[Recently some fellow blogging friends and I decided we could all benefit from giving each other writing prompts to nudge our blogs out of their comfort zones. This week Maria gave us the topic "proliferation." Here's my take on that.]
Back in my Cold War childhood and teen years, everybody was worried about nuclear proliferation. This was before there was a second "u" in "nuclear," which seems like a long time ago, indeed. Fear of WW III didn't exactly keep me up at night, but it was something every kid knew about, like breakdancing or the Pepsi Challenge.
Songs about nuclear proliferation abounded during my adolescence, and we never said, "Wow, another song about nuclear war? Weird!" because it wasn't weird, it was something that was on people's minds every day. It was as legit a scary song topic as horror movies or teenage pregnancy. Even in songs not specifically about the Cold War, artists would often reach for a related metaphor. They couldn't help themselves! It was just too easy! ("Don't say you're easy on me/ You're about as easy as a nuclear war."--Duran Duran)
Probably the height of this pop culture paranoia was ABC's 1983 made-for-TV movie The Day After. The movie was controversial for graphically portraying the aftermath of a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States. I was in ninth grade at the time, and in the days leading up to the much-hyped broadcast, there was a lot of buzz about whether or not kids, even mature Young Adults like ourselves, should watch it. (Personally, I didn't, and still haven't.)
I know what you're thinking: "They pre-empted Hardcastle & McCormick for that?!"
The movie sparked a lot of conversation around school, even among those of us who didn't watch. I won't claim that my fellow freshman and I were politically savvy about the Cold War AT ALL. We mostly debated whether either side would ever dare to press the button. There wasn't much agreement on that point. But we did reach one consensus: we felt lucky to live where we lived.
Our town was adjacent to the base that served as headquarters for the Strategic Air Command, where many of our dads (including mine) worked. What this meant, according to school rumors (and maybe this was actually true), was that in the event of a Soviet attack on the U.S., our town would be the second to be bombed (after Washington, D.C.).
We saw this as a positive thing. First, it made us feel important. Being junior high students in the midwest, we had no cultural clout, nothing that made us cool. But to believe that our town was significant enough that someone would want to destroy it--that was really something! On a more practical level, our bombability comforted us because we knew we wouldn't have to deal with the horrors of a nuclear attack's aftermath--being basically at ground zero, we would all die instant, painless deaths. Whew!
When I describe all this here, it sure sounds like a twisted, depressing time to grow up in. But aren't all eras twisted and depressing in their own way? Kids today have to practice drills about what to do in case of a shooting spree, something we couldn't even have imagined when I was growing up, but they still go about their business of being kids. Each generation has its own weird crap to deal with, and all anybody can do is adapt and get through it the best we can, and maybe write droll blog posts about it later.