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My Dissertation

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What follows is my History BA (Hons) dissertation from 2012. Hopefully, it might interest some people.

 

‘If it’s not love, then it’s the Bomb that will bring us together’[1]: an analysis of the role of popular culture in influencing perceptions of nuclear technology in the post-atomic age.

By

Thomas Murphy

V100

10,000 words

Monday 16th April 2012

This dissertation will discuss the role of popular culture in influencing the perceptions of nuclear culture in Britain in the 1980s and in the post-Cold War world. An analysis of the historiography of nuclear culture in general, and in Britain in particular will be conducted. Later on, a discussion of Britain in the 1980s will be exemplified through the lens of prominent and popular fictional narratives published during the decade. An examination will follow of the present day will be centred on video games as sources, and what they can tell us about modern nuclear culture. Finally, a brief discussion of the current societal fears will be fashioned with ideas about global warming, disease and terrorism. The bomb has left behind significant cultural fallout affecting ideas today as readily as during the Cold War.

 


‘If it’s not love, then it’s the Bomb that will bring us together’[2]: an analysis of the role of popular culture in influencing perceptions of nuclear technology in the post-atomic age.

Introduction

Nuclear culture and its impact on Western culture is an important avenue of historical study. The historiography has shied away from examining modern pop-cultural texts that make sophisticated comments on nuclear culture, particularly in Britain. This discussion will focus firstly on the historiography of nuclear culture, moving on to British comics in the 1980s and culminating with arguments about video game culture and the post-Cold War world. The analysis will highlight ideas of prominent counter-discourses on the perceptions of nuclear weapons, picking up and reworking Hales’ idea of the atomic gothic and Hogg’s conception of nuclearity to reveal the implicit existence in Britain of negative assumptions about the Bomb.

Nuclear technology has been the defining issue of the past sixty years.  It is a subject that is only recently getting the academic treatment it deserves, and yet Britain remains neglected. This essay will examine the assumptions of the British public regarding the Bomb, and their reactions to it in the late Cold War and after. The theme of nuclear anxiety and its locus in Western society will be highlighted through examination of popular culture in the form of comics, games, music, and cartoons.

History can be viewed as the tension between “official” and “unofficial” narratives, or dominant discourses and subversive cultural currents. The “unofficial” discourses represented throughout this essay are particularly important due to the stranglehold of the nuclear industry on methods of information dissemination[3]. Discussions of nuclear culture need to be relocated away from technology and politics towards people and the affect the arms race had on everyday experiences. By deconstructing discourses through the use of cultural texts meaning can be drawn about how people construct ideas about fear and nuclear war. ‘The analysis of the discursive field is orientated in a different way; we must grasp the statement in the exact specificity of its occurrence; determine its conditions of existence, fix at least its limits, establish its correlations with other statements that may be connected with it, and show what other forms of statement it excludes’[4].

Science fiction became a way for authors (used hereafter to mean writers, artists, bands, and developers) to discuss nuclear technology and the atomic gothic. Nuclear fear grew to dominate this field and Canaday argues ‘popular fiction reflects the public’s fears’[5]. ‘Before they became physical facts, atomic weapons existed as literary fictions’[6], allowing him to argue that science and fiction are two discourses that overlap[7]. He argues persuasively that ‘nuclear weapons have exercised their power in a purely symbolic form…atomic weapons are useful because of the stories people tell about them, the fears those stories inspire’[8]. This idea of literature preconfiguring technology and driving ideas on nuclear fear is particularly salient with novels and film, but can equally be applied to comics, music, and games.

The Cold War and its ideology saturated culture for nearly fifty years[9], but it ceased over two decades ago. The potential for this to generate new modes of thinking in historical study is vast. The threat of nuclear war is markedly less now than it was during the nuclear standoffs of the 1960s and 1980s. Despite stockpiles of nuclear weapons remaining overwhelming[10], the impetus to use these weapons has largely evaporated.

Concepts such as “nuclear culture”, “fear”, and “popular culture” need to be clearly defined, although these definitions can sometimes be arbitrary. It is important, with ideas like fear and culture, to avoid simplification or reification; so evidence will substantiate arguments. Asserting the importance of nuclear fear without evidence is flawed and leads to poor argument.

Nuclear culture can be defined as the shared set of underlying assumptions regarding nuclear technology in a society, something Hogg terms ‘nuclearity’[11]. It is a study of ‘the ubiquitous nature of nuclearism and its attendant ideologies’[12], where “nuclearism” is the ‘psychological, political, and military dependence on nuclear weapons, the embrace of the weapons as a solution to a wide variety of human dilemmas’[13]. The field is a diverse, cross-discipline practice; combining elements of literary criticism, sociology, film studies, music studies, psychology, media studies, philosophy, traditional history, and oral history.

The reaction to nuclear technology varies from nation to nation; city to city; and class to class. It varies depending on issues of gender, upbringing, and values. Nuclear culture needs to be redefined to become a highly personalized study of individual responses. Due to the difficulty of this, the role of the historian must be to take surveys of these responses and attempt to fashion a coherent trend to ascertain whether reactions to “the nuclear” evolved over time; and what the catalysts for change were.

A defining characteristic of nuclear culture is its ambiguity. As shown in the work of Boyer[14], Rosenthal[15], and Hales[16], the response to nuclear technology from the very beginning oscillated wildly between joy[17] and fear[18]; what Hales describes as the atomic sublime and the atomic gothic, respectively[19]. The goal is to understand that not everyone views the bomb and its iconography in the same way as you. Where one person sees a death machine[20], others see a weapon that saved lives and ended a war[21]. There is as diverse a response to nuclear technology, as there are diverse people. This means that overarching statements about nuclear culture often do not tally with reality.

Fear has a particular role in the discussion of nuclear culture. It is one of the most potent emotional responses[22] with the ability to provoke profound disgust[23]. Nuclear fear ‘straddles classes and defined individual responses to nuclear weapons’[24] and in the 1980s fear was a very present facet of British culture. In 1984 77% of Americans thought their personal chance of survival in a nuclear war was “very poor”[25]. ‘[T]he omnipotence of nuclear danger’[26] in this decade, does not necessarily mean that expressions of fear had to be explicit. This can be pointing towards the idea of psychic[27] numbing, or repression (although it is important not to overplay this)[28]. Smith argues that nuclear anxiety was always superseded by other concerns, like the environment and economy; leading him to the conclusion that nuclear fear ‘does not appear to be a raging neurosis’[29]. This dissenting viewpoint allows us to avoid overstating and essentialising nuclear anxiety. However, this could also play into Lifton’s idea of psychic numbing. This widely respected view of the repression of nuclear fear during the Cold War, for some reason, is not applied to modern times. The academic establishment seem intent on painting the modern response to nuclear technology as ill-considered and shallow when it is demonstrably not.

Fictional sources have a peculiarly salient place in the discussion of nuclear culture, particularly that of nuclear war. As shown by Derrida nuclear war is ‘fabulously textual’[30], in that it is an event that can only ever be imagined. If it did occur it result in ‘no public survival, no collective recollection, no institutional mourning’[31], and perhaps most importantly, no source record. Fictional sources therefore are the only way to discuss nuclear war, even when not written for entertainment, like Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War[32]. These fictional sources help us to understand cultural discourses. They sit in matrices representing the convictions of the author and audience; both reflecting and enhancing the discourse on nuclear weapons, positively and negatively. ‘To read this fiction is to place oneself imaginatively in a position of personal suffering and global despair’[33], which can be cathartic; the very act of placing a narrative post-nuclear war implies that survival is possible. ‘The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is node within a network’[34].

A group of fictional sources that have been overlooked by traditional historians will be used as the bedrock of this analysis. Comic books and video games are recreational activities that dominate impressionable youth culture, and are therefore of prime importance in the deconstruction of how attitudes are formed and maintained through life. In the past decade, both comics and video games have become hugely popular, becoming the two increasingly influential forms of Western entertainment. To supplement this, a small, but representative, selection of cartoons and musical sources will be analyzed to construct the pervasive framework of nuclear concerns. These sources can be deconstructed to examine the prevailing cultural discourses signified within. These discourses can then support a conclusion over the role of nuclear culture in the modern world.

The unique cross-genre nature of comics and games means that a fusion of theories needs to be used to fashion analyses. The narratives inherent in both mean that critical theory can be used broadly, to pick apart the language and imagery of sources; and reception theory helps to further the understanding of the impact of the sources on their audiences and the dialectical method of constructing significance; proving that ‘meaning has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind of a reader’[35]. This ‘shift in attention from the pole of author-work to the relationship between text and reader’[36] leads us to the conclusion that literature (including narratives like comics and games) ‘should be treated as a dialectical process of production and reception’[37]. By positing the ‘implied reader’[38] we can begin to understand texts in a structure that lends itself to discursive analysis. The cinematic facets of comics and games also allow film theory to be adapted for analysis. However, while auteur theory may be valid for discussing comics; it is almost irrelevant to the collaborative medium of video games.

The sources are ones that represent popular culture in a distilled form: comics, video games, music, and (briefly) cartoons. These four categories of sources have been overlooked by traditional scholars. They are deemed too “low-brow” for study by academics who deem only one aesthetic ideal as worthy of study, presumably because of their mass appeal to a predominantly younger audience. Only recently have these prejudices been overcome by the academic establishment and these precious sources reflecting popular imagination are now being used.

Like any fictional narratives these sources are as worthy of study as novels, television, and films. They reflect the prevailing cultural mores of society. All three media have moved from crude mass-market commodities to sophisticated satirical analyses in around fifty years. By reflecting younger attitudes these three genres can be said to be an embodiment of the unofficial narrative of youth culture. Often subversive, they offer an interesting lens to view British, and wider nuclear culture through. All three media demand more from their readers than traditional sources. Games are highly interactive and successful ones elicit a sense of presence from consumers; comics require reader involvement to fill in blank spaces, and translate the iconography of the comic book into imagined reality; and, finally, cartoons require an active engagement and suspension of disbelief from their audience.

Comics as a medium are defined by acclaimed comic-writer Will Eisner as ‘sequential art’[39]. They are a method of conveying story that allow for maximum levels of ‘viewer-participation’[40] and imagination. In an ‘increasingly symbol-oriented culture’[41] the sophisticated iconography of comics mean that the medium, so much associated with children, is actually a highly sophisticated mode of storytelling.

Just like comics, video games give us a way to break open the world of youth culture and examine how attitudes grow at this formative age; as they ‘reflect aspects of the society in which they are produced’[42]. They are ‘a new art form…largely immune to traditional tools developed for the analysis of literature and film’[43], where ‘players behave like readers and film audiences in that they negotiate meanings dialectally’[44]. Their interactivity and ability to involve players to unprecedented levels is the source of their popularity[45]. Interactivity in the context of video games can be defined as ‘continuous exchange between the players and the game software’[46]. Video game sales reached seven billion dollars in 2003, almost two for every household in America[47]. The lack of academic respect of these two source types is probably due to the novelty of the two media and the fact that they are not experienced first-hand by most critics.

The ‘latent trauma’[48] of nuclearity remains one of the main apprehensions of global news. Concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme[49], and worries over the handling of nuclear weapon stockpiles and the issue of nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima[50] feature prominently in the media discourse daily[51]. A search of the BBC News website of recent stories containing the word “nuclear” returns thousands of results ranging through the aforementioned issues[52].

It has been demonstrated that these elements of popular culture are just as worthy of study as traditional sources; providing the historian with a valuable way to construct a framework to view attitudes in the nuclear world.

 

Chapter 1:


‘It is as though the Bomb has become…built into the very structure of our minds, giving shape and meaning to all our perceptions’[53]: Popular Culture and the Historiography of Nuclear Studies

This analysis will rest on the idea of popular culture and its role in both reflecting and influencing the prevailing attitudes of society. These in-depth analyses will be supplemented with a look at newspaper articles and documentary programmes to establish a broad contextual framework for argument. This chapter will focus on the historiography of popular culture and nuclear studies in an attempt to fuse the two together to explain how the later analysis of “low-brow” cultural commodities can contribute to our understanding of nuclear culture.

Western popular culture is inseparable from commerce. It consists of the creation of cultural commodities. These commodities have meanings, often several, inferred by their consumers. These meanings cannot be defined by the creators. ‘Culture is a living, active process: it can be developed only from within, it cannot be imposed from without or above’[54]. It is for this reason that we can see tensions between dominant discourses and counter-discourses. Popular culture must by definition ‘bear the interests of the people’[55]. Fiske defines “the people” as ‘a shifting set of social allegiances…felt collectivity [rather than] external sociological factors such as class, gender, age, race, region…[possessing] a sense of with whom but also of against whom’[56]. ‘Popular culture has to be…relevant to the immediate social situation of the people’[57]. This strain of thinking allows cultural texts to be used to infer the feelings of people at the time. ‘[T]hose texts that have either escaped critical attention altogether or have been noticed only to be denigrated’[58] should be recognised and studied, as they are powerful and interesting texts.

The Cold War ‘colonized everyday life with the minute-to-minute possibility of nuclear war’[59]. ‘By the mid-1950s it was no longer a perverse exercise to imagine one’s own home and city devastated, on fire, and in ruins’[60]. The nuclear aspects of this global conflict were unarguably one of the most emotive psychological spurs.

Boyer’s masterly account of the ambiguous American response to the Bomb in the immediate post-war period, By the Bomb’s Early Light acts as a foundation for this work. This highly influential piece is in the American context, but its content can be equally adapted to Britain. The ambiguous response to the bomb, charted by Boyer, is as present today as it was in the immediate post-war period. Similarly, his idea of an all pervading nuclear consciousness[61], as supported by Shapiro[62], is persuasive. It is clear that nuclear technology has influenced the everyday lives of everybody on the planet as much, or more, than any other object in history; ‘nothing we do or feel…is free of their influence. The threat they pose becomes the context for our lives, a shadow that persistently intrudes upon our mental ecology’[63].

The work of Willis[64] is a launching pad for discussion of the unique British context of nuclear culture. He asserts that nuclear images are ‘familiar and ineradicable’[65] and contends that British attitudes were more ambivalent towards nuclear technology, being ‘deeply pessimistic’[66] defined by their ‘reticence’[67] and largely missing the periods of American optimism after 1945. In Britain the Bomb was tied up with Empire, and the idea that America had finally overtaken her as global superpower[68]. The apprehension that defines British nuclear culture for Willis is particularly evident in Watchmen and When the Wind Blows.  However, while I believe that nuclear culture is a very real subject for historical study; Willis asserts that nuclear culture exists without any substantial evidence.

Rosenthal shows that the Bomb and its imagery had a plethora of different meanings as wide ranging as technological achievements, religious icons[69], a representation of dominant capitalism[70], art[71], sites of sexual implications[72], and even as children[73]. It is naïve to assume that everybody has the same perceptions of nuclear technology[74]. ‘Today [the mushroom cloud] has become so deeply imprinted in the myths and matrices of the postwar era that it has come to seem natural, a fundamental, even a necessary aspect of everyday life’[75], and this can equally be applied to other images associated with the bomb.

Similarly, Weart’s work[76] can be seen as an informed discussion of anxiety and how it permeates societies. Like Willis, Weart jumps into discussing nuclear fear without using enough evidence to establish his points and avoid accusations of reification. However, particularly in the case of nuclear fear, it is difficult to argue that these things did not exist when polls conducted showed 48% of people believed a nuclear war would take place with fear particularly high with women and young people, (55% and 58% respectively)[77]. Weart looks at history through the lens of images and this is particularly useful for a history of nuclear culture that sees such potent depiction in visual texts.

Hogg’s notion of nuclearity is an interesting way to look at conceptions of nuclear culture; the idea that ‘knowledge of nuclear danger shaped domestic, social and political narratives’[78] differs from Boyer and other nuclear historians. Instead of an over-arching nuclear consciousness, Hogg argues that ‘British citizens had an implicit understanding of the negative aspects of nuclear technology’[79] that ‘shaped the British self-image in many different ways’[80]. Nuclearity then, defined as ‘a shifting set of assumptions held by individual citizens on the dangers of nuclear technology’[81], is a useful perspective from which to view British nuclear culture.

Zeman and Amundson define the period from 1992 to present as ‘post-atomic’ with fears of terrorism replacing “the nuclear”. Accordingly, ‘the atom seems to have lost its cultural centrality…no longer express[ing] current concerns the way it once did’[82]. The modern world viewing the nuclear bomb as benign clearly has factual basis, but it can be argued that this ignores the nuances of present-day nuclear fear. A fact that Boyer picks up on by asserting ‘[w]hile nuclear fear may ultimately fade from…imagination and culture, it seems destined to have a very long half-life indeed’[83]. Despite the ‘cosmic’[84] threat of the Cold War vanishing, and the idea that nuclear anxiety runs in ‘cycles of activism and apathy’[85]; the 90s and beyond still see ‘the process of “cultural fallout” [continuing] changed, certainly, but in some respects barely diminished…cultural concern with the nuclear menace [is] still pervasive’[86].

Franklin’s thesis of fictional sources creating cultural matrices from which attitudes are formed[87] helps to unpack ideas about culture and fictive impact. Fictional sources both reflect and influence popular discourse symbiotically. Bartter has a unique, if poorly conceived argument that science fiction scenarios of urban destruction, shown graphically in tales of nuclear war, fulfil deep-seated human needs to reshape and remould sprawling cities into clean, planned spaces[88]. Bartter’s interesting thesis is ultimately not persuasive.

Many of these works have their own flaws in argument and historical method; but taken together as a large historiography, a safely historicized view of nuclear culture can be established to act as a foundation for source analysis. While acknowledging that  ‘…nuclear iconography is a highly charged field of political struggle between dominant and marginalized cultural interests practicing various aesthetic strategies to legitimate their narratives of nuclear reality’[89], a contribution to the historical debate on nuclear culture can be made through the nature of the sources selected and the location of the analysis in the British context.

Any historiography of nuclear culture will, due to its dominance of the subject, be centred on America. The works will still be useful in their thematic examinations, but their references to the American context can be discarded. However, they can still provide intellectual underpinning for discussion of the case in Britain. The historiography located on Britain is less prevalent; but where it does exist it is valuable.

It is important during deconstruction not to lose sight of the context in which the source was authored. To assess the importance of individual sources reviews of the works, newspaper articles and the sources’ circulation figures will gauge the critical reception, and perhaps more importantly the impact of the sources on the popular imagination.

Authorship is an important idea in the construction of nuclear consciousness. For example, Margaret Atwood used a nuclear disaster as a catalyst to discuss issues of religious fundamentalism, gender, and sex[90]. Alan Moore is an anarchist. Does this impinge on the ideas he uses to write with? Raymond Briggs was avowedly anti-nuclear, and When the Wind Blows was acknowledged at the time to be a statement of the author’s views, one that both sides championed as eloquent and thought-provoking. Does the fact that some of these sources have an agenda behind them prohibit us from seeing them as expressions of nuclear culture? In a narrow sense they give us a direct picture of the author’s nuclear consciousness, but they also reflect the societal values of the culture that these authors exist in. Foucault states that the work is the property of an author and that some choose to transgress boundaries[91].

The historiography of popular culture and nuclear studies will enable in-depth deconstruction of cultural texts in the following chapters. These sources will provide a framework to discuss nuclear anxiety in Britain and the rest of the world in the late Cold War and after.


 

Chapter 2:

‘Well if you can’t see it and can’t feel it, it can’t be doing you any harm, can it?’[92]: The Pervasiveness of Nuclear Fear in 1980s Britain.

 

‘Britain has more nuclear bases and, consequently, more targets per head of population and per square mile than any other country in the world’[93].

When faced with statistics as stated above it is hard to dismiss Britain’s distinctive nuclear culture, and the fact that it took the form of the atomic gothic, defined by Hales as ‘a dark and terrifying vision of the atomic holocaust’[94]. Britain was in a unique position geographically and politically. It was physically a lot closer to the Soviet Union so any missile launched would have reached her rapidly. Similarly, a confluence of Britain’s political relationship with the United States, and the Cold War leading to American bases on British soil led to the perception of vulnerability. Resentment over this served to emphasize the pessimistic nuclear culture that had grown up following the Second World War. ‘Nuclearity [in Britain] shaped and reinforced feelings of uncertainty and powerlessness, and increased anxiety about the future of mankind’[95].

The Cold War was one based as much in psychology and ideology as in intelligence and technology[96]. There is a sense that nuclear anxiety moves in cycles: from high fear (the 1960s and 1980s), to near-apathy (the 1970s and the present). The Cuban Missile Crisis demonstrated that the West ‘normally ignored the nuclear peril. Each episode of public anxiety about the bomb [gave] way to longer periods in which nuclear weapons issues were the preoccupation of the nuclear specialists alone’[97]. ‘The 1980s was the last intense era of Cold War nuclear anxiety’[98] and the oscillation of nuclear consciousness during this time can be charted in Britain to see why this decade saw a surge in nuclear themed texts. It is hard to say whether the heightened state of anxiety in this decade was due to government policy, global events, or individual responses to the bomb.

After the lull of the 70s international tensions increased until the 80s saw new highs of nuclear anxiety. The failure of detente the previous decade allowed cynicism to foster increased apprehension over the prospect of nuclear war. War was more likely than it had been in a long time, and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster ‘transformed debates over nuclear energy’[99]. The 1980s were a time during the Cold War where tensions ratcheted up again to meet the high of 1962. Throughout the decade historical indicators can be seen: from Star Wars[100], the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007, the Chernobyl accident, the announcement of US cruise missiles being based in Britain, and the establishment of Trident are just snapshots of a decade that saw nuclear war creep every closer to reality.

In no short measure due to the belligerent foreign policies of the West’s New Right leadership of Reagan and Thatcher, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock[101] to four minutes to midnight and nuclear war was officially declared “thinkable”[102] in 1983. The drift away from the relative security of MAD, led to the growth of nuclear arsenals that could destroy the world thirteen times over[103], equivalent to four tonnes of TNT for every person on Earth[104]. This incredible state of affairs led to the perception of the Cold War being ‘a deadly poker duel’[105] which led to corresponding anti-nuclear calls for rationality.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) saw resurgence in the 1980s as ‘[t]he combination of horrific developments …both nationally and internationally – the deepening Cold War, the escalation of the arms race…combined to create a situation in which the peace movement erupted…on a hitherto unprecedented scale’[106] membership swelling to 110,000 in 1983[107]. Most new members were apolitical, seeing the CND as a moral imperative[108], as 33% of Britons and 40% of young people agreed with unilateral disarmament[109]. Was it simply a reflection of the end of superpower détente, and the new Reagan-Thatcher belligerent foreign policy? Or was it the response of a newly engaged, politically literate public to issues of global importance?

At Greenham Common in 1981 a spontaneous feminist ‘extended protest against the placement of [American] nuclear missiles on British soil’[110] became a “Women’s Peace Camp”. Described as ‘one of the most significant challenges to the old orthodoxy’[111], the women were ‘united by the horror of American cruise missiles coming to Britain’[112] and used the protest as an opportunity to discuss the role of women in society. It became a ‘women’s resistance camp’[113] a reaction to a single issue that grew into resistance to masculine patriarchal society. The Greenham women worked successfully to tie together ideas of disarmament and feminism; inspiring other camps internationally[114]. To them ‘[c]ruise [became] a symbol of nuclear terror, male domination and imperialist exploitation’[115].  Greenham was a movement without leaders, where ordinary women educated themselves about the world. It became a politicized non-violent feminist rejection of war, racism, sexism, and hierarchy[116]. Alison Young has exposed the negative media discourse surrounding the women, as the press sought to make them deviants to the public[117], labelling unilateralism as ‘dangerous rubbish’[118].

It is hard to ascertain whether this groundswell of anti-nuclear sentiment in the 1980s reflects changes happening in British society; or whether they represent a paradigm shift resulting from external forces. When the Wind Blows (WtWB) and Watchmen will act as lenses to view society’s changing response to the nuclear threat. They act as British pop-cultural milestones marking the continued growth of nuclear consciousness.

Briggs’ WtWB is one of the most heart-rending stories ever published. Written in 1982, WtWB portrays the story of an old married couple living in suburbia that have to deal with the realities of a nuclear attack on Britain. Before and during a thermonuclear attack sees the old man lecture his dutiful wife, as they slavishly follow government advice. The everyman nature of the couple is explicit in their names, Jim and Hilda Bloggs. The Protect and Survive[119] brochure they follow contains the absurdities that made the handbook infamous. The text becomes a biting satire of the British public’s sheepish acceptance of the status quo, how the government has lied to them, and Britain’s inability to escape the context of the Second World War. The inability of the couple to conceive of thermonuclear war reflects the experience of many ordinary people at the time.

The attack comes with a white flash. They misread the useless advice and come out of their shelter early to wash, drink, and get fresh air, exposing themselves to lethal doses of radiation. As the symptoms of sickness start to show such as bleeding, bruising, hair loss, and vomiting the couple decide to cover themselves in brown paper bags and lay down in their inner refuge (praying) waiting for the authorities to save them. Throughout the story the characters are sure the government will save them and that everything will be okay. WtWB is a starkly pathetic critique of the prospect of thermonuclear war and its physical and psychological impact. It savages the British state both for its failure to educate the public; and for allowing the idea of nuclear war to creep closer to reality. It is a treatise on nuclear disarmament and in realising the true effect of war shows the horror of nuclear technology.

It won support from press, readers, critics, and Parliament praising Briggs’ storytelling and tact. WtWB was welcomed as a powerful contribution to the anti-nuclear movement by John Garrett MP‘[120], was asked to be shown in schools by Lord Putney[121], and called ‘a great service’[122] to the nation by Stanley Thorne MP.

Watchmen, written by ‘one of the very best writers in this medium’[123] Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is one of the only graphic novels to receive respect outside of the world of comics. Its popular and critical success mean it is credited by many as reviving the moribund comics industry in a time of slump; and of starting a new era of comic book creation that concentrated on darker, more psychological storytelling.

In 2005 Time listed it as one of the 100 All-Time Novels[124]. Set in an alternative history where America won the Vietnam War (thanks largely to the use of a character who acts as an allegory for nuclear weapons) and Richard Nixon is in his fourth term as President. The novel is widely regarded as the greatest graphic novel ever written; one that ‘explores fundamental issues of American national identity during the second half of the twentieth century’[125]. ‘The style is cinematic with repeating motifs flashbacks and overlapping subplots’[126]. Each issue of the comic starts with a clock approaching midnight, a metaphor of nuclear Armageddon popularised through the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The Doomsday Clock is increasingly smeared in blood as it reaches midnight, each issue ticking closer to the seemingly inevitable nuclear war. The inexorable encroachment of nuclear war in the text reflects wider anxieties about this in the 1980s.The text contains nuclear references throughout, such as the name for the now defunct crime-fighting group ‘Minutemen’; a reference to the American Revolution but also the intercontinental missiles.

The character of Doctor Manhattan (his name an explicit reference to the foundation of nuclear technology) is a physicist caught in an experiment; the accident transforming him into an omnipotent being. He is unbound by the laws of physics; can change his size at will, teleport, create multiples of himself, and disassemble people at an atomic level. For this reason he is utilised by the Americans like the atomic bomb before him; reinstating what is, in effect, a nuclear monopoly. However, his power comes with an increasing disregard for humanity. To his shame it is revealed that Manhattan has been causing cancer in to people by being in close proximity; representing safety concerns over nuclear power and fears over radioactive fallout. Through a combination of shame and disregard for humanity he eventually leaves for Mars to construct his own world. When Manhattan leaves Earth deterrence breaks down, the Soviets invade Afghanistan and the world stands on the brink of war. Moore’s personification of the bomb in Manhattan is multi-faceted and complex. He reflects the bomb both as a high political diplomatic lever, a military tool used to win intractable wars, a man-made marvel, and an artefact that is dangerous and carcinogenic.

The war is only averted through the machinations of the supposed villain Adrian Veidt. Reported by the media as “the smartest man in the world” Veidt orchestrates an elaborate hoax to save humankind. In a pure utilitarian masterstroke Veidt creates an external threat (of extra-dimensional aliens) to force the Americans and the Soviets to unite against his fantasy threat. His introduction of this threat to New York consists of images eerily similar to a nuclear attack. People are well aware of the escalation of the Cold War, and their fear is clearly present; the scene culminates with two minor characters hugging as they atomise in a blinding flash of light. The nuclear symbolism is clear even in the act intended to avoid nuclear holocaust. As it is revealed what actually happened, the Doomsday Clock is revealed to be an everyday town hall clock smeared in blood, and a hideous, gigantic tentacled monster is revealed to have teleported into the centre of New York; creating the explosion, and punching ironically through a cinema showing the benign alien visitor film The Day the Earth Stood Still. The aftermath is revealed to have resulted in the loss of over half of Manhattan’s population. However, the barbaric plan works and the world unites against the alien threat. By sacrificing millions of Americans, Veidt saves the rest of humanity. All in all, Watchmen is a dense and rich nuclear text featuring examination and criticism of Cold War ideology, the military-industrial complex and nuclear fear.

In addition to comics the 1980s saw an explosion of nuclear film sources in Britain, with the airing of Threads, and the belated first airing of The War Game. Both films sparked controversy; undermining the official discourse of Protect and Survive that taught that nuclear war was horrific but survivable. By showing the frightening reality of nuclear war these cultural texts tapped into a vein of nuclear fear, exploiting it but also exposing and examining it.

Music provides one of the most accessible (and under-examined) cultural texts to discuss the pervasion of nuclear anxiety into popular consciousness. The ‘80s were the decade of musical meditations of nuclear war, representing the heightened state of nuclear anxiety in this decade. These musical texts form a cultural matrix where people started to use nuclear imagery not just for entertainment but also to inform and protest.

Exemplified by The Smiths and their 1986 single Ask (which reached #14 in the UK Singles Chart[127]), the line ‘If it’s not love…then it’s the bomb that will bring us together’ forms a refrain at the end of the song; the equation of the Bomb as ‘a category of Being’[128] to rival the concept of love (one that dominates Western culture) is telling. Further evidence of the pervasiveness of nuclear consciousness and fear in the 1980s is provided with Sting’s ‘Russians’ and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’. Both were condemnations of Cold War ideology featuring lyrical allusions that contribute to a sophisticated alternative discourse. Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’ is an example of a musical source that uses nuclear imagery for purely entertainment purposes, and it is this strain of the musical response to the nuclear in the 80s that is perhaps most important.

While some songs were intended to be protests at the Cold War and arms race, such as ‘99 Luftballoons’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘Russians’. Others used nuclear iconography as further symptoms of problems, such as ‘Two Tribes’ attack on the futility of conflict and the rabidity of capitalism, and ‘The Specials’ rumination of the powerlessness of the working class; many more represent the normalisation of the nuclear. ‘Forever Young’ features the idea of nuclear war as a shallow lyrical flourish, ‘Are you going to drop the bomb or not?’, apathetic in its delivery and intent. Equally, Blondie use the language of the nuclear as merely a part of their avant-garde musical style, divorced from any meaning. Morrissey in ‘Everyday Is Like Sunday’ appears to evoke nuclear Armageddon as a way to escape the crushing banality of provincial England. The acceptance of the nuclear status quo by their diverse musical sources, and their tone suggest that the bomb was almost completely normalised in this period. Nuclear fear does not appear to be taboo in this period; indeed it is often used for commercial purposes. However, this domestication also proves how pervasive nuclear imagery and fear was at the time. The 1980s was a decade when nuclear anxiety became more concrete than ever before, permeating film, books, television and even music. The situation began to seem untenable.

Chapter 3:

‘This world is more real than anything outside’[129]: Game Culture and Half-Life of Nuclear Fear.

 

As broached earlier, video games constitute a unique way for historians to conceptualize nuclearity in the modern world. They exist as narrative texts in ways reminiscent to cinematic novels, and so require new analytic tools to be understood as components of nuclear discourse. Their immersive nature adds to the way in which they impart values and assumptions.

It is widely believed that ‘far less attention is now paid to the real specter [sic] of nuclear disaster than at the height of the cold war’[130], and when it is the response is immature and sanitized. The worry is that the fear ‘has largely faded from the public mind’[131]. However, while there is a wealth of material that superficially appears to view the nuclear in a childish, tongue-in-cheek way, it can be argued that there is an underlying anxiety present in these narratives. Nuclear issues were less prominent in the media discourse in the 90s[132], and polls showed people thought war was ‘very unlikely’, rising from 23% in 1981 to 33% in 2001[133]. Boyer said that ‘Hiroshima ended the luxury of detachment’[134] for science fiction authors and perhaps the end of the Cold War can be seen as giving that luxury back. Now, the impetus is not to drive change, but to entertain.

Gaming culture is a strand of popular culture that has been ignored by traditional historians. The media help to portray false perceptions of games, and gaming culture to the public. Despite the cinematic nature of video games, they lack the tropes of science fiction film as defined by Sontag[135], while retaining the most important: the scale of destruction[136]. However, they do reflect the themes of science fiction films defined by Broderick, with all video games analysed to some degree showing elements of renewal[137], catharsis[138] and above all the survival of humanity[139].

Games require ‘parallel processing, the ability to absorb multiple patterns of information simultaneously and to perceive rather than analyze the structured relationships between these patterns. The mental processes are quite different to those linear ones so well trained into the literate elite’[140]. For this reason the ‘extremely immersive’[141] nature of games appeal to younger generations who have grown accustomed to this, more than with older people who have to learn this anew.

Game culture often seem unfathomable to the uninitiated. Video games are far from mindless, ultra-violent forms of entertainment for those leading sedentary lifestyles (accusations suffered by every new form of mass entertainment since the radio). With every recognisable video game appearing the start of the modern age; they are the first truly modern form of entertainment[142]. They are cultural commodities that have only existed in a post-nuclear world.

Video game culture is an apt lens to look at British society, with a disproportionate effect on the multi-billion pound industry. Britain consistently creates critically acclaimed and popular games. Vibrant and innovative game studios in London and Scotland are behind some of the most famous games of the past decade[143].

The literature[144] on video games is not extensive by any means, but it is growing as it is realised that these products are having great impact on life. These diverse works can be used to come to an understanding about the unique effect that video games have on their audience, while hopefully avoiding the sensationalist claims of a brutalized youth. The video game industry, and attendant culture, give a unique insight into popular and youth mores, and their responses to the nuclear.

Games lack the agenda of Cold War fiction. They are not compelled to pose solutions, or make criticism. More often, they assume the cloak of nuclearity to exploit these shared assumptions over nuclear weapons for entertainment purposes. Nuclear war provides a canvas on which to project stories, a framework that the public has been primed to understand over fifty years.  Gaming culture is the dominant form of entertainment with the young, but it is also increasingly a dominant form of entertainment as the young grow and continue their hobby. ‘The video games industry is growing faster than any other entertainment industry’[145]; half of Americans play games regularly[146]. In 2002 the game industry surpassed the film industry in size[147] with revenues of $6.9billion in America[148] and in excess of $30 billion worldwide[149]. It is clear that ‘video games have become one – if not the – most important means of entertainment, at least for the younger generation’[150], ‘[g]ames, therefore, seem to be the real entertainment of our times’[151]. The game industry more than doubled in the period 1995-2003[152] at a time when the rest of the American economy grew an average of 3.1% annually[153].

Games are different to all other entertainment. The unique factor is interactivity, this allows players to feel immersed in a virtual world; ‘[t]he fusion of narrative and interactivity results in a much different emotional experience than that of traditional entertainment’[154]. Games offer a large degree of control to the user, a valuable facet to teenagers who strive for a sense that their actions have meaning, even if in a virtual world.

Nuclear culture is a vast mine for creative game designers to utilise, and the ‘fable’[155] of nuclear war allows for a skeleton of nuclearity that games designers can rely on to tell stories. Its pervasiveness allows designers to craft games containing nuclear technology and scenarios with the knowledge that their audience will understand the implications. They exploit the associated nuclearity and craft sophisticated stories. Nuclear culture informs many games, in many it only plays a minor role, however, in some video games it features more prominently. It is easy for an outsider to see the video game response to nuclear fear as one of tongue-in-cheek, flippant dismissal. It is arguable that with so many video games published every year, then there is a shallow majority (just like film and books) where this is the case. However, certain titles can be used to highlight the mature, multi-faceted response that the game industry is imparting.

The sources selected for deconstruction represent those which feature nuclear technology heavily. The perception of the entire games industry being focused on nuclearity is not intended. Instead, these texts show the response of the games industry to the atomic gothic.

The most obvious video game franchise to use as a tool to discuss nuclear culture is Fallout: particularly Fallout 3 (which sold four million copies[156]). The Fallout franchise has projected an image of nuclear culture since its inception selling over 500,000 copies and winning multiple awards[157]. The games revolve around a fictional future where America and China went to nuclear war in 2070. Despite similarities, the games offer a different experience to cinema. No matter how immersive, you can still pause the action and have a break[158]. Taking place post-war, Fallout 3 is ‘both simulation and narrative’[159], one that ‘functions similarly to narratives within the traditional media narrative ecology’[160]. The game is ‘as flinty and bleak as the story demands, but utterly convincing’[161]. Fallout 3 features advanced technology accompanying American culture that plateaued in the 1950s. The environment of the game is a typical nuclear wasteland featuring mutated animals; as well as barbaric “Super Mutants” who hunt humans for their flesh. The player has to navigate this new Dark Age completing quests to locate your father; avoiding consuming irradiated food and water supplies; repairing decrepit technology; and a complete moral collapse of the surviving population.

The power of Fallout comes in the juxtaposition of the naїve science fiction iconography of the 1950s, and its concomitant idealism, and the depressing reality of nuclear war. The game is a realization of Gernsbackian positive attitudes to nuclear technology. The landscape is littered with atomic cars lying empty after war; rusting husks that, if disturbed, explode spraying radioactive fallout over the surrounding area. The game’s narrative ‘realizes a satirical vision of the logical conclusion to 1950s American values and society’[162].The wasteland is dotted with “vaults”, fallout shelters that house cloistered societies living in isolation from the outside; physically and emotionally. The game features a weapon called the “Fat Man launcher”, and variant the “Experimental MIRV”; both weapons are shoulder mounted “mini-nuke” catapults that launch tactical nuclear weapons with designs that reference the Nagasaki bomb. In addition, the game includes a sub-caste of humans called ghouls who are hideously deformed from the effects of radiation.

‘The Power of the Atom’ is a quest started at the opening of the game’s narrative, significant elements of which (and the broader game) were censored for release in a sensitive Japanese market[163]. Megaton is a large shanty settlement in the Wasteland, its name a pun on the nuclear age. At its heart is an undetonated nuclear bomb, a design identical to the Fat Man Nagasaki bomb. There is a town cult that worships the bomb and bathes in its radioactive waters. The player is tasked with detonating the bomb and destroying Megaton. It is the player’s moral decision whether to do this for financial gain, or whether to disarm the bomb and report the man. ‘The absurdity of the player’s decision to press a button and eradicate a people is certainly not any more absurd than a president’s ability to do the same’[164], and it forces the player to make a moral decision[165].

Mass Effect, a popular critically acclaimed science-fiction adventure game that sold over 1.6 million copies as of 2008[166], touches on the nuclear issue briefly, but powerfully. As well as one of the major settings of the franchise being Tuchanka, a barren world destroyed through nuclear war; many missions revolve around nuclear technology. A game mission sees the antagonist Saren’s base infiltrated, with the intention of destroying it with a multi-megaton nuclear bomb. With hordes of enemies closing in, one of your team is pinned down, with another trying to finish arming the bomb. The player has time to save one. It is an experience that remains with the player in the same way a novel or film does. The immersive nature of Mass Effect means the decision is not treated frivolously. The graphics and the storytelling are sufficiently sophisticated that you feel you have the life of another person in your hands. It is a far cry from technological fetishism and nostalgia. It is a forced emotional conundrum. You spend the rest of the game, (and the sequels that continue the story) wondering whether you made the right decision.

The Call of Duty franchise is the most successful of modern times. Its games range from historical war simulations to modern simulacra of war. The releases of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (CoD:MW) sub-franchise dominated popular culture to such an extent that all three made the news[167]. CoD:MW2 earned $1 billion in sales, while CoD:MW3 broke sales records and grossed £490 million in its first five days[168]. The franchise has become ‘a cultural institution’[169]; by February 2011 the online multiplayer had logged over two billion hours of play-time[170].

In CoD:MW during the penultimate mission ‘Shock and Awe’ a nuclear device is detonated in a Middle-Eastern city. The shockwave kills thousands, including the player. The death of your character is inevitable. The final scenes are a dying Private Jackson’s eyes closing, his last images a destroyed city[171]. This is a powerful comment on the futility of nuclear war.

In the second game in the series, a nuclear missile is launched into space destroying the International Space Station, causing an electromagnetic pulse that disables invading Russian forces across the Eastern seaboard. Another use of the weapon is in the online multiplayer. If a player gets a killing streak of twenty five without dying, they are rewarded with the ability to call in “a tactical nuke”. When chosen, player movements slow and time dilates until a blinding white flash makes the player’s avatar go limp: dead. The move kills all of the players. The realistic nature of the bomb blast represents the atomic gothic; but this is offset by the treatment of a nuclear weapon as aspiration.

At first glance DEFCON seems to be the epitome of a game not taking nuclear fear seriously. Advertised with the tagline “Everybody Dies”[172], and containing a manual parodying Protect and Survive, the game revolves around a multiplayer aspect where players command a continental nuclear arsenal and fight nuclear wars. The game becomes one of strategy similar to chess, where players have to protect themselves while attacking others. If successful then attempts can be made to attack cities directly, which results in chilling messages such as ‘LOS ANGELES HIT 3.2m DEAD’[173]. However, the sanitized reduction of nuclear war to garish neon light is a complex attack of the Cold War. The player assumes the role of general or politician, safe in a bunker, directing the slaughter of millions. Any victory is pyrrhic. It is a realization of the imagined Cold War scenario of nuclear war.

As demonstrated, the games industry disseminates a mature look at nuclear culture. They deal with implications in an adult way for a young audience. The several sources selected project Hales’ atomic gothic to consumers, some with negative attacks on nuclear technology. However, all games that feature the nuclear are, to varying degrees, exploiting nuclearity to tell stories that could conceivably be told without the aid of these preconceived assumptions. Nuclearity inside the gaming industry is as often as means to an end, as it is a way to satirise the status quo.

Nuclear imagery is virtually omnipresent in other modern media with nuclear technology featuring in television shows like 24, Heroes, the West Wing, and Jericho. Lack of terror over thermonuclear war has allowed the images to become iconic.[174] Nuclear fear is omnipresent in Western consciousness, leading to repressed anxiety in the depiction of nuclear technology.

The Simpsons represents treatment of the nuclear that many see as universal in the modern age. ‘How many have first met a nuclear reactor in the introductory sequence of the perennially popular cartoon show The Simpsons, featuring a lovable but amusingly incompetent reactor operator?’[175] Homer’s accidental theft of a plutonium fuel rod in the title sequence, and its subsequent disposal out his car window, is humorous despite the implications. Likewise, the nuclear plant’s disposal of toxic waste into Springfield’s lake and the discovery of Blinkie, the three eyed fish,[176] is purposefully hyperbolic. No-one expects a decontamination team to descend on Springfield scrubbing the yellow skin of its inhabitants. A French neutron bomb is dropped on Springfield in a later episode[177] resulting in a humorous take on the post-apocalyptic landscape that parodies several famous films and books; where the family are saved by layers of lead-paint on the house. In many ways The Simpsons can be seen as poking fun at nuclear fear and anxiety. Radioactive Man and Fallout Boy, stars of a comic within the cartoon, are symbols of this humorous take on the nuclear; ‘combination[s] of humour and satirical nihilism regarding the contemporary atomic scene’[178]. However, the writers of The Simpsons are preying on nuclearity. Without the audience knowing that nuclear waste is mutagenic, the episode featuring Blinkie does not make sense, let alone make us laugh. Without the audience understanding that the fallout from a nuclear bomb emits radiation that invisibly damages people and the outlandish scenarios imagined by science fiction, then the neutron bomb episode does not work. It is arguable that The Simpsons, while doing so in a tongue-in-cheek manner, is actually exposing raw parts of our collective consciousness regarding nuclear fear. This is only palatable in a world where the threat of nuclear war is lower now than it has been in half a century. The Simpsons represent a supremely postmodern look at the nuclear where everything is satirized, and the world is always the same at the end of each episode.

Has the post-Cold War world moved past nuclear fear? While many of the warheads remain stockpiled, international tension has decreased substantially and people are understandably less afraid of nuclear war. The 1990s can be seen as a period of relative calm, with nuclear anxiety only rearing its head again in two forms: rogue states and terrorism.

The fear of rogue states is tied up with nuclear proliferation. As fictional President Bartlet says in negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister ‘Proliferation breeds proliferation. China’s bomb produced India’s. India’s begat Pakistan’s’[179]. Genuine American President Bush would use nuclear images to convince the American people to support the Iraq war saying ‘[w]e cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud’[180], the imagery ‘appealed directly to citizen’s nuclear fear…to redeploy a cultural memory of apocalyptic nuclear threat’[181].

Today over half the world’s population live in states possessing nuclear arms[182]; with fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions dominating the news[183]. The fear of a terrorist organization getting their hands on poorly secured warheads, or radiological material to construct a “dirty bomb” plays on the minds of national security advisers across the world. ‘The threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are real. The possibility that terrorists might acquire and use nuclear weapons is an urgent and potentially catastrophic challenge to global security’[184].

9/11 ‘mobilized the image of a United States in nuclear ruins to enable war’[185], and since then terrorism has dominated Western fears. A conventional bomb exploding maiming and killing hundreds is a tangible threat, whereas nuclear war seems to many a figment of the Cold War past. In 1996, 72% of Americans thought it was possible the US could be attacked by a weapon of mass destruction. However, in 1998 50% thought a nuclear bomb would explode in US in the next decade[186]. Yet despite this, terrorism has not enveloped popular culture like the nuclear threat once did[187].Suicide bombing subverts traditional ideas about self-preservation[188]. The idea of murdering millions of civilians was morally abhorrent to both sides in the Cold War; forming the basis of MAD, ensuring no war took place. However, 9/11 dispelled this idea and now the idea of “the enemy” detonating a nuclear device in a crowded city is feasible[189]. ‘The willingness of terrorists to commit suicide to achieve their evil aims makes the nuclear terrorist threat [appear] far more likely than it was before September 11’[190].

Other issues that threaten humanity seem more inevitable. Disease pandemics dominate the media when rumored, from SARS[191], to Avian Flu[192], Swine Flu [193] and the ever-present threat of HIV; the surrounding hysteria increasing with each new report. ‘A generation ago it was thought that the greatest threat to the human race would be nuclear war. Today if you were to place a bet on our species being wiped out by nuclear war or a virus, you might be better off putting all your money on the virus’[194]. Equally dangerous, climate change poses a grave threat to humanity’s way of life[195]. The carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere is warming up the planet, and a change of a couple degrees would be disastrous. Sea levels could increase submerging large swathes of land, and the ability to grow food could be drastically diminished. The importance of these subjects is reflected in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently moving the clock closer to midnight on account of the threat of regional nuclear war and climate change[196]. These threats focus on external elements, on the natural world where the blame on humanity is collective. They don’t divide us along national or ethnic lines. The response to them has to be inclusive.

Fukushima is the actualization of the nuclear wasteland, like Chernobyl before it[197]. ‘Fukushima’s imagery was similar to Chernobyl’s with its long weeks of crisis and uncertainty, its pictures of wrecked reactors, and a Forbidden Zone of lingering radioactivity’[198].  The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, 14 metre high tsunami and subsequent accident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station has led to the death of 15,854 with 3,274 still missing[199]. During the crisis plans were mooted to evacuate the thirty million people surrounding Tokyo[200].  It is so significant that it has acquired a moniker of 3/11; similar to 9/11 unmistakable in any language, becoming ‘code for a tragedy of epic proportions’[201]. The raw shock at another large-scale nuclear accident raised fears and concerns over nuclear power again, with Germany suspending its own nuclear programme[202].

‘If the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., felt strangely familiar to many U.S. citizens, it was because American society has been imaginatively rehearsing the destruction of these cities for over three generations: in the civil defense campaigns of the early and late Cold War, as well as the Hollywood blockbusters of the 1990s, which destroyed these cities each summer with increasing nuance and detail…[Bush was] translating discrete, nonnuclear threats into the emotional equivalent of the Cold War nuclear crisis’[203].

It is clear that nuclear fear has rewired the collective brain of the West, forcing us into patterns of thinking about new, non-nuclear subjects. Fresh concerns are couched in the framework of nuclear war, with phrases like “going nuclear” and “the nuclear option” being routinely thrown about when discussing things as banal as anger, or disproportionate responses.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that comics, music, cartoons, and video games constitute sources as worthy of analysis as traditional narrative texts. Through sustained discussion and contextual location these sources show themselves to form a significant strand of discourse relating to nuclear weaponry. The comics and games selected for the bulk of analysis are not exhaustive, but they are representative of reproduction of the atomic gothic in popular culture, projecting a negative side of nuclearity to consumers. There is always room for further study. This dissertation illuminates a hitherto unearthed trove of sources for future deconstruction. Popular culture as represented by comics, games, and other popular media offer historians a means to examine nuclearity in national contexts. Sustained and varied analysis could allow these sources to contribute to the relatively new historiography on British nuclear culture.

It is clear that nuclear anxiety is not now at the heights of the crises in the 60s and 80s. However, the gnawing anxiety is still present, even if it does not dominate societal discourse as it once did. Issues like North Korea, Iran and Fukushima will continue to drive ideas on security and nuclear technology for many years. This will bleed into fictional texts in much the same way it did during the Cold War. The fictional nuclear landscape will always offer an enticing canvas for imagination. Modern cultural texts will be influenced by nuclear fear, that though diminished is still present; as well as the atomic gothic projected by post-Cold War sources. It is apparent that, like radioactive materials themselves, nuclear fear has a decidedly long half-life[204].

 


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[1] The Smiths, ‘Ask’, Louder Than Bombs, (October, 1986).

[2] The Smiths, ‘Ask’, Louder Than Bombs, (October, 1986).

[3] S. Hilgartner et al, Nukespeak: Nuclear Language, Visions, and Mindset, (San Francisco, 1982), p.  xiv.

[4] M. Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, reproduced at http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/foucault.htm, accessed on 3rd April 2012.

[5] P. Brians, ‘Nuclear War in Science Fiction, 1945-59’, Science Fiction Studies, 11, 3, (November, 1984), p. 254.

[6] J. Canaday, The Nuclear Muse: Literature, Physics, and the First Atomic Bombs, (Madison, 2000), p. 3.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 6.

[9] T. Shaw, ‘The Politics of Cold War Culture’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 3, 3, (Fall, 2001).

[10] President Obama’s 2009 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty limiting the American and Russian states to 1,550 warheads each; with Britain alone retaining the capacity to perpetrate nearly a thousand Hiroshimas. ‘Current World Nuclear Arsenals’, reproduced at http://www.cdi.org/nuclear/database/nukestab.html, accessed on 9th December 2011.

[11] J.G. Hogg, ‘The Family That Feared Tomorrow: British Nuclear Culture and Individual Experience in the Late 1950s’, British Journal for the History of Science, forthcoming paper, p. 1.

[12] W. Kalaidjian, ‘Nuclear Criticism’, Contemporary Literature, (Summer, 1999), 40, 2, p. 317.

[13] R.J. Lifton & R. Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism, (New York, 1982), p. ix.

[14] P. Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age, (London, 1994).

[15] P. Rosenthal, ‘The Nuclear Mushroom Cloud as Cultural Image’, American Literary History, 3, 1, (Spring, 1991).

[16] P. Hales, ‘The Atomic Sublime’, American Studies, 32, 1, (Spring, 1991).

[17] Boyer, Bomb’s, p. 134.

[18] Ibid., p. 143.

[19] Hales, Atomic, p. 25.

[20] Rosenthal, Mushroom, p. 72.

[21] Ibid., p. 76.

[22] S. Weart, ‘Nuclear Fear 1987-2007: Has Anything Changed? Has Everything Changed?’, in R. Jacobs, Filling the Hole in the Nuclear Future: Art and Popular Culture Respond to the Bomb, (Lanham, 2010), p. 232.

[23] Ibid., p. 232.

[24] Hogg, Family, p. 15.

[25] T.W. Smith, ‘The Polls – A Report: Nuclear Anxiety’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 52, 557, (1988), p. 559.

[26] Hogg, Family, p. 6.

[27] Lifton, Indefensible, p. 101.

[28] Weart, Changed, p. 232.

[29] Smith, Polls, p. 561.

[30] J. Derrida, ‘No Apocalypse, Not Now (Full Speed Ahead Seven Missiles, Seven Missives)’, Diacritics, (Summer, 1984), 14, 2, p. 23.

[31] R. Klein, ‘The Future of Nuclear Criticism’, Yale French Studies, 97, p. 80.

[32] H. Kahn, On Thermonuclear War, (Princeton, 1961).

[33] D. Dowling, Fictions of Nuclear Disaster, (Iowa City, 1987), p. 217.

[34] Foucault, Archaeology, reproduced at http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/fr/foucault.htm, accessed on 3rd April 2012.

[35] J. Tompkins, (ed.), Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, (Baltimore, 1980), p. ix.

[36] R.C. Holub, Reception Theory: a Critical Introduction, p. 16.

[37] Ibid., p. 57.

[38] Ibid., p. 84.

[39] S. McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, (New York, 1994), p. 5.

[40] McCloud, Comics, p. 43.

[41] Ibid., p. 43.

[42] C. Bradford, ‘Looking for my corpse: Video games and player positioning’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 33, 1, (2010), p. 54.

[43] Ibid., p. 55.

[44] Ibid., p. 54.

[45] P. Greenfield, Mind and Media: The Effects of Television, Computers and Video Games, (Aylesbury, 1984), p. 89.

[46] P. Vorderer & J. Bryant, (eds), Playing Video Games: Motives, Responses, and Consequences, (Mahwah N.J., 2006),  p. 137.

[47] Ibid., p. 1.

[48] Kalaidjian, Nuclear, p. 311.

[49] ‘Iran escalation “could see UK forces sent to Gulf”’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16701013, accessed on 27th January 2012.

[50] ‘Fukushima fallout fears over Japan farms’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15691571, accessed on 27th January 2012.

[51] ‘Traces of radiation found on Dounreay workers’ shoes’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-16756363, accessed on 27th January 2012.

[52] ‘Search for term “nuclear”’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/news/?q=nuclear, accessed on 27th January 2012.

[53] Boyer, Bomb’s, p. xx.

[54] J. Fiske, Understanding Popular Culture, (London, 1989), p. 23.

[55] Ibid., p. 23.

[56] Ibid., p. 24.

[57] Ibid., p. 25.

[58] Ibid., p. 106.

[59] J. Masco, ‘“Survival is Your Business”: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America’, Cultural Anthropology, 23, 2, (May, 2008),p.  361.

[60] Ibid., p. 361.

[61] Boyer, Bomb’s, p. xx.

[62] J.F. Shapiro, Atomic Bomb Cinema, (London, 2002), p. 2.

[63] Lifton, Indefensible, p. 3.

[64] K. Willis, ‘The Origins of British Nuclear Culture, 1895-1939’, Journal of British Studies, 34, (January, 1995), pp. 59-89.

[65] Ibid., p. 59.

[66] Willis, British, p. 88.

[67] Ibid., p. 81.

[68] R. Luckhurst, Science Fiction, (Cambridge, 2005) p. 121.

[69] Rosenthal, Mushroom, p. 67.

[70] Ibid., p. 72.

[71] Ibid., p. 78.

[72] Ibid., p. 68.

[73] Ibid., p. 66.

[74] Ibid., p. 63.

[75] Hales, Atomic, p.  5.

[76] S. Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, (London, 1988).

[77] ‘Nuclear war expected by 48% in poll’, The Times, 22nd September 1980, p. 3.

[78] Hogg, Family, p. 2.

[79] Ibid., p. 3.

[80] Ibid., p. 4.

[81] Ibid., p. 4.

[82] S. Zeman & M. Amundson, (eds), Atomic Culture: How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, (Boulder, 2004), p. 5.

[83] P. Boyer, Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons, (Columbus, 1998), p. 206.

[84] Ibid., p. 197.

[85] Ibid., p. 201; Boyer, Bomb’s, p. 352.

[86] Boyer, Fallout, p. 204.

[87] H.B. Franklin, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, (Amherst, 2008).

[88] M. Bartter, ‘Nuclear Holocaust as Urban Renewal’, Science Fiction Studies, 13, 2, (July, 1986), p. 148.

[89] B.C. Taylor, ‘Nuclear Pictures and Metapictures’, American Literary History, 9, 3, (Autumn, 1997), p. 571.

[90] M. Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, (London, 1996).

[91] ‘The Author Function, (1970)’, reproduced at http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.authorFunction.en.html, accessed on 28th March 2012.

[92] Hilda in When the Wind Blows, reproduced at ‘When the Wind Blows: Quotes’, http://m.imdb.com/title/tt0090315/quotes, accessed on 11th April 2012.

[93] P. Penn, ‘The Women at Greenham Common: An Observation’, Family Systems Medicine, 2, 1, (Spring, 1984), p. 67.

[94] Hales, Atomic, p. 25.

[95] Hogg, Family, p. 4.

[96] T. Shaw, British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus, (London, 2001), p. 1.

[97] Boyer, Fallout, p. 231.

[98] Luckhurst, Science, p. 201.

[99] Weart, Nuclear, p. 229.

[100] “Star wars” was the dismissive media moniker given to the fanciful Strategic Defense Initiative missile shield that would destroy the myth of Mutually Assured Destruction, and ultimately never be anywhere close to functional.

[101] The motif used by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to denote how close humanity is to extinction in terms of nuclear war, and more recently climate change. The closer to midnight the hands of the clock stand the larger the danger. The clock was two minutes from midnight in 1953 after the detonation of the first US and Soviet thermonuclear devices.

[102] ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, Daily Mirror, January 26th 1983, p. 7.

[103] ‘The arsenal that could destroy the world 13 times’, Daily Mirror, January 16th 1983, p. 17.

[104] Ibid., p.16.

[105] ‘Power and the People’, Daily Mirror, January 26th 1983, p. 8.

[106] R. Taylor, ‘The British Peace Movement and the New Left 1950-1980’, Social Alternatives, 4, 1, (1984), p. 37.

[107] ‘CND membership booms after nuclear U-turn’, reproduced at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cnd-membership-booms-after-nuclear-uturn-408265.html, accessed on 28th March 2012.

[108] R. Taylor, ‘The British Peace Movement and the New Left 1950-1980’, Social Alternatives, 4, 1, (1984), p. 26.

[109] ‘Nuclear war expected by 48% in poll’, The Times, 22nd September 1980, p. 3.

[110] M. Laware, ‘Circling the Missiles and Staining Them Red: Feminist Rhetorical Invention and Strategies of Resistance at the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common, NWSA Journal, 16, 3, (Fall, 2004), p. 18.

[111] B. Kent, ‘Protest and Survive’, History Today, (May, 1999), p. 15.

[112] B. Harford & S. Hopkins, (eds), Greenham Common: Women At The Wire, (London, 1984), p. 1.

[113] Harford, Greenham, p. 6.

[114] M. Doggett, ‘Greenham Common and Civil Disobedience: Making New Meanings for Women’, Canadian Journal of Women & the Law, 3, (1989), p. 403.

[115] Ibid., p. 1.

[116] Ibid., p. 4.

[117] A. Young, Femininity in Dissent, (London, 1990).

[118] Ibid., p. 131.

[119] ‘Protect and Survive’, reproduced at http://www.atomica.co.uk/main.htm, accessed on 12th April 2012.

[120] Mr. John Garrett, Hansard, 15th February 1982, No. 57.

[121] Lord Jenkins of Putney, 12th February 1987, Vol. 284, reproduced at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/written_answers/1987/feb/12/when-the-wind-blows-screening-policy#S5LV0484P0_19870212_LWA_1, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[122] Stanley Thorne MP, 15th February 2982, reproduced at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=1982-02-15a.20.0&s=%22When+the+Wind+Blows%22#g61.2, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[123] M.J. Prince, ‘Alan Moore’s America: The Liberal Individual and American identities in Watchmen’, The Journal of Popular Culture, 44, 4, (2011), p. 815.

[125] Prince, America, p. 815.

[126] D. Barnes, ‘Time in the Gutter: Temporal Structures in Watchmen’, Kronoscope, 9, 1-2, (2009), p. 51.

[127] ‘Ask’, The Smiths, reproduced at http://www.everyhit.com/searchsec.php, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[128] Boyer, Bomb’s, p. xx.

[129] Betty (Dr. Braun), ‘Mission: Tranquillity Lane’, Fallout 3, Bethesda, (October, 2008).

[130] Kalaidjian, Nuclear, p. 311.

[131] Ibid., p. 311.

[132] Weart, Nuclear, p. 257.

[133] Ibid., p. 257.

[134] Boyer, Bomb’s, p. 258.

[135] S. Sontag, ‘The Imagination of Disaster’, in S. Sontag, Against Interpretation,(London, 1967), p.  209.

[136] Ibid., p. 213.

[137] M. Broderick, ‘Surviving Armageddon: Beyond the Imagination of Disaster’, Science Fiction Studies, 20, 3, (November, 1993), p. 368.

[138] Ibid., p. 369.

[139] Ibid., p. 370.

[140] Fiske, Popular, p. 109.

[141] Weart, Changed, p. 240.

[142] P. Vorderer & J. Bryant, (eds), Playing Video Games: Motives, Response and Consequences, (Mahwah, 2006), p. 25.

[143] Including Rockstar North, Lionhead, Team 17, Criterion Games and SCE Studio Liverpool.

[144] Vorderer, Playing.

[145] Ibid., p. xii.

[146] Ibid., p. 1.

[147] Ibid., p. 259.

[148] Ibid., p. 259.

[149] Ibid., p. ix.

[150] Ibid., p. ix.

[151] Ibid., p. x.

[152] Vorderer, Playing, p. 43.

[153] ‘GDP growth (annual %)’, reproduced at http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[154] Vorderer, Playing, p. 3.

[155] Klein, Future, p. 81.

[157] Weart, Nuclear, p. 201.

[158] Ibid., p. 201.

[159] J. Stevenson, ‘To Live and Die on Tranquillity Lane: The Participatory Narrative and Satire of Fallout 3’, Masters Dissertation, University of Saskatchewan, (September,. 2010), p 1.

[160] Ibid., p. 3.

[161] James O’Brien, ‘Nuclear Winter Wonderland’, Daily Mail, 31st October 2008.

[162] Stevenson, Tranquillity, p. 4.

[163]Fallout 3 Pulls Nuke References for Japan’, reproduced at http://www.wired.com/gamelife/2008/11/japanese-fallou/, accessed on 14th April 2012.

[164] Ibid., p. 16.

[165] M. Schulzke, ‘Moral Decision making in Fallout’, reproduced at http://gamestudies.org/0902/articles/schulzke, accessed on 13th March 2012.

[166] ‘MS: 17.7 million 360s sold’, reproduced at http://uk.gamespot.com/news/6184291.html, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[167] ‘Modern Warfare 2 breaks UK record’, reproduced at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8355788.stm, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[168] ‘Call of Duty enjoys record sales despite retail woes’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15796585, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[169] L. Grossman & E. Narcisse, ‘Conflict of Interest’, Time, 21st October 2011.

[170] Ibid.

[171] ‘Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Nuclear Bomb Explosion COD4’, reproduced at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dul0S6ffqk4, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[172] ‘DEFCON: Everybody Dies’, reproduced at http://i2.listal.com/image/214313/600full-defcon%3A-everybody-dies-screenshot.jpg, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[173] ‘Los Angeles hit. 3.2m dead’, reproduced at http://npge.freeblog.hu/files/screenshot4.jpg, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[174] Weart, Changed, p. 236.

[175] Ibid., p. 241.

[176] S. Simon & J. Swartzwelder, ‘Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish’, The Simpsons, Series 2, Episode 4, (1st November, 1990).

[177] M. Scully, D.S. Cohen & N. Goldreyer, ‘Treehouse of Horror VIII’, The Simpsons, Series 9, Episode 4, (October 26th, 1997).

[178] Zeman, Atomic, p. 27.

[179] ‘The West Wing S5E12 Script’, reproduced at http://movieen.blogspot.com/2008/08/west-wing-s5e12-script_05.html, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[180] Franklin, Stars, p. xi; ‘President Bush outlines Iraqi Threat’, reproduced at http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007-8.html, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[181] Masco, Survival, p. 387.

[182] Franklin, Stars, p. xi.

[183] ‘Search results for Iran’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/search/news/iran, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[184] ‘Threats’, reproduced at http://www.nti.org/threats/, accessed on 15th April 2012.

[185] Masco, Survival, p. 363.

[186] Weart, Changed, p. 251.

[187] Ibid., p. 253.

[188] Ibid., p. 254.

[189] Ibid., p. 254.

[190] Ibid., p. 256.

[191] ‘Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)’, reproduced at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004460/, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[192]‘Influenza at the Human-Animal Interface (HAI), reproduced at http://www.who.int/influenza/human_animal_interface/en/, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[193] ‘Swine flu – everything you need to know’, reproduced at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/www.direct.gov.uk/en/swineflu/dg_177831, accessed on 2012.

[194] Brave New World with Stephen Hawking, Series 1, Episode 2, ‘Health’, accessed via http://www.channel4.com/programmes/brave-new-world-with-stephen-hawking/4od#3264878 on 25th January 2012.

[195] ‘Climate Change’, reproduced at http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/Thewiderenvironment/Climatechange/index.htm; ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ reproduced at http://www.ipcc.ch/, accessed on 15th April 2012; ‘Climate Change’ reproduced at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/, accessed on 27th March 2012; ‘Global Climate Change’ reproduced at http://climate.nasa.gov/, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[196] ‘Doomsday Clock Moves One Minute Closer to Midnight’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16500567 , accessed at 13th April 2012.

[197] ‘Children of the Tsunami’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cx9gj/Children_of_the_Tsunami/, accessed on 7th March 2012

[198] Weart, Nuclear, p. 254.

[199] ‘3/11 and 9/11: Codes for Tragedy’, reproduced at http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/dawn-stover/311-and-911-codes-tragedy, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[200] Y. Funabashi, & K. Kitazawa, ‘Fukushima in Review: A Complex Disaster, a Disastrous Response’, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 68, 2, (March/April, 2012), p. 2.

[201] ‘3/11 and 9/11: Codes for Tragedy’, reproduced at http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/columnists/dawn-stover/311-and-911-codes-tragedy, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[202] ‘Japan crisis: Germany to speed up nuclear energy exit’, reproduced at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-12769810, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[203] Masco, Survival, p. 388.

[204] Boyer, Fallout, p. 203.

About thommurph

A History graduate from the University of Liverpool blogging about history, politics, music, television, gaming and literature.

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