|Envisioning The American Dream BLOG
|DEFROSTING THE COLD WAR|
Defrosting the duck n' cover Cold War World of my childhood, this collection of satirical vignettes and collages, re-envision the Atomic Age of nuclear bombs and nuclear families, cold warriors and hot wars, Mad Men and happy housewives that littered a pop culture landscape run rampant with mass media stereotypes and myths.
THE BIG CHILL - An Introduction
While Americas soaring can-do confidence offered us sugar-frosted promises of a future filled with frost- free fun and abundance, that giddy optimism coexisted with the very real fear of nuclear annihilation. I would catch a Cold War chill that I could never quite shake.
Jet Age Jitters
For those of us who grew up during the 1950s and 60's, the Cold War Culture was a subtext of our lives.
It was a time when most Americans assumed the U.S. and the Soviets stood continually on the brink of nuclear war.
I began working on this project in the frightening, post 9/11 world of terrorism. when memories of growing up duck and covering didn't flood back because they were always lurking in the recesses of my mind.
The familiar struggle between good and evil was renewed. There were striking parallels to the way American officials were characterizing Muslim "terrorists" and the way Cold War American propaganda portrayed Communists, drawing stark contrast beween The American Way of Life and the Soviets.
Utilizing vintage children's school books, mass media advertisements, popular periodicals and book illustrations from the late 1940s, 1950's and 1960's, I appropriate images from these sources in creating the collages.
Set To Defrost
With all its cliches and gender stereotypes distinctive to Mid-century America, a culture littered with media stereotypes, the fallout from the fictions, fabrications and facades that flourished in the hot house climate of the Cold War world, are, like the effects of radioactive fallout, still felt decades later.
Certain beliefs, certain idealized values remain undiluted, undefrosted and fundamentally unchanged over time and fragments remain within. The Cold War might be in the deep freeze of memory but I thaw out those media memories as a way to re-think and re-envision a time that could serve as a lesson today.
Set the Wayback Machine for 1945...With the end of WWII, the greater possibilities of the world of tomorrow had come alive.
In our color- happy Celanese separates, Americans from coast to coast were bursting with pride, as bubbly and effervescent as a bottle of Pepsi. back to top
Master Of The Universe
With our blinding Pepsodent smiles, we were "the greatest nation the sun had ever shown upon" a gloating President Truman assured us. Have a Coke and smile.
They said it couldn't be done yet we had just been victorious on opposite sides of the globe. We had entered a new era of power. A new kind of power- the sole Atomic power. back to top
In those heady Post-War years, we alone had the bomb and most thought it ought to just stay that way. The Atom Bomb was as closely guarded a secret as Bess Truman's recipe for pineapple upside-down cake and just as hard to pry loose.
We could relax with deep-down smoking enjoyment, engulfed in a plume of hazy blue mentholated smoke, with no worries of a mushroom cloud spoiling our spacious American skys. back to top
Who Do You Trust
Marking the occasion was the birth of those Cold War quadruplets- the CIA, The Department of Defense, The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The National Secuity Council. With the world of doublethink looming on the horizon, the first cure for schizophrenia- a pre-frontal lobodomy- was announced in the nick of time.
A hot-war might have ended with those 2 fiery Atomic blasts in Japan but another war, a cold one, began with our former allies in arms, the Russians. back to top
Up In Smoke
Like so many war- born marriages it turned out our grand alliance with the Soviets was more a marriage of convenience and our relations soon turned frosty.
The Hungry Bear
"Uncle Joe" Stalin, our wartime warm and fuzzy teddy bear, quickly turned into a cold blooded grizzly bear ready to gobble up crippled Europe turning its starving, shivering population into Godless Communists.
As Soviet tanks angrily roamed Eastern European Streets, our war- born good will faded as quickly as Elizabeth Arden's Vanishing Cream. back to top
Convinced that Moscow was hell bent on destroying the traditional American way of life, it would be up to us to contain them.
As if shifting gears between enemy and ally was as effortless as the automatic transmission in your Chevrolet, the considerable fury and fear that had fueled our hatred of those bloodless Nazis had been seamlessly and swiftly re-routed to those Godless Russian Commies. back to top
The American Way
Uncle Sam was certain that the Communists were waging a campaign of hatred against us to the enslaved people behind the Iron Curtain.
They were weaving fantastic stories and twisted facts about America unlike in our country where our government told us the truth. Truth as clear and undistorted as the perfect picture you were promised on your new Philco television set. True picture, no blur, no distortion, that was the American Way. back to top
The same year that a developer named William Levitt built Levittown, a suburban paradise rising out of a potato farm on Long Island just for the ex GI's and their boatload of baby boomers, America's nuclear monopoly came to an abrupt end.
We were still digesting the Communist takeover of China, when on a hot summer morning in August 1949, the Soviet's detonated an Atom Bomb. A shock wave reverberated around the world .
I've Got A Secret
Where there was smoke there was a fire-ball.The swiftness in which the Soviets had built the bomb could mean only one thing- this had to be a Red conspiracy. Suddenly along with atomic jitters we began looking everywhere for spies. Communists could be found everywhere.
Better Dead than Red
A cloud of suspicion and darkness seemed to drift over this glowing Post-War landscape, and danger seemed to lurk everywhere.
With the same zeal that the 50's housewife chased after dirt and germs, Americans were convinced hidden Communists were lurking everywhere.
Like those scheming villians Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale the two hapless no-goodnik spies carrying out Fearless Leader's secret evil plots, Communists were sinister, sneaky plotters, just waiting to overthrow a government. back to top
American's eagerly entered the material age of Post-War promises with whetted appetites and overflowing wallets.
After years of curbing our enthusiasm, the pent-up hunger born of war sacrifices and denial was unleashed sending us on a bender of a buying binge.
On Your Mark
Even before the GI's returned home, the Post-War world of plenty was temptingly displayed in full color advertisements . "Right now engineers and scientists were busy devoting their toil and genius to weapons of war", the ads teased, but in the same breath hinted that the fruits of their efforts held un-heard of promises for the future. back to top
With the war over, the material dreams kept pumping through the culture in lavish color- drenched ads.
What awaited was a colorful world of all manner of unparralled ease, the most wished for, never-before things-never before because it was never possible before, things that would make you proud of your choice and the envy of others.
Tomorrows Living Today
Suddenly, miraculously, the drabness of years of "use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" were behind us. Before us beckoned a world so rewarding, so refreshing, so revolutionary, now even hum-drum hair could seethe with excitement.
A world of no-waiting, no wondering ,no-defrosting, no-fuss no-muss. Everything was long- wearing, fast-drying, king-sized, the last-word, the best-looking, most convenient, new kind of clean working twice as fast.
The Missus' Goes Shopping
Now at your fingertips, you have never seen, felt, owned, driven, or tasted anything like it. From morning to night the color's of the rainbow would be all around us thanks to laboratory wonders. We could wear the future right now in our wash n' wear-too-wonderful -to-believe Acrylon-Acrylic clothes, and magically illuminate our suburban homes with General Electric's all new Coloramic bulbs in four thrillingly-new colors, proving the Post-War would truly be a colorful world of frost-free-fun. Progress was our most important product. back to top
NEW AND IMPROVED
Our pride in our scientific prowess spilled over into m'lady's kitchen where once again man triumphed over nature in our march towards progress - a future of pre-sweetened, reconstituted, freeze dried world of good eatin'.
It's Anybody's Guess
The wizards of the wonderland of American food laboratories were busy concocting magic, creating and altering food, setting the pace for never before such important advances. In this happy-go-lucky land of the free, everything was more comfortable, more convenient, more magically delicious.
The foods were as brimming with eye-appealing color as all the gay and festive polystyrene toys and household items surrounding us. And talk about tantalizing flavor- everything would be lip-smacking-whip crackin-paddy-whacking-delicious! back to top
Better Living Through Chemistry
That very symbol of Man's triumph over Nature, Tang, beckoned us into the space age just by drinking their orange elixir. "And if you want to do what the astronauts do join the gang and drink energy Tang/Tang is energizing like rocket fuel..."
And wonders of wonders was Wonder Bread to build the boomers bodies in 12 ways. Along with those added enriched vitamins, the clever bakers enriched it with petroleum derivatives to make the bread so soft and squishy and oh-so-fresh-feeling, even after a full 6 weeks.
And for America's prodigious Post-War sweet tooth, the apperance of sweetose, a completely new type of sweetener made from good ol' plentiful American corn, so new and different it had to be patented. Hundreds of housewives who had tried it prefered high fructose corn syrup to sugar. Good thing, because they'd be eating lots of it over the next several decades
Yes, Mr. and Mrs. America all benefited from the research and engineering of these amazing alchemists putting chemagination to work, providing new and better processing so Americans could enjoy a higher standard of living.Your body is too important to swallow anything but the truth. back to top
And in this land of new and improved, the baby boomers were the newest kids in twenty years, the generation that captured a nation overnight.
American's were giving these youngsters the most thunderous reception in history. Never before such an automobile, never before such a floor wax, a stove, a freezer...never before such a baby.
"You're so new and oh so lucky," General Foods cooed to the Baby Boomers, "you'll grow up in a world of never before things. You'll eat exciting never before new food."
Break The Bank
Just in time for marketers, the baby boom was a business bonanza making them the first generation to be baptized by Madison Avenue.
A euphoric Life magazine gushed "in the first year a baby is not just a child but a prodigious consumer."
Yes, it would be a new world- a YOU world! back to top
SUPERSIZING THE SUPERPOWERS
There was a spontaneous combustion of red-hot excitement amongst consumer's that was fueled by accelerants provided by Hotpoint, Frigidaire, and five star General Motors.
Bid N' Buy
What enhanced the happy 1950's housewive's Clorox Clean home was not unrelated to what protected the homeland since many of the same companies like GE, Westinghouse, and Chrysler were also major defense contractors. The desire for the ever larger tail finned car and ballistic missile, frost- free refrigerator and 3 stage rocket were brought to you by the same corporation. back to top
In the advanced, brighter, Post-War propserity, Americans were not just clean but Clorox clean, dandruff-free, lint-free, water resistant and vitamin- enriched. While our constipation worries were over, we were sure with Arrid. Americans were loving it, buying it, wanting it. back to top
Land of Good N' Plenty
We were the most envied people on the planet. You couldn't help but stand and admire us and our technological know-how and might.
Running rings around all others, no other country so accented the march of new ideas. Big trends begin in America! The U.S.A. stood ever ready with a more confident answer to all the demands of modern living.
Whether bombs, breasts or Buicks, bigger was better
How Do You Rate?
With more bounce and zoom in every step, we could run faster, jump higher and win more often.
And in the dawn of the Space Age, naturally it was to be America who would steer us into space, braving the dangers of the cosmic frontiers, safeguarding the cause of universal peace and freedom. back to top
OFF TO THE ARMS RACE
Goodness gracious great balls of fire...When the Russians successfully launched Sputnik, the first man made satellite, into space, we were shaken to the core. The very thought of Soviet technological supremacy i.e.missile supremacy sent off a chain reaction of panic, rising fear levels, and soaring defense spending. We would pay any price, bear any burden to fill any Missile gap.
Play Your Hunch
In this age of Post War plenty we had plenty to fear. At a push of a button, just a turn of a dial, Presto!...it could all disappear if we didn't defend them properly. It was critical to deter a nuclear war by keeping nuclear superiority. To live in peace, the Cold War Credo went, we must have power. back to top
Beat The Clock
Like contestants on the Game Show "Beat the Clock", we were thrust into an arms race and a space race with the Russians. By successfully launching a man made satellite into space, the Soviets had won the first lightning round and moved into the bonus stunts winning that challenge too with the development of the ICBM.
Win, Lose or Draw
Smugly, the Soviets boasted, "Maybe next time will be your time to Beat The Clock." Now like two contestants with fingers on the buzzer, the first hot- headed cold warrior to push The Button-ding-ding-ding-would be "Winner Take All"! Of course in order to "Beat the Clock" we would first be playing "Break the Bank". back to top
Before long, our arsenal of missiles was becoming as bloated as the ever expanding bellies of the prodigious legion of pregnant women. Along with a boatload of baby boomers, a bouncing new U.S. policy was born and they would grow up together. The proud papa, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles named his progeny Massive Retaliation.
Under the watchful eye of his rich Uncle Sam the policy would grow up big and strong. Concieved as was I in the warm afterglow of the Hydrogen Bomb, it was also in the dark shadow cast by Godzilla, the radioactive mutated monster of mass destruction. Together they would send a collective shiver down our Cold war spine. back to top
After 9/11, Americans faced unnerving official terror warnings displayed in primary colors of yellow, orange, and doomsday red.
Newspapers printed preparedness articles as a profusion of emergency instructions appeared on how to protect ourselves. Panicked, people started stock-piling canned goods and duct tape, batteries and bandages to keep in their designated safe rooms.
With round the clock breaking news on television, it made it seem as if we had entered a time of great danger and Armageddon was near.
Take My Word For It
It was time to wake up and smell the coffee!
Fueling our prodigious fears, was the emphasis on Civil Defense and the government's zeal in educating the public about the risks of an atomic attack- how you could survive one, and how to plan and pack for the few days you and your family would have to spend in your fall out shelter.
In case of an H- Bomb blast, the Atomic Energy Commission offered some EZ advice: "People in fall-out areas can protect themselves by following some simple rules", they suggested reassuringly. "The news of an H- Bomb attack will be announced over the radio and most people will know about it before the veil of stinging dust comes settling down out of a clouded sky over farm, forest and village." So until then, enjoy the freedom to live as you please. back to top
Take A Can And Take It EZ
In keeping with the can-do containment policy of our government, canned foods were darn handy to stock up your bomb shelter with.
Just as the Soviets and Uncle Sam were stock-piling arsenals of Nuclear weapons, so patriotic 1950's housewives were stocking up a good supply of canned goods for that long Nuclear Winter.Double Jeopardy
Re-emerging from your shelter after an atomic attack would be a snap. After a few days when the surrounding radioactivity is greatly reduced, the government offered some helpful hints about re-adjusting.
Hungry? Canned food was safe to eat, but fresh fruit had to be washed and scrubbed. That's why you would be glad you had the Green Giant around- with his canned peas its would be as if the Green Giant stepped out to his pre-radioactive garden and picked a batch of peas. Ho-Ho-Ho.
Speaking of which, they reminded us that before planting your spring tomatoes, it was necessary to turn the turf and bury the radioactive dust which would fall on lawns and gardens. Buried dust might make future plants and crops radioactive, they chuckled, so there would be plenty of hot peppers next season! back to top
DUCK N' COVER
To prepare for this big disaster, evacuation plans were set in motion to send big city dwellers quickly to the hinterlands.
Printed maps of American cities appeared in newspapers and magazines upon which were superimposed ominous Atom bomb bullseyes showing the lethal reach of the bomb. To prevent a stampede of citizens dashing to safety, the maps let you know how long you had to get out of Dodge. back to top
Bert The Turtle Was Very Alert...He'd Duck and Cover
Just for the kiddies there was Bert the Turtle that loveable, cuddly, Cold War cartoon character from the Civil Defense film Duck and Cover who cheerfully offered frightened school children life- saving instructions to guide them through an atomic attack.
Face The Music
"When Danger threatens them they never get hurt, they know just what to do..."
At the sound of the warning siren, like some Pavlonian response, Stan Musieal baseball gloves were unceremoniously tossed to the ground, gun-slinging cow-pokes shifted attention and slippery-tots would jump out of vinyl-sided pools as a stream of children appeared- a blur of pig tails, baseball caps and scraped-kness racing in their U.S. Keds helping them to run faster to get to the public fall-out shelter in time.
Duck and covering in our orlon blend sweaters, cowereing in the chilly school hallways became as regular a part of school life as was outdoor recess. back to top
A FRIGID NEW FRONTIER
The Cold War had moved into a deep freeze by the early 1960's teetering on turning very hot.
The Big Showdown
Rattled Americans were twisting the night away as the jousting match beween President Kennedy and the Soviet's leader Nikita Khrushchev escalated as the world poised for a show down of wits between these two Cold Warriors. With a rat-a-tat-tat-and-a-ring-a-ding-ding, we would all be pioneers in this scary New Frontier.
Despite being lulled to sleep with sweet stories from our Little Golden Books, baby boom children knew a nuclear attack could happen any hour. Instead of sweet little kittens finding their mittens, the spectre of a mushroom cloud would hang over our dreams. back to top
NUCLEAR FEARS FOR THE NUCLEAR FAMILY
Within a short period of time we came teetering close to the brink of nuclear war.
First, in the balmy summer of 1961 when the terrifying thought of thermonuclear confronation between us and the Soviets became all too real as the crisis in Berlin heated up. back to top
Sounding a lot like the sinister Fearless Leader, a character on Rocky and Bullwinkle, who exclaimed "What does Pottsylvania have more of than any other country? Mean! We have more mean than any other country in Europe! We must export mean!", a volatile Khrushchev had boasted that the USSR's thermonuclear strength was unmatchable and could leave America in a cloud of radioactive dust. Appearing on TV, Kennedy urged Americans to build bomb shelters- citizens should be ready to protect their own families. back to top
FALLOUT SHELTERS FOR THE NEW FRONTIER
A somber letter from JFK printed in an issue of Life Magazine from September 1961, urged Americans to be prepared.
"Nuclear weapons and the possibility of nuclear war are facts of life we cannot ignore. Unprepared there is a 1 chance in 4 that you and your family will die." However you could be among the lucky 97% to survive if you followed the advice in the magazine about building a shelter.
Uncle Sam advised that we should be prepared to take cover for about 2 weeks.
For the nuclear family the ultimate togetherness would be a spruced up, well supplied family shelter. An important factor in increasing merriment and togetherness in the family living conditions was the attention paid to fall-out fun.
To pass the time, good mothers made sure to stock plenty of games for the children. When you're hot, wilted and sorry for yourself you'll be glad you packed that game of Chutes and Ladders. Don't blame that listless, half alive feeling on the beautiful spring day you were missing. No gloomy Gus's aloud!
Whittle While You Wait
And just because you were stuck in a fallout shelter ladies, didn't mean it was okay to let your diet slide. It would be the perfect time to whittle your waist.
Don't let your weight losing intentions fade in the rise of temperature, Cold War ladies were warned. Keep a supply of tasty Rye-Krisps and cans of Metracal- you'll still want that trim figure for those post-blast pool parties!
Home Sweet Home
Knowing that they were going to spend a week or two in their bomb shelter, happy homemakers in the 60's were advised to make it as gay and restful an environment as possible.
Painting the walls a bright color would make it cheery, while decorating it in Early American charm would give a nice homey touch to the The New Frontier Fallout Shelter. back to top
Chillin' in the Cold War
More sound suggestions were offered to us from a record entitled, "If the Bomb Falls: a Guide to Survival." A no- nonsense narrator speaking in a confident, calm voice suggested that "by all means provide some tranquilizers to ease the strain and monotony of life in a shelter. A bottle of 100 should be adequate for a family of 4. Tranquilizers are not narcotic and are not habit forming. Ask a doctor for his recomendation."
Suddenly there was a mass hysteria to burrow underground. Suburban-do-it-yourselfer's came out in full force prudently eyeing that palette of bricks once slated for an outdoor barbeque now being re-evaluated for the home fallout shelter.
In the early 1960's, there was a huge real estate boom; not in houses but in home-shelters. From coast to coast, families were eyeing the new models of family shelters.
Contractors and salesmen pitched home shelter kits as a modern miracle of mass production likening them to Levitt houses. "You'll be patting your good judgement on the back for years to come if you get a family shelter now", they boasted.
Better Homes and Garden Magazine offered advice suggesting to it's readers that they would be smart to consider fall-out shelter's peace time role, offering tips in converting it into a rumpus room for the kids.
Don't Turn That Dial
A year later in 1962 when the Soviets installed missiles only 90 miles from our shore during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the nuclear family was back huddled in their home fall-out shelter built in their faux-wood paneled finished basements.
The tic-tic-tic of the geiger counter would be the soundtrack of our new Post-War World. Venturing out into the beak post-atomic landscape of chaos, you'll be glad you packed your weatherproof galoshes for the long nuclear winter that loomed ahead.
In the 1950's our government insisted that the spate of Nuclear atmospheric testings in Nevada were no more a danger than the new fangled TV transmissions racing through the sky.
You Don't Say!
The Atomic Energy Commission had decided that Utah and Nevada, these "virtually uninhabited territory", would be the perfect site for Nuclear testing.
Most shrugged off the potential hazards of testing especially the long term danger. In fact the danger lay in not doing the tests. Most folks agreed that the ultimate benefit of peace and security that only Nuclear bombs would bring us was more than enough for the potential risk.
Of course there were outlandish allegations from alarmists who attributed everything from birth defects, to rising cost of living, to climate changes, to the tests.
It was the same nervous Nellies who thought we should be concerned about the safety of DDT. Uncle Sam patiently and confidently dismissed every last one. Radiation was like taxes, not pleasant but you learned to live with it.back to top
Nevada Test Site
Our Government had guaranteed us the safety of the testings and if you couldn't trust the U.S.A. who could you trust?
Every school kid knew The Father of our country George Washington could never tell a lie, and so a trusting public believed that our Uncle Sam's word was as trustworthy as a Boy Scout.
With a ringing endorement from the Atomic Energy Commission confirming that Uncle Sam had taken all necessary precautions to ensure our safety, the Nevada Test Site, only 65 miles from Las Vegas, became quite the attraction. Why some folks even made a family trip of it catching Frank Sinatra at the Sands Hotel while they took in the sights at the Nevada Test Site.
Folks were encouraged to pack their Kodak's and Coppertone and head west for a rip-roarin' good time. And if you forgot your Brownie Hawkeye at home, not to worry, the experience would give you long lasting memories, to relive again and again.
Before the first light of dawn, dazzled onlookers with their heart thumping in their newly purchased resort-wear, sleepy kids in Roy Rogers cowboy hats, gathered with ex-GI's in Bermuda shorts sporting WWII issued anti-glare Ray Bans and looked at awe at the flash of bright light.
Rockets Red Glare Bombs Bursting In Air....
As the pink clouds drifted across the flat mesas, the shock waves booming against their chests, a veil of radioactive particles floated over the test site. With the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, the heat from the blast stimulated a healthy radiant-blush on the visitors, leaving them with an envied, sunburned vacation glow.
And for those folks who couldn't make any of the 126 tests detonated over 12 years, no worries.
The wind would carry the mushroom cloud downwind, dispersing radioactive elements over the purple mountains majesty, above the fruited plains, making you feel just like you had actually been there.
Accidents Will Happen
Despite the government protestations of I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing, several serious health affects such as increased incidence of cancers, leukemia, thyroid diseases and congenital malformations have now been well documented to those citizens known as downwinders- individuals and communities exposed to radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons testing. back to top