Sunday, September 23, 2012

Atomic Popular Culture in Las Vegas

After our last class discussion I left intrigued about the effects of the nuclear age on American popular culture. I was specifically interested in the propaganda and marketing strategies of the nuclear age. In class we listened to “Atomic Cocktail” by The Slim Gaillard Quartette (1946) and “You Hit Me Baby like an Atomic Bomb” by Fay Simmons (1954). We also discussed the invention of the “atomic cocktail” by bartenders and the origin of the bikini, coming from the Bikini Isle atomic bomb testing. All of the previously referenced popular culture pieces that originated from use of the atomic bomb are positive reflections on the weapon of mass destruction. Coincidence?—I think not. Through use of American popular culture, the atomic bomb was glorified using propaganda and marketing strategies in order to eliminate the widespread fear amongst Americans and encourage pride in the invention and use of the new weapon—our “original child”.

One of the places where propaganda and marketing was most widely used is Las Vegas. In Las Vegas atomic popular culture ran rampant. Atomic popular culture can be recognized in the creation of the ‘Atomic Hairdo’, ‘Atomic Cocktail’, and ‘Atomic View Motel’. ‘Atomic’ became a positive connotation, and the marketing industry ran with it. With nuclear testing in New Mexico visible by Las Vegas residents, the city became a major influence in atomic popular culture. This was the beginning of the “sacralisation of commercialism” (Brown, 1998). Las Vegas was a “crass, banal, decadent, sinful, mind-numbing” illusion of reality (id). The golden desert bred an illusion that American citizens fed into. Atomic popular culture was embraced, even celebrated. Las Vegas became the “temple town of the American Dream”…”the city that stands on the edge of the desert, the end of the world” (id). The hype around atomic popular culture in Las Vegas helped suppress the eminent fear of Americans by exalting the nuclear age as a time of innovation and celebration. The atomic age produced the mogul of popular culture propaganda in Las Vegas—the basis of the city’s prosperity today.

Atomic bomb test - mushroom cloud with Fremont Street Casinos in foreground. April 18, 1953 (Las Vegas News Bureau Coll # 0049, Photo # 0414)

Parade float, "Nevada's First Atomic Bomb (Collection # 0107, Photo # 0018)

A girl showing off her "atomic hairdo" with a photo of the atomic blast that inspired it. The mushroom cloud-shaped-do is described in the caption as, "an old fashion and something dangerously new". (

Referenced: Brown, S. (1998). Marketing apocalypse: Eschatology, escapology and the illusion of the end. (New ed., pp. 87-101). Routledge. Retrieved from cocktail 1950s&ots=MnPJ0owSG&xsig=LzbZ2Dw-KYAgT81tauNTEzcdCIA

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nationally Secured, Secrecy...?

The permanent association of National Security with a high level of secrecy, discussed by Garry Wills in the book Bomb Power, enticed me to take deep consideration of the effects of executive secrecy on American Democracy. In the United States we elect officials to represent us through the Democratic Process. It is our responsibility to choose the candidate who we feel would best represent our views in their presidency. The process then seems to be lost in the delegation of responsibility as an American presidential candidate to reveal ones true intentions and policy to the citizens. This high level of secrecy which has been accepted as a part of American Culture is what allows this perversion of politics to exist.

How can Americans be expected to elect officials to represent them when we are kept in the dark on the most important issues? Daniel Patrick Moynihan offers one explanation in his book Secrecy: The American Experience, that “policy is often disabled by the withholding of information from knowledgeable critics” in order to benefit the country in the long-term. In reference to Garry Wills book, in Chapter 2 “The Oppie Machine” is recounted. “The Oppie Machine” offers a perfect example of Moynihan’s idea of keeping knowledgeable critics in the dark. Teller and Strauss worked to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance to discredit him in order to continue with their plans for the hydrogen bomb because he was in opposition to the creation of the “intrinsically immoral” weapon. If a long-term cause is justifiable, I don’t think that it should ever be necessary to go to great lengths in order to prevent someone in opposition from having further knowledge of the cause. Secrecy is not what this country was built upon in the constitution and it is not what it should subsist on in modern society. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Social Reality of the Nuclear Age

Upon viewing A Child is Crying and hearing that infamous line, “you created me!”, I began to ponder on the U.S. Government’s involvement in trying to recreate children like the little girl in the film. Lily, the child in the film, is a prodigy in math and science and due to her exceptional abilities is considered a “national resource” by the government. In her evaluation it is decided by the congressman and army official that she should be stripped from her family and kept in the laboratory to benefit the nation with her exceptional scientific knowledge. She is essentially robbed of her innocence as a child to act as a resource to U.S. National Security.

By the end of the film Lily is returned to a “regular”, child-like state by use of an antidote that leaves her in shambles, crying with all the men surrounding her forced to view the shattering of her innocence, which they have produced. In the words of the scientist, “all we can do now is stand in the dark and gloom and watch a little child cry”.

The theme of nuclear warfare robbing U.S. citizens of their regularity continues on in the next film, Atomic Attack.  When a nuclear attack is staged on New York City, it is apparent that the “regular” is also disturbed. The eldest child in the house, Barbara, has to assume the role of a mature adult by caring for their boarding guests and her little sister who’s been effected by radiation. When one of the doctor’s in the film remarks that Barbara is just a “kid” and is not equipped to deal with such tumultuous situations her mother replies, “Kids? Not Barbara. Not the way she’s grown up this past week”.

In both films, it is easy to see the shattering of children’s innocence is a main theme—an agenda of desensitizing, if you will. This theme is carried on into reality if you look into the history of the nuclear age.

These films both prompted me to think of the change in the school curriculums when concerning math and science in the nuclear age. I found a book by John L. Rudolph which supported my train of thought. The argument he makes in his book is that the exploitation of education began in the mid-1950s in order to create a society of scientific elitists. Scientific knowledge became the “price of survival” in a country which was now empowered by nuclear weaponry. The life-adjustment curriculum which existed prior to nuclear warfare was now on a steady decline to give way for a focus on math and science education. After the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and into the Cold War, ideals such as, social, personal, and vocational needs previously focused upon in school curriculums were now forgotten and the U.S. Government was geared towards engineering scientific prodigies such as the child in A Child is Crying in order to fuel this nuclear nation—scientific expertise was the National Security arsenal.

In short, the science fiction films, A Child is Crying and Atomic Attack, seem not so fictitious when put into the context of the social reality during the nuclear age.