27 May 2012

American Media Culture in the Atomic Age

After nearly four of decades of Cold War conflict, accompanied by apathy and acceptance of the general population, the ‘no-nukes’ movement finally arose in the early 1980s to protest the ongoing threat of nuclear conflagration. Or so goes the pious orthodoxy that Margot A. Henriksen seeks to problematize in Dr Strangelove's America: Society and Culture in the Atomic Age (University of California Press, 1997), a cultural history of the Cold War years in America. On the contrary, she postulates that a long-standing resistance to nuclear weapons and warfare is evident in a ‘culture of dissent’ born with the first blast of the atomic bomb during World War II, and that this wide-ranging dissent is found in all walks of society, but primarily in works of film, art, music, television and literature during the period from the mid-1940s to the late 1970s, preceding the no-nukes movement. The American culture of dissent challenged ‘the dominant culture of consensus and its vision of a new order of atomic security, defense, and prosperity.’ Henriksen’s goal in pursuing this legacy is to highlight ‘the changed forms of cultural expression which challenged the serenity and order of the atomic consensus with a new cultural chaos that mirrored the disruption of matter achieved in the technology of the atomic bomb.’ Her work seems primarily geared toward refuting the consensus historians who have claimed that Americans were generally apathetic or disinterested in the threat posed by the atomic bomb until president Ronald Reagan re-invigorated the Cold War in the early 1980s.