trying to grasp that such monumental forces with the power to destroy us all existed and for all intents & purposes were completely immovable. In school, they made us do endless rosaries to protect us from the Soviet bombs. Movies like Failsafe & Dr Strangelove didn't help in portraying the individual as utterly helpless at the hands of governments & militaries & shadowy systems whose only purpose was total destruction. Why vote when all the candidates were devoted to M.A.D.? Why try to change things when all the same insane policies inevitably triumph?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:42 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Would he hate me for showing him something like this at, say, 12?

Depends on the kid.

Is he's asking for it (by which I mean being an insufferably mayhem obsessed, delusional little so-and-so), I'd say by all means give to him at age 12, because sometimes kids do need to get spanked (metaphorically, of course). But if he's anything like I was, the key age is closer to the end of high school (17-18), that age when I truly was beginning to think I knew it all, had way too much esteem, hot air. My balloon was definitely ready for some puncturing.
posted by philip-random at 9:45 AM on July 17, 2012


It's a bit of a reach, I admit, but I've always suspected the experience of growing up under threat of nuclear annihilation is what's at the root of Gen X's political apathy.

I don't think that's a stretch. I know for a fact that growing up under the threat had a huge part in shaping me. It's one of the big reasons I'm really hesitant to have kids, to be honest.
posted by COBRA! at 9:48 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's a bit of a reach, I admit, but I've always suspected the experience of growing up under threat of nuclear annihilation is what's at the root of Gen X's political apathy.

It's not a reach at all, I think. (There's also the fact that for many in Gen X, the very first president we may have conscious memory of was Nixon, who had his own problems.) I actually made this very argument in a college term paper when I was 18 and kind of blew the professor's mind; a class about "Nuclear War and its Prevention". I was arguing that growing up under that warped us all to the point that if the world could just hang in there without dropping the bomb until Gen X came into office, that we'd be less likely to use the bomb ourselves because we'd been so freaked out by it as kids. The professor said it was the first time he'd ever heard anyone make a generational argument; he looked like he wasn't sure what to think of it, but it was a "Huh, I hadn't considered it from that angle" moment.

(Then of coure Glasnost happened 6 months later and that changed everything, but hey.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder if I'll be able to convey to my kids what watching the Berlin Wall fall felt like? Like 9/11, but backwards. Of course they weren't born yet for that, either. Hmm. I guess I should ask my parents more about watching the moon landing.
posted by BeeDo at 9:59 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Rather than the awful, quotidian fact that you will die one day and the world will carry on without you, it's the opposite: the world stops and you continue. All those vacant hotels, crumbling cities and streets choked with abandoned cars are an external expression of the moment following our personal death, when the world ends for us -- but the fiction promises that we get to be there, live through it, and end up on the other side of the terminus.

That's the whole appeal of the British cozy catastrophe genre, like e.g. Day of the Triffids, where all those inconvenient working class oiks die off en masse living the country free for nice middle class people to enjoy.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:08 AM on July 17, 2012


I remember when the first Gulf war happened I thought it was weird that it was a conventional war with tanks and soldiers with guns. I thought those sorts of wars were a thing of the past.

We also thought that during Korea, and Vietnam.
posted by Rash at 10:12 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess it depends upon which end of Generation X you're coming from but for me, born during the seventies, we don't seem particularly apathetic. Politically jaded, maybe, but the extreme polarization of U.S. politics seems like it happened during my lifetime as more and more of my generation came of age and was already in full swing by the turn of the century.
posted by XMLicious at 10:16 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I grew up during the 70s/80s with a relic of the old-school Cold War in my basement -- a late 1950s/early 1960s era bomb shelter. It was made out of reinforced concrete blocks and had a sign over it that said, "All hope abandon ye who enter," which scared the crap out of me when I was little. I prayed we would never have to use it, especially as I knew subconsciously that those measly concrete blocks would never protect us from a full-on nuclear blast or subsequent radiation.

The shelter eventually became a cool, creepy part of the house, more full of dead spiders and crawly things than of fear. I remember my dad conducting tours of the room for my friends during birthday sleepovers.

However, I still hold that fear of nuclear annihilation, and still regularly have dreams where I just know that a mushroom cloud will appear, which it does, and I am fried to a crisp a la The Terminator. More recently, I been having dreams that I survived the initial blast, but now have to survive the hoards of zombies that have sprung up from the radiation. It takes care of two cultural zeitgeists in one!
posted by ElleElle at 10:23 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking of fallout shelters, here's something a little more upbeat.
posted by Gelatin at 10:58 AM on July 17, 2012


When I was a sophomore in high school, our history professor gave us special permission slips to watch Threads. Even after warnings that it was going to be extremely disturbing, none of us were all that dismayed. Until the movie started. I think we spent the rest of the time in a sort of shocked silence. We all just shaken for a while afterwards.

My school also made us read Hiroshima and lingered on the skin melting scenes. I think in retrospect, my teachers were trying to scare us into writing anti-nuclear weapons letters to our congresspeople. It worked.
posted by chatongriffes at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2012


Thanks for the post. I remember when I first moved to Holland in '91, asking my then-girlfriend now wife what happened after Chernobyl. She replied that they didn't drink milk for six months.

In odd moments, now and then, I wonder how her maturing with the Iron Curtain still up influenced her as the jingoism of the Reagan error influenced me. I'd like to think we've both gotten beyond it, but deep down inside, I'm not so sure. Some things in the formative years get hard wired.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:13 AM on July 17, 2012


Sorry, this is long. But two things:

First: if we were all in a room right now I think I would be asking questions as fast as my mind could come up with them.

I'm 28, you see, and hearing all of you who are just a bit older than me talk with clarity about things I sort-of-kind-of-remember is casting my childhood/formative years into a whole new light.

Maybe you've had that feeling, where you finally get to talk frankly with your siblings/cousins about messed-up shit that happened when you all were kids?

It's like that, like this whole history that I 'saw' but didn't really understand is making sense.


Second: so far as the 'post-apocalypse romanticism' goes, that is something that I have been drawn to for most of my life, so far as I can remember. In the last year I've started really thinking about why that is...

I grew up in a fundie home like a few of you. My dad was utterly convinced that we were going to be raptured in 2000, if not before. In my mind, there would be some sort of nuclear fallout and right after that all the Christians would be taken away. So certain was my dad about the rapture, I asked him in 1999 what we would do about something or other, and his response to me was 'it won't matter, we won't be here.' The fear of being left behind after the rapture made more than a little neurotic. I would wake up in the middle of the night some times and go check on my little brother to make sure he was still in bed. You see, he was still a child, and not reached the age of accountability. If the rapture happened and I missed it, he would be gone, for sure.

So I grew up with the inevitability that the end was nigh - a fatalism of a different kind. But you know, even as a kid, I never saw it as justice. It just scared the living shit out of me. I was drawn to anything that had to do with the End of the World and, by extension, dystopian fiction, not because I wanted to dream about the adventure but because I figured it might be best to prepare as much as possible.

But then 9/11 and college and endless war and being an adult and finding myself far from home and the threat of rapture.

A couple years ago I started listening to audio books on my commute. Before long I noticed that it was almost all dystopian/post apocalypse. And I realize now that I 'love' those stories, not so much because I want to be the hero of some future where the rules have all changed and civilization is gone, but because I have to plan, in as logical and rational way as possible, for every possible scenario.

I don't think the end is imminent, but I'm not so naive as to think my life will be as easy in twenty years as it is now. I read post-apocalyptic literature because I have to feel like I will be, in some way, prepared. That I will know what to do when my wife dies first, or when my daughter dies of some sickness. That I will be calm and collected when shit gets bad and get us to safety. That I will stay calm. In that situation, I don't want to go on an adventure or to fight of zombies or bandits, just safety for my family. Essentially, the same thing I want now.

So, you know, maybe some folks who read the _The Road_ and talk about how cool it will be and what they will do when shit hits the fan are just trying to prepare and comfort themselves.
posted by Tevin at 11:48 AM on July 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


So, you know, maybe some folks who read the _The Road_ and talk about how cool it will be and what they will do when shit hits the fan are just trying to prepare and comfort themselves.

Not to disparage your story at all, Tevin, but all this post-apocalyptic reminiscing reminds me that comics writer Garth Ennis had a very nasty rejoinder to the "I could prepare to survive that" sort.

Seriously, though, did anyone really read The Road and talk about how cool it would be and how they could prepare? It seemed to me to be as nigh-pervasively hopeless as Crossed. I've long speculated that the enduring popularity of zombie apocalypse stories is that they depict a more survivable scenario than nuclear war.
posted by Gelatin at 12:14 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read The Road and pretty much thought I would prefer to die quickly before any of that happens. I also thought that my dad is getting kind of old, and I should probably give him a call.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:36 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreed, Gelatin. The vast majority of these survival fantasies strike me as the furious wanking of people who are really looking for an escapism in which they will be in-charge, powerful, leaders in their post apocalyptic fantasy land because they've come to the realization that they won't be in the real world. The objective reality in the post-nuke/post-plague world will be much...different.
posted by kjs3 at 12:42 PM on July 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


" people who are really looking for an escapism in which they will be in-charge, powerful, leaders in their post apocalyptic fantasy land because they've come to the realization that they won't be in the real world. The objective reality in the post-nuke/post-plague world will be much...different."


Just like the Ren-Faire/SCA goofuses that think they would be knights in King Arthur's court livin the dreamlike a star at a Medieval Times restaurant, instead of a serf that gets decapitated by those very knights for no good reason other than "ye olde road trip boredom"
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:45 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the contrary, Senor...I don't know any SCA folks, for all their goofiness, who honestly believe that they're knights, princes or medieval maidens, or that living in the 1100s would be a barrel of laughs. I know a *lot* of survivalists who honestly think that when the bombs drop, they'll light their cigar on the blastwave, sling up their M-16, crack open an MRE and sally forth to take charge and remake the world in their image.
posted by kjs3 at 12:52 PM on July 17, 2012


The objective reality in the post-nuke/post-plague world will be much...different."

Speaking of post-plague worlds, I'd also like to mention George R. Stewart's Earth Abides, which describes the efforts of a small colony of survivors in the San Francisco Bay Area to maintain civilization in the aftermath of a near-100% fatal plague. Unlike The Stand, which Stephen King is reported to have said it inspired, the protagonist -- and thus the reader -- doesn't expeirence the die-off, but it does contain a cross-country trek looking for (and occasionally finding) survivors. It also contains passages describing the eventual fates of creatures and objects other than people, noting, for example, that domesticated sheep would be helpless without humans to tend them and thus would also likely die off, and that thousands of abandoned cars would eventually become useless hunks of junk when their tires dry-rotted.

It's less epic than The Stand, but equally unforgettable, and shares with A Canticle for Leibowitz a pessimism that while humanity well may survive, our proud civilization might not.
posted by Gelatin at 12:57 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


> shouldn't this be on the playlist as well: "Land of Confusion" by Genesis.

I won't be coming home tonight
My generation will put it right
We're not just making promises
That we know we'll never keep.


Released 1986. A great song, a great video, and the brief lapse into vainglorious chest-beating maybe isn't quite as regrettable as "Hope I die before I get old."
posted by jfuller at 1:06 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've always suspected the experience of growing up under threat of nuclear annihilation is what's at the root of Gen X's political apathy.

As someone who works in the financial industry, I suspect it's also at the root of Gen X's atrocious savings and debt habits. Why not run up your credit card? You'll be dead tomorrow anyway.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:10 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


As someone who works in the financial industry, I suspect it's also at the root of Gen X's atrocious savings and debt habits. Why not run up your credit card? You'll be dead tomorrow anyway.

Do you know how many times I heard classmates of mine make jokes to the effect of "I wish I didn't have that chemistry homework, but maybe if I'm lucky there'll be a nuclear war and I won't have to do it anyway"? This may be truer than you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Do you know how many times I heard classmates of mine make jokes to the effect of "I wish I didn't have that chemistry homework, but maybe if I'm lucky there'll be a nuclear war and I won't have to do it anyway"? This may be truer than you think.

I honestly remember thinking that I was totally screwing the Columbia Record Club because they'd sent me 12 free tapes and we were all going to be dead before I'd have to buy my required x number of full-price tapes. No exaggeration. This is a thing I really believed in the 7th grade.
posted by COBRA! at 1:36 PM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sword of Damocles.

Perhaps no coincidence that one of (1982) Blade Runner's lines comes from Batty: "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."
posted by Twang at 1:50 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you know how many times I heard classmates of mine make jokes to the effect of "I wish I didn't have that chemistry homework, but maybe if I'm lucky there'll be a nuclear war and I won't have to do it anyway"? This may be truer than you think.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 PM on July 17


Oh my god, I used to think this all the time, too. As in "I hope the bombs drop before math class so Sister Kathleen won't see that I didn't do my homework."
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:04 PM on July 17, 2012


Watched both at the time; I was about 14. We watched Threads at school! The teachers were all very left wing, some had CND badges etc (when the miners strike was on they had "coal not dole" badges!) so they showed us this and things like "To Kill A Mockingbird" and the Briggs Film.

AFAIR When The Day After was shown on national tv there was a televised debate/Panel based Q&A so I looked for it on youtube and watched the attack segment from The Day After. Christ it just went on and on, still fucking harrowing now. Or maybe it was when threads was on tv? Anyone British here who remembers this?

And yes, I also remember working out nearby targets ("the airport would get hit") and whether we would die and how we would die. Also, did you ever get the thing where there was a plane flying real high in a clear blue sky, contrails and everything, and you couldn't tell if it was a jumbo jet or a MiG?
posted by marienbad at 2:16 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Also, did you ever get the thing where there was a plane flying real high in a clear blue sky, contrails and everything, and you couldn't tell if it was a jumbo jet or a MiG?"



Growing up in Bellevue, Nebraska right next to Strategic Air Command, boy did I ever.
And the panel discussion you are looking for marienbad may be the one I linked upthread.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:15 PM on July 17, 2012


I learned about Threads here, and every time it's mentioned I feel compelled to note eriko's story of nuclear miscommunication about Able Archer 83, still one of my favourite contributions to Metafilter.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:55 PM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Day After actually prompted Ben Stein to write a rebutal that lead to the 1987 miniseries Amerika which was exactly the type of right-wing "nukes defend our 'Merican freedom" type of editorializing you'd expect.

Don't forget Amerida!
posted by KokuRyu at 5:31 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's also the fact that for many in Gen X, the very first president we may have conscious memory of was Nixon

As a Canadian, I remember when Reagan won the election. I must have been 9. My teacher said he was a cowboy with one finger on the button, ready to start WWIII.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:46 PM on July 17, 2012


I've always suspected the experience of growing up under threat of nuclear annihilation is what's at the root of Gen X's political apathy.

I suspect it's also at the root of Gen X's atrocious savings and debt habits. Why not run up your credit card? You'll be dead tomorrow anyway.


Hippies didn't worry about tomorrow either, for the same reason. Gen X doesn't have a lock on fear of The Bomb -- that was present all through the 1950s and 60s as well, and was one reason for the hedonism of the counter-culture.
posted by Rash at 5:55 PM on July 17, 2012


Currently the Doomsday Clock is set at 5 minutes to midnight.
posted by mediated self at 6:42 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect it's also at the root of Gen X's atrocious savings and debt habits. Why not run up your credit card? You'll be dead tomorrow anyway.

This has occured to me too, though I can't help thinking that debt collectors, like radiation-eating bacteria, will survive if anything does.

Speaking of which, someone mentioned upthread about apocalyptic movies as planning/comforting mechanisms. I can kind of see that. You know what works for me? Biology. Bacteria are amazing motherfuckers, and will, in one form or another, survive any catastrophe. There might even be some slightly higher lifeforms, down at the sea vents or elsewhere, that pull through. It doesn't do us much good, or all the other species we'll take with us, and everything awesome we've ever done will go poof, but it comforts me in a perverse way to think that life is that much tougher than even our doomsday weapons.

I mean, overall, I'd still rather we made it to the Star Trek future we all wish for. But if we can't, well, life will come up with some other experiments.
posted by emjaybee at 6:53 PM on July 17, 2012


I'd still rather we made it to the Star Trek future we all wish for.

In the Star Trek universe humanity did eventually get its shit together, but only after surviving the Post-Atomic Horror.
posted by mediated self at 6:59 PM on July 17, 2012


Wow, I am about 2/3rds of the way through reading The Road, and was just thinking about how much it reminded me of Threads. I didn't see Threads until my 20s, and that was probably a good thing. I wasn't allowed to watch The Day After (around 8 at the time), but had found a bunch of old "duck and cover" pamphlets which terrified me and I tried in vain to get my parents to build a bomb shelter. I f I had seen Threads at that age I probably would have curled into a ball and refused to leave my room.

I live in North Dakota now and there's a Minuteman site not too far away that's now open for tours. I may have to go check it out. Although after I've finished The Road and read something else happier afterwards.
posted by weathergal at 8:17 PM on July 17, 2012


Afroblanco: "Interestingly, I just finished A Canticle for Leibowitz this evening. "

"The shark swam out to his deepest waters, and brooded in the old clean currents. He was very hungry that season."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:49 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


In re messing up kids by showing them this stuff. I was 14 when the Day After aired and (though a big war buff) remember thinking mostly that the special effects were cheesy. Watching the attack scene tonight made me feel gross, like when I saw Threads as an adult, I think the context of being old (own mortality) and having kids (something to lose) makes the destruction considerably less abstract.

Tangentially related to Gen X, I am reminded of Douglas Coupland's 2010 Massey lectures telling the story of people in a bar during The Event.
posted by cgk at 9:37 PM on July 17, 2012


Tevin: I read post-apocalyptic literature because I have to feel like I will be, in some way, prepared.

There are some more concrete things you can do to prepare…
posted by falcon at 12:49 AM on July 18, 2012


I had been saving this tab until I screwed up enough courage to see if indeed was the film that seeing just a snippet haunted me. Answer: yes, but not as I remembered it. I had merged the dust coming into the county bunker with the yellow ash fallout huddlers, having the yellow dust come through the registers as they panicked lay tried to close them.

Glad I got that sorted.

My last post-nuclear dream happened in 1994. I dreamt that the bombs were coming and I decided that I would go out getting it on with one of my neighborhood lady friends who had always played hard to get but I was certain that under the circumstances...

Frighteningly I came awake from that dream to the sound of a real air raid siren. At the time I lived nearby a soon to be closed B52 facility. It took me a few pulse pounding moments to puzzle out that it was coming from the golf course a few blocks off.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 9:21 PM on July 19, 2012


Ogre, your waking to an air raid reminded me:

My senior year, one of my childhood best friends wanted to make an anti-nuclear war movie in her TV production class. She tapped me to help with the writing -- we both hammered out the storyline and I wrote the actual dialogue -- then she rounded up a few other friends for the cast and filmed it in a corner of the cafeteria over the course of a months' afternoons and weekends that spring. Then she spent another month editing it during all her free periods and study halls, in the small windowless editing room the school had on campus.

Sometime during that month she was editing, we had a power failure one morning, and the ancient backup generator didn't work either. The rest of us who were all in class just blinked at the sudden power outage, figured it was some kind of glitch, looked out the windows and saw other people with lights on and saw the cars and went on with our classes. But my friend, who'd been spending the past couple weeks immersed in a post-apocalypse, came out of her totally dark room and overheard all the office staff arguing about why the generator wasn't working, and immediately thought it was an EMP. This was it, she thought, the bastards had done it, and the missles would be following soon and we would all die. She said she collapsed on the floor and sat there in a catatonic panic for five minutes until they finally got a generator working. She said the only reason she didn't come around to tell us all goodbye was that she was too freaked out to remember where we all were at that point.

She chose to take a break from editing for the rest of that day and I remember her being especially twitchy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:05 AM on July 20, 2012


.
posted by mediated self at 7:21 PM on August 5, 2012


I'm two-thirds of the way through Threads.
Which means there's still another half hour of things getting even worse than hell.
Jesus.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been watching that again (though in sections, not all the way through) and experiencing When The Wind Blows for the first time, whew. Somehow I missed that one at the time, nor did I realize the UK governments was actually suggesting you take off the doors and build a "central core or refuge" lean-to in the living room, which you see 'em doing in Threads also. Being in Washington DC, the original Ground Zero, we all knew (and joked about) not having to worry about 'the day after' as we'd all be vaporized in the first strike. Or so we hoped.
posted by Rash at 11:02 AM on August 12, 2012


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