Strangelove and the “Bomb”

Dr. Strangelove is a brilliant, satirical, provocative black satire regarding doomsday and Cold War politics that features an accidental, inadvertent, pre-emptive nuclear attack. The undated, landmark film was the first commercially-successful political satire about nuclear war, has been inevitably compared to another similar suspense film released at the same time – the much-more-serious and melodramatic Fail-Safe (1964). However, this was a cynically objective, Monty Python-esque, humorous, biting response to the apocalyptic fears of the 1950s. The novel’s primary concern was the threat of an accidental nuclear war. Dr. Strangelove himself did not appear in the novel, however – he was added by Kubrick and co-screenwriter Southern.

            The mid-1960s film’s nightmarish, apocalyptic theme was about how technology had gone haywire and had dominated humanity. The film’s anti-war fears actually became a plausible scenario, shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the heated-up intensification of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.

            Dr. Strangelove takes passing shots at numerous Cold War attitudes, such as the “missile gap“, but it primarily focuses its satire on the theory of mutual assured destruction (MAD), in which each side is supposed to be deterred from a nuclear war by the prospect of a cataclysmic disaster for both sides, regardless of who “won”. Herman Kahn in his 1960 On Thermonuclear War used the concept of a doomsday machine in order to mock mutual assured destruction; in effect, Kahn argued, both sides already had a sort of doomsday machine. Kahn, a leading critic of American strategy during the 1950s, urged Americans to plan for a limited nuclear war, and later became one of the architects of the MAD doctrine in the 1960s.

            The prevailing thinking that a nuclear war was inherently unwinnable and suicide was illogical to the physicist-turned-strategist. Kahn came off as cold and calculating; for instance, in his works, he estimated how many human lives the United States could lose and still rebuild economically. This attitude is reflected in Turgidson’s remark to the president about the outcome of a pre-emptive nuclear war: “Now I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed, but I am saying no more than 10 to 20 million people killed. Tops!” Turgidson also has a binder is labelled “World Targets in Megadeaths”.

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The speech at Rice, Michigan, and his inaugural address

       In John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address he spoke of the need for all Americans to be active citizens, famously saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” He also asked the nations of the world come together to fight what he called the “common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.” In closing, he expanded on his desire for greater internationalism: “Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you.” Its elegant lyricism, its power, and its idealism called Americans to action and inspired real change. Somehow study his presidency I feel that it was more like romanticizing the people and reassuring them nothing would go wrong. Indeed it was a well written speech no doubt but I believe that people over fantasized his presidency a little too much.

            Kennedy was really anxious for America to lead the way in the space race. He approached  Khrushchev twice about a “joint venture” in space exploration in June 1961 and autumn 1963. On the first occasion, the Soviet Union was far ahead of America in terms of space technology. Kennedy first announced the goal for landing a man on the Moon in speaking to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961. Then Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in which he said


“No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”


            John F. Kennedy first announced his own idea for such an organization during the 1960 presidential campaign at a late-night speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on October 14. During a later speech in San Francisco, California on November 1, he dubbed this proposed organization the “Peace Corps.” The idea was popular among college students, however, and Kennedy continued to pursue it, asking respected academics such as Max Millikan and Chester Bowles to help him outline the organization and its goals. Like what he said in his address promised to create the program: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”

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JFK election and What Mama Said

Throughout his presidency, JFK managed to create a public image immensely attractive to much of America. He was the first “television President;” with his charm and good looks he took full advantage of that medium to capture and engage the hearts of Americans (indeed, the relationship JFK shared with America has often been referred to as a love affair). JFK inspired in many a powerful optimism and idealism, and he seemed poised to carry the U.S. out of trying times. However that doesn’t mean he was the president everyone cracks up to be. Sometimes news media and television romanticize the young president a little too much.

            Example the key turning point of the campaign was the four Kennedy-Nixon debates; they were the first presidential debates held on television. Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started; he had not completely recovered from his hospital stay and thus looked pale, sickly, underweight, and tired. Kennedy, by contrast, rested before the first debate and appeared tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate. An estimated 80 million viewers watched the first debate. Most people who watched the debate on TV believed Kennedy had won while radio listeners (a smaller audience) believed Nixon had won. After it had ended polls showed Kennedy moving from a slight deficit into a slight lead over Nixon. For the remaining three debates Nixon regained his lost weight, wore television makeup, and appeared more forceful than his initial appearance.

            Kennedy’s administration may have looked good on television but to the governments’ eyes and political observers it was a bundle of inexperience young men in politics. Most of the elected cabinet or staff was most of Kennedy’s friends and they have never ran in elections before either. There were two huge events that cause a big stir as well during his presidency. His moments of presidential brilliance were tempered by instances of uncertainty, particularly in reference to the Civil Rights Movement, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam War. Going into either those there was level of indecision during the missile crisis of two weeks and then in Vietnam the US fights a foreign war which they have no strategy going in with 11,000 military “advisors.”

            Also I like to comment on Douglas’s book with household wives in the late 1950s early 60s. The role of women in the 1950 was repressive and constrictive in many ways. Society placed high importance and many expectations on behavior at home as well as in public. Women were supposed to fulfill certain roles, such as a caring mother, a diligent homemaker, and an obedient wife. The television shows aired at this time reflect the publics need for stability and conformity. The main character of the most watched show at the time, I Love Lucy, portrayed a woman as the stereotypical woman-in-distress, who always needed her husband, the man, to bail her out. She also was symbolic of the inept woman: the “woman driver,” the “over-spender” who cannot budget, and the basic downfall of man.

            After reading the chapter I thought of the movie Pleasantville. Betty was an appropriate example of a 50’s mother. Following is an excerpt that applies to motherhood. Prepare the children: Take a few minutes to wash the children’s hands and faces, comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are God’s creatures and he would like to see them playing the part. Every morning, she woke her children up, cooked breakfast for them and sent them off to school. The breakfast however was far from the cereal and milk often enjoyed today. This was feast that consisted of towers of pancakes, piles of eggs, and platefuls of bacon and patties, all topped with syrup.

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Douglas Intro

Toe-the-line feminists and white patriarchal media magnates alike receive a good-natured thrashing in Where The Girls Are, Susan J. Douglas’ exploration of the schizophrenic treatment of women in the media from the 1950’s to the present. The book is a little less harsh than an average analysis of the media. Douglas neither portrays the media as a big bad wolf (as Susan Faludi did in Backlash), nor indulges Baby Boomers’ nostalgia with a rose-colored trip to way back when. Her main goal in this exploration was to discover the simultaneous enlargement and infantilization of women in the media—which, she posits, result in many a woman’s desire to throw up and put up with magazines such as Cosmopolitan, movies like Beach Blanket Bingo, and the TV shows Dallas and Charlie’s Angels. 

            Douglas’ theory is simple: “The point here is that we love and hate the media, at exactly the same time, in no small part because the media, simultaneously, love and hate women.” In her opening section, Douglas maps out the basics of this frustrating dynamic:


“Women are angry at the media, because a full twenty years after the women’s movement, diet soda companies, women’s magazines, and the Sport’s Illustrated “swimsuit issue” still bombard us with smiling, air-brushed, anorexic, and compliant women whose message seems to be “Shut up, get a face-lift, and stop eating.” But . . . if we are honest, we have to admit that we have loved the media as much as we have hated them . . . After all [they] did give us The Four Tops, Bette Midler, The Avengers, Aretha Franklin, Saturday Night Live, Johnny Carson, and Cagney & Lacey”.


            All questions of taste aside, Douglas’ point goes beyond arguing that the media, in regards to women, has some wheat in with the chaff. Rather, Douglas asserts that because the media functioned as a sort of über-parent to Americans born after WWII, this resulted, for women, in a fracturing of the self—a funhouse-style mirror of the media’s own conflicts about women.

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Lytle and Bloom

In the 21st century, the ’60s have taken on an unforgettable and bombastic quality we used to reserve for the “Roaring ’20s.” After all, it began with Elvis and The Beatles, who started out looking so temporary but who left an indelible image on American music and culture, and it included the civil-rights movement, Vietnam, the arrival of Camelot in the form of John F. Kennedy, followed by his assassination, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy’s assassinations, and the end of the era was marked by the biggest political scandal of all time, Watergate.

            But before we get into the 1960s, we must look at the past decade how it led up to the new image of America. The 1950s in the developed western world during the time was generally considered socially conservative and highly materialistic in nature. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States played out through the entire decade. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia occurs in this decade and accelerates in the following decade of the 1960s. In the introduction to Bloom and Breines’ Takin’ it to the Streets gives us an image of the fifties being suburbanized and consisting of white middle-class families which is also known as a nuclear family. Then you also have a rise of different figures for civil rights like Martin Luther King Jr. and paranoid pompous senator, Joseph McCarthy, on an anti-communist crusade. Then you have rising artist in television, music, and art that influenced the youth of the nation. Elvis with his rock and roll affecting the teenager’s minds and hearts and then you have Andy Warhol showing his passions and messages through his art.

            However when new fashions and trends are on the rise there are two sides that have different views. A lot of conservative censorships was encouraged because some were afraid that some teen movies and comics promoted sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol. Fredric Wertheim, a psychologist, launched a crusade to save young American adolescents from the odious influence. What I was most intrigued that both sides of the political spectrum were encouraged to censor these books. Liberals believed comics promoted fascism, sexism, racism, and ethnocentrism. Not only that but children reading the comics up and down instead of side to side would cause some cases of linear dyslexia. Also they were afraid it would debase culture and appeal to totalitarian ideas. Most conservatives likely believed that an assault on moral values or the Communist at work.

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