Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As Gorbachev took the reins in the USSR, bringing with Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, my fears began to abate. Not only did democracy start to needle it's way into the Parliament's political philosophy, but the Hammer & Sickle's strangelhold on the East began to weaken, as did the image of Russia as a shadow of looming devastation to the Americas. The Soviet Union's power over neighboring regions would begin to falter, a good sign for an adolescent fearing Mutually Assured Destruction, but bad news as those regions began to develop ideas of their own to use this madness for their personal agendas. That, however, is a story for another day.

As I aged, the nuclear ghost lessened it's rattling of chains, even though the occasional nightmare of mushroom clouds and flattened wastelands made guest appearances in my slumber. I moved on with my life, married, had a kid, but still held an interest, no so much a fear of the nuclear quandary.

I had a weird sort of philosophy brewing in my cerebrum that the more you know about something the less frightening it will become. I started by looking way back. I was entertained by finding out about the surreal atomic culture of the 1950's and 60's, wherein children were informed in the event of an atomic attack, climbing under your desk and putting your head between your knees would make you safe from an atomic blast. This was fully illustrated in the now infamous Civil Defense short, "Duck and Cover", complete with a catchy song reviewing the falsified steps to safety, and a mascot, "Bert the Turtle", adorned with a CD helmet, there to guide you through the path to annihilation avoidance. Simply preposterous and pure propaganda, the American public was lied to through and through for the purpose of calming the masses.

During that period, symbols of atomic horror were created. Countless movies were made about monsters that were spawned by radioactive exposure by the likes of schlockmeister William Castle, who made movie going that much more interesting with his gimmicks like vibrating chairs that accompanied the Vincent Price flick, "The Tingler", ghosts floating throught the theatres, and numerous other corny adornments added to the movie houses during the films theatrical runs. Giant ants, mutated spiders, and just plain indescribably laughable beasties created by atomic side effects and nuclear fallout graced the silver screen (and ran among the movie house attendees in Castle's pictures) to the joy of Saturday afternoon matinees attended by kiddies all across America. Movies also began to splash across cineplexes depicting alien invasions from all corners of the universe. It was no great secret that those alien invaders were meant to be stand-ins for the Russians as the Red Scare was fully underway.

The Russians took the lead in the space race by launching the satellite Sputnik into orbit above the Earth, leading Americans to believe the Red Menace was now watching us from space. Impending doom was indeed on the way. The Russians also conveniently began placing nuclear missiles in Fidel Castro's Cuba, well within striking distance of the southern United States. This era was well documented by the film, "Matinee", an early 90's Joe Dante masterpiece that took place in Florida during this terror-filled period. This was a time where adolescents dealt with nightmares very similar to my own, shuddering in front of the late Walter Cronkite's revelations and JFK's reassurances, yet still found time and good humor to have awkward sexual awakenings and attend the cheesy films like the ones mentioned above. John Goodman was fantastic as the Castle-esque character, pawning his cinematic wares and capitalizing on the growing paranoia.

As fun and silly as "Matinee" could be, the scene where the young teen lead wakes up one early morning, opens the front door and is greeted by a detonating atom bomb, instead of the morning milkman delivery. I exploded with goose pimples during tht scene, and still shudder slightly at it, as I've had that dream myself.


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