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Second Draft

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Updated second draft of my benefits story, still unfinished but a lot longer. Losing a lot of faith in its quality so yeah. I’ll just leave it here.

or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the Tories


The Day Britain Changed. You all remember it, right? The portentous headline that graced the newspapers the day the government first got really stuck into attacking “the benefit culture”. You all probably remember all the false starts that came before and after. Every paper desperately clambering over each other to declare the Welfare State dead, trying to stake their claim their first in a dying industry.

I’ll let you in on a secret. The Welfare State isn’t dead. But it is fucked. They’ve laid all the groundwork, set up all the institutions and even briefed everyone involved that when the time comes they can all join together and sweep away the ailing, weak, skeletal body of what passes for the Welfare State today. They’ve chipped away at it, slowly – ever so slowly. They’ve turned public opinion against it, at least in the parts of the country where they don’t need it. They’ve put the Departments in such financial straitjackets that they don’t struggle to get out of them anymore. They’ve “localised” services, and “ensured efficiency savings”, and made things “more agile” – what they mean is they’re killing it. At the same time as they’re giving free rein to the ultra-rich, the offensively rich, the literally have too much money than they have sense crowd because create wealth, apparently – only for each other, though but that doesn’t matter because the people who make decisions in this country and the too much money crowd are one and the same.

My name is Lily. I was raised on benefits that don’t exist anymore. I was the second in my family to go to university. I was on the dole for over two years before they asked me whether I’d like to sit on their side of the desk and work for them. So now I have a job, I work for the Department of Work and Entitlements. I know, I know. What a horrible American rebrand, right? At least you don’t have to look at it in big letters all day at work.

I spent two years trawling websites, and physical job centre boards (that do still exist, by the way) for the ten or so jobs that would be posted a month. I applied for every single one, even if it meant working up to my elbows in shit eighteen hours a day on less than what passes for minimum wage today. Every three days I’d have a face-to-face meeting with my Case Officer, and every day between that I’d have to type into the DWE website all the jobs I’d applied for. You needed at least five a day or your dole was cut. If you missed posting up your jobs once you got put on probation, and twice? Well they stopped your dole. Missing a posting meant you couldn’t eat for the foreseeable, so it was best to arrange your life around the postings. Have you noticed something? Yeah. There’d be about ten jobs a month put up, twenty a month was a real bumper crop. The economy was a fucking zombie. Nothing was happening. The companies that took a gamble and decided to hire people – folded. These offers now were more than likely because the guy doing it had died. That’s how things were, but the DWE didn’t recognise that. They still had the regulations that were out of date even when they were written. They made it as hard as possible to get any money off them. There was a big population of people living hand to mouth, without any help from the government. They’d steal scrap metal and sell it on, often to the people they stole it from and that would do them with enough rice and bread to eat for a couple of days. Rinse, and repeat. The Osbornevilles were full of people like that, and to be honest they were full of people claiming dole too. That’s what it had come to. Big tent cities in the inner-city parks.

Anyway, my point was the only way to keep your dole was to lie. You had to make up jobs to fill the empty spaces on your forms, because real jobs didn’t exist for you to apply for. So you’d create them, and type them in. You’d put whatever real job you could actually apply for at the top, and then fill the rest with job titles as convincing as you could muster: Human Resources Administrator at B&M Systems, Cleaning Operative at the Hilton Hotel, Sales Agent at Oak Furniture Superstore. You could reuse the same real job week after week; it acted like an umbrella for all the bunk ones you’d pad in after it. It was suspected, and I can tell you that it’s totally true now that I’m one of the people checking the lists, that you’d give as much lenience as possible to claimants. It was hard enough, and you know Case Officers are people too. They’re just people lucky enough to have a job. They understand how hard it is, and how strict the rules are. So give them a sign you’re not fully taking the piss and they’ll look the other way – having said that I’ve signed dole cheques for people in paint splattered overalls who smelt fucking toxic having just come from a job. I don’t care.

As I said, I went to University. A couple of years before people decided it was a total waste of time. My Mum insisted. We half-knew it was a lie even as I applied, that all the promises were empty and black inside. I worked my arse off in school to get the grades to be accepted (little did I know the grade system was a façade and the Universities were accepting anyone who was willingly enough to saddle themselves with all that debt); and I worked my arse off while I was there to get a First. It wasn’t worth it, boys and girls. Don’t bother. But, I do know all the big words and wanky theory that makes you seem like a real player. At least it did back in the day.

Let me tell you a story, well three stories. They’re all good stories. Let’s say they’re this Britain’s creation stories. It won’t take a minute. It’ll be over before you know it. You might feel a little bit of pressure, but you should be totally numb.

Once upon a time, way back in the annals of history there were two Germans called Karl and Friedrich. They were the best of friends. Both left Germany and travelled all over Europe. On their travels they saw people working long hours in jobs that were dangerous for very little pay. They saw people working in factories, and on farms. They saw people working in produce markets, and cleaning shoes. They saw everyone, working everywhere. They also saw the people above them, their bosses; the people who owned the businesses, or the land, or the building where these normal people worked. They saw the bosses crushing the working people under their heel, trying to drain more hours of them for less pay – constantly turning the press to get trickles of more money flowing into their own pockets. Greed drove them to make more and more money to satisfy a thirst that could never be slaked, and it also drove the normal people into the ground. Karl and Friedrich said “This can’t be right! Why is this happening? How can we change this?” So they went away, and they watched more people, and they wrote things down. Slowly, slowly, slowly they wrote books and spread them to people. To normal people (who couldn’t read so probably used them as doorstops), to the bosses and to the people in between. They’re books said “This isn’t right. This shouldn’t be happening. Here’s how to change it.” Not many people listened, but some did. Some years later, a cluster of people who had been listening – who had, in fact, based their entire lives and beliefs around Karl and Friedrich’s big doorstop books – picked up guns and knives and took power away from the bosses and the kings and took over power in a country that they said they would remake in Karl and Friedrich’s image. There wouldn’t be any more bosses. The bosses would be the workers. Everybody would be the same, and everybody would be happy. Everybody would live happily ever after.

Except, once the people who had listened were in power for a little while, some of them decided that they liked it more than they had expected. They wondered, now that they were the ones in power – why should power be shared with other people. So they clung to it, and when things didn’t go right they clung to it all the more and changed some of Karl and Friedrich’s ideas. As they clutched power tightly to their hearts, it changed them and they changed it. They had become very different, although they would never be able to see it. The only people who could see it were the normal people who were still working long hours, for little pay in dangerous jobs.

That was a nice fairy tale, right? Want to hear another? I could do this all day. Well, I’m in work later so I couldn’t but you get my drift.

Once upon a time, a time much like today but in the dark brown past, people were suffering. Some men in fancy suits had squandered away everybody’s money. For years and years before everybody was happy and everybody was spending money and with all the money air was pumped into a huge bubble in the sky. Some people couldn’t see the bubble at all, but some could see it and said that it would never burst. It did burst, and when it did people lost their jobs and their savings. The men who had done it jumped from buildings to hit the ground below. The people who had given them the money were left with nothing. People were hungry, and cold and lonely. Soon spread over the entire world and last for a very long time. People would wake up every day and say “Why can’t things just be like they used to? Why did all this have to happen?”, and then go to sleep without answering it. Rinse, and repeat. Nobody believed in anything anymore, least of all money.

Finally people in the country where it had all started got sick of it all, and booted the men who did it out of office, shouting “This is all your fault!” They let a man be their leader who tried with all his might to stop people believing in nothing.  “Believe in me”, he said. “Believe in the person next to you”, he said. “Believe in the country”, he said. “Believe in something!” Around the same time a man from our country, who knew about these things, said “This man’s right! People are scared, and that’s the problem. They’re too scared to buy things, and other people are too scared to open shops and businesses. It’s because we’re all so scared that things are this bad. So let’s pretend not to be scared! If we pretend not to be scared, then things will get better and then we won’t have to be scared!” He wrote big books all about it, and people read them and said “Yeah! Why has no-one though of this before? This is brilliant.” And the leader in the country where it had all started said “This is exactly what I was trying to say. We have nothing to fear but fear itself, I said!” And the man from our country agreed. He said the best way to stop people being scared was for the leaders to act like they weren’t, and for the governments to buy things and give people jobs. As soon as ordinary people saw that the government wasn’t scared anymore, then slowly but surely they’d stop being scared.

They tried it, and it worked and people stopped being so frightened of everything. Every time something went wrong for the years after people would say “Remember the two men? They said that we shouldn’t be scared, so let’s not be.” And everyone lived happily ever after.

Well sort of. No-one lives happily ever after, because of that “ever after” bit. I guess this one is kind of a two-part story. You want the other half?

Once upon a time, about half way into the story I told you before, a man grew very worried about things. He looked across the world and he saw politicians and leaders spending money to give people jobs and he said but what about the people who already have jobs? Why do they have to pay for other people getting jobs? Matter-of-fact why should they pay for anything? People should just look after themselves. A woman who had ran away from the country in our first story, the country of people who had listened to Karl and Friedrich, said “Yeah!” and started to write big, big, bigger than doorstop books filled with stories about men who looked after themselves and only themselves and how this was good for everybody in the end.

More and more people thought that this was a good idea. They had jobs, and they didn’t want to share the money they made. They said “I’ve worked hard for this money. Why should I donate it to help other people? I want to make more money.” As people got richer and richer, more and more people decided that they should only look after themselves. It grew, and it grew until finally two politicians called Margaret and Ronald said “We’re going to stop what we’ve been doing, and we’re going to stop spending money.” They decided that giving people jobs wasn’t what was important, but that we should let people keep more of their own money and protect their savings instead.

It worked for a little while. People got rich, then richer, then richer, then eye-wateringly richer. Things that used to be done by the government were sold to rich people, and money flowed through everywhere – everywhere except the places that were poor to begin with. People forgot about these places, because they were drunk on their money. Soon the entire world followed what Margaret and Ronald did, and the money flowed everywhere and in every country handfuls of people got very, very rich. Even the country led by the people who had listened to Karl and Friedrich, said “We want this money!” and they started to listen to Margaret and Ronald.

Everybody lived happily ever after, apart from the poor people who grew in number; but nobody cared because some people were getting incredibly rich. They bought the television stations and the newspapers and they decided not to tell anyone about the poor people, because that way they could get even richer. It grew and it grew until it exploded.

The End.

Or, at least, the start of ‘The End’; because we’ve been living with the consequences of those three stories (but mostly the last one) for twenty years, and most normal people don’t know the stories or the men involved. And it was all men, mind.

I think I’m at the end of my story-telling tether. Maybe one more. Today we received the first explicit orders from central government that we had targets to meet. Some of the people I work with smiled apologetically and said that these targets have always been there for the higher-ups, but now everyone had to know and follow them.

The targets were simple. For every two people who comes to our desk every day – we have to kick one off benefits forever. We can do it legitimately, or (and this is in writing) we can manufacture reasonable doubt about their working arrangements.

We were told in the morning meeting, and then all made to sign non-disclosure agreements, in case we went to the press – like the press would care, anyway! This is the sort of stuff they’ve been claiming for on their sites for years.

All that I noticed was the slow erosion of the Welfare State suddenly becoming a fucking landslide.

I think it was peer pressure that stopped me whistleblowing straight away. I spent about two weeks doing what everyone else was doing. We’d spend all day throwing people off benefits, and looking guiltily at each other (well most of us would at least give it the dignity of looking guilty about it) and then at the end of day meeting, with us all sat in our coats, we’d report the numbers. Everybody hit 50%. Pamela would often report figures of 75%, but then again she would bring the Mail in everyday to reach at lunch, so that was to be expected.

I’d started out thinking that I could maybe cushion the impact. I could target the people who came in smelling of paint, or who came in with a clearly brand new pair of trainers that cost about eight weeks dole. These were both valid reasons to put down on their cancellation slips, by the way. I did this for a couple of days before I ran out, and I suddenly had to start kicking people off who desperately needed this money to live. After everyone, I began to get a knot in my stomach, like a ball of sick rage that this was happening; and worst of all I was being made to do it.

I realised I was ruining lives just to keep my job.

The thing about Liverpool is that we return Labour MPs to Parliament. We’re one of the few places left that does. There’s a couple in Newcastle, more than a handful from inner-city London, and two from Manchester. When Scotland got independence we lost any hope as a country of getting a Labour government ever again, so this little act of defiance is all we have. Thanks to the nature of the whole thing now, these MPs are hardly firebrands. They tend to be timid, conciliatory and better suited to making speeches acceptable in the Commons than drafting bills. What’s the point in them writing legislation to be put to a vote? It’ll get defeated by the 400-odd Tory majority so why bother? Their speeches tend to be the only way for them to get heard, and more often than not BBC Parliament switches to other coverage when a Labour MP gets up to speak.

Mostly our MPs just email out CLP reports telling us what the government have done this quarter and telling us how bad things are. The most recent count in Riverside, my ward: 82% child poverty, 20% adult employment and of that 13% underemployed, and 30% on benefits. So that’s half of the ward on no benefits, and without a job.

The report doesn’t make for nice bedtime reading.

I like to exercise. I feel a special clarity when my body is completely exhausted, and it helps me to think things through properly. It’s almost as if when you’ve ran for kilometres, or cycled and your legs get that dead-weight feeling, you become a lot more sensible. I like the sensation too. The feeling of accomplishment that I get when my legs are empty of any juice satisfies me. I almost feel that if I’m not stiff and sore the day after, then I wasn’t doing it right – so more often than not, I know, I go too far when I run, or bike.

It was during one of these stretches of going too far that I finally made my decision. I wasn’t going to stand by silent while this continued to happen. I’d pierce the secrecy surrounding the Job Centre, and tell people the inner workings. Maybe if they saw the sausage being made they wouldn’t support the “reforms” as much – which incidentally garnered 70% support in England and Wales at the last count, and 88% support in the South.

I mentioned that my Mum was disabled, right? She had a severe stroke when I was young. My family history is a pretty picture actually. We have a big family. My Mum has eight brothers and sisters, and my dad has six. Every one of my Dad’s brothers have had heart attacks of varying levels. Every one of my Mum’s sisters has had what’s called a “mini-stroke”, and my mum went one better with the whole hog. So I’m pretty much hobbled.

Her stroke came when I was young, as I said. It was the day after a parent’s evening at school, actually. I’d gotten fair to middling comments from my teachers, the only ones who really enthused about me were my History and English teachers but my mum was more concerned with trying to get back for soaps, so we breezed through as quickly as possible. She’s said everything was fine on our bus back from school, and the next morning she woke up and had her stroke.

I didn’t notice anything wrong at first. My Auntie Carol and cousin were staying over that day, and my Auntie had noticed something was different before anyone. As my Mum came down the stairs slowly and went outside for fresh air with my cousin, my Auntie followed her and was there to catch her as my Mum fell; the fire in her brain spreading already, although we didn’t know that at the time.

‘Call Lily’, was all I heard shouted through to me getting ready for school from the front of the house. So, vaguely sensing something was seriously wrong, I rushed to. While on the phone to Lily (my Mum’s other sister, told you we had a big family) telling her something was wrong with my Mum, Carol shouted ‘Call an ambulance!’ so Lily quickly did then made her way down to our house herself.

It was about ten minutes before the flashing blue lights and sirens came and took my Mum away and I was left alone in my house and told I could stay off school if I wanted to. I decided I would – anything to skip school right – and stayed under my duvet all day.

I was only interrupted by phone calls. Two from my Dad. Crying. It wasn’t unusual for my Dad to call me crying, but usually it was after he’d drank in the evening. This was different. It was ten in the morning for a start, and he was crying about my Mum, not about himself.

It was a month or so before I went to visit my Mum in hospital. The rest of the family just sort of didn’t question why I hadn’t gone in to visit. My brother had come home from Oxford in the middle of his exams to see her, some of my uncles had come across the country; but it took me a month. While the entire family was in the hospitals every night I stayed home and washed dishes. I hadn’t really been one for “chores” before, at all – but now I felt like I was helping if I cleaned up, so that when my family came home they wouldn’t have to do that on top of everything else.

When I finally went in to see my Mum it was surreal – the same quality that every visit inside a hospital gives me. Time kinds of dilates inside the walls of a medical centre, and the air has a certain glimmer-sheen to it. This all happened back when the National Health Service was still operational, thanks goodness – if it happened today it would’ve ruined the family.

Anyway, the day I finally went we went in a big group. My Auntie Lily kept close watch over me, and held my hand throughout the entire thing. We went into the shared ward, the walls seemingly very close and I saw my Mum. I barely recognised her. She was paralyzed down her right-hand side completely and her power of speech was virtually non-existent. She could manage stuttering glottal stops and wails for the most part. Her face glowed with recognition when she saw me, and my family told me she had been asking for me. After about ten minutes of being in the cloyingly hot room, I felt terribly sick. Lily must’ve recognised this, because she took me outside the room and we ate sub-par cafeteria chips, smothered in ketchup, together outside in the hall.

I didn’t visit again until my Mum was moved to a gentler ward. When I did she had improved loads. She could talk now and be understood, although it was much slower than usual and she didn’t have the same wit or bite. Still, it was, at least, my mum again. She looked like herself now.

This was around the same time that my Mum’s sisters found a deep vein thrombosis in my Mum’s leg that the doctors had missed. It they hadn’t caught it then it could’ve been fatal; just like the stroke, after which the doctors said my Mum was lucky to be alive.

She came home a couple of months after, and one of my Aunties moved in part-time to take care of her. We had a huge metal hospital bed in the living room for the longest time until the Council agreed to install handrails and a chair lift. Basically, my Mum was herself again now. She was much more timid than before, and she sank into pretty obvious depressions from day to day but she was herself. She also needed help to wash and dress herself.

About two months after that my Auntie had to move out, and I had to take over my Mum’s care. My brother had moved away by now.

After I was offered the job, I went home to tell my Mum the good news. She immediately insisted that she move in with one of her sisters so that I could have enough time to work. I reluctantly agreed on the basis that I pay for a full-time carer over there.

The last time I left the job centre I felt a damp sweat on my back. It was a Friday and we’d just had one of our “Look How Many People I Threw Off Benefits” meetings, one that was particularly thick with tension. I knew that I probably wouldn’t be able to come back on Monday, especially not if the story broke properly.

As I left the door, one of the many security guards nodded at me. I’d never really spoken to the security guards before. They took their jobs very seriously. They’d come in before any of us got there in the morning, head-to-toe in black and stand either side of the doors. A few would position themselves inside. They were taciturn, and would only ever speak to each other in terse monosyllables.

I think the main reason we didn’t really engage with them is the fear of their presence. These over-six foot, built men and women being there meant that us Case officers were doing something dangerous, that could get us into physical harm. It was a physical manifestation of the ill we were doing to many of us working there, particularly the COs who didn’t have personal experience of benefits and poverty.

As I walked past the nameless hulk of a man on the doors for the last time, worried that at any moment he’d grab my arm and pull me back because he’d read my thoughts of what I was planning to do – his phone went off. The tone was a very old-fashioned end-of-battle tune from an ancient video game – Final Fantasy 7.

I smiled, but picked up my pace.

Print journalism is dead. Hey, they were writing articles about it (on the net, and even in the print media itself) twenty years ago. Some of the old dinosaurs adapted, co-opted the new culture of blogging and rode the wave into the 21st century. The Telegraph, Mail, Times, and Guardian all survived and their web presence is still pretty prominent in the blogosphere. News reporting is now just a couple of lines, that’s all people care about right? After that you get comment pieces, analysing the news stories more in-depth with opinion. That’s just news blogging; obviously, there’s still stuff like fashion, music and games blogs that are more varied. They more often than not pay popular bloggers for exclusivity on their specialist subject. They found a way to squeeze money out of something expected to get for free, because people would pay to hear their favourite voices talking about their favourite things.

The dominant force though is single writers or photographers, or those working in a small collective. There’s hardly any money unless you gang together and drive traffic to your site.

I spent my Friday night thinking about which of the blogs I read I could leak to. I wanted it to be someone experienced, but not one so experience that they had become part of the establishment. I needed someone with a radical political position so that they would take the information seriously, and not just hand it over to the authorities. I thought about sending it to Aurora Bingham for a while, but I feel like her political positions had drifted right in her middle-age, just like her signature dyed red hair had slowly mellowed out into ginger. Then I thought about sending it to Victoria Zade; but she was growing into more of a theoretical journalist these days. Most of her articles were about the progression of women’s rights in society, and their representation in popular culture. She would rarely write on the news, and I needed someone who was focused directly on this; but then again she was in an editorial position at the State blogs, and so was the boss to the guy I was leaning towards most. Jon Ward was my favourite to send it to, as I hulked over my thick black laptop. He was primarily a tech journalist, and wrote about stuff like the new Android but, in the past few years, he had moved into reporting and commenting on the news. I figured he would take the documents and my information in a more logical way and could convey it to people more easily.

I decided I’d send my first email to him and CC Victoria Zade – his boss – and then if they were interested send the actual stuff just to Jon. I took a swig of coke, and breathed out deeply. I typed out the email and hit send before re-reading it.

I have information that people should know about welfare.

This is legitimate.

I tried to calm my shallow breathing.

I woke the next day, much earlier than I’d like on a Saturday, to a phone call. My phone vibrated under my pillow – dragging me out of my dream. I hate phone calls. I feel stupid standing there with the phone to my ear; talking to somebody I can’t see. I stammer over my words and come across as a total dunce, and I sweat like I’m doing a marathon. I have no idea why, but me and phones don’t mix.

The number showed up, and it was a landline – so a cold call probably. I had moved my finger over the ignore button before I realised something. Urgh. It was probably Jon Ward. Or at least it could be Jon Ward. He’d probably gotten my number from my Facebook or something. Sheesh.

I gulped back my reluctance and answered the phone.

It was Jon Ward.


‘Hello, I’m calling in response to an email I received last night. This is Jonathan Ward at the State blog.’

His confidence was something to behold.


‘Are you the person who sent me the email, a Miss Lily Benedict?’

He was an investigative reporter all right. I started to sweat.

‘Yeah, that’s me…I mean, I was the person who sent you the email, yeah.’

‘Great. I’d like to know more, do you think we could meet?’

‘Um, yeah.’

‘Great, I’ll get the train up. Shall we say…hmm…the pub opposite Lime Street at around four o’clock?’

He knew my city well then.

‘That sounds…yeah. Okay.’

‘See you there.’

The phone clicked and a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Now all I had to worry about was being seen talking to one of the most famous journalists in Britain in a busy commuters’ pub.

He walked into the pub at five to four. Early. Good sign. I had ensconced myself near the back of the place, facing the door, trying to fend off suitors for my four-seater table for nearly forty five minutes. After the initial four “I’m sorry, I’m waiting for some friends”, I had quickly graduated to snarling and clutching my pint. People eventually took the hint, and by the time Jon Ward entered and looked around I had manage to create a one and a half metre exclusion zone of every suit around me.

He made a bee-line straight for me. Fuck! He had memorised my face already? This guy was good, and for some reason that worried me. I glanced around to see if there were any police or government officers waiting to catch me leaking, as if I had any idea how to spot them if they were trying to be incognito. It was then, that I had the terrible though “What if he’s the one trapping me?”

I shook that idea out of my head, and stood up to shake his hand, my foot firmly pinning my folder full of documents to the floor – out of sight.

‘You must be Lily,’ he let slip out of a huge grin which instantly disarmed me. He was immediately likeable. His short cropped hair, smart shirt buttoned almost to the top and thin rimmed glasses dismissed any doubts I had that he wasn’t serious about this. His pale blue eyes glistened with eagerness as he grabbed my hand and pumped.

I couldn’t help it. I grinned back.

‘Yeah, and you’re Jon.’

‘That I am.’

He sat. Then noticed that I had ordered a drink, and shot back up and walked off to the bar.

Left alone, I fidgeted. What if he looked at the documents and laughed and said that everybody knew this already and it wasn’t important. I never get the feeling that I fully understand any subject, you know? I feel like even the things I’m really comfortable with, there’s still thousands of people who know more and know it better. I have always felt like an amateur in a world of professionals.

He sat back down mid-thought.

‘Shall we get down to it then, Lily?’ He brought his pint up to his lips, sipped and watched me over the top of his glasses.

I nodded, and reached down to the floor for the folder. I grasped them tightly, squeezing once, before bringing it up to the table. I took a deep breath and cast a quick glance around. I let the fear that he would already know what I was trying to leak marinate in the air between us before speaking.

‘I work for the DWE, in a centre quite near.’

‘Yes,’ Ward had pulled a notebook out of the breast pocket of his shirt, and was scribbling in it.

‘The reforms…erm…the….we are being given targets to throw people off benefits.’

‘…and you have proof?’ Ward shot a look to the folder I was pinning to the table with the palm of my hand.

‘Yes. Well, at least, I think I do. I’ve got memos written from our bosses, and they talk about the stuff they’d gotten from Whitehall. I’ve got the new forms we were issued with – they have boxes for reason for dismissal. Got a copy of a few minutes from meetings where we were encouraged to post high percentages of people denied benefits,’ I breathed. My voice had become a whisper half way into talking.

He had nodded all the way through without looking up. I was half expecting him to finish scribbling in his notebook and say that everybody knew this and I was an idiot. But I had searched the States blogs and loads of other news aggregation sites for the story of targets for kicking people off and found nothing. I wasn’t very good at searching though.

‘We’ve never had proof before,’ he half-smiled. ‘I’ll definitely be interested in running this.’

‘Good. Good. I was worried that this might have been common knowledge.’ I slid the pack of papers across the table towards him.

‘We’ve suspected for a while, but it was shrouded in secrecy. To be honest, the will to find out just isn’t there anymore with most of my colleagues. I’m different.’ He grinned, and opened the folder. The second he did his smile was replaced with a grim concentration. He was already lost in thought and calculations.

‘I can leave these with you?’ The questioning tone appearing,  feeding and getting fat off the insecurity in my voice. ‘Or you could take them back to London. I don’t know.’

He nodded once slowly, before seeming to snap out of it. ‘I can take these to London? Great! If they check out, Id love to publish them with my piece. Is that okay? I can redact anything that would identify you?’

‘That sounds fine by me. The more people that can see what is happening the better, right?’

‘Right.’ He drained the last of his pint. ‘You know what else could help? An email, a letter, a form, anything that can link these policies directly to central office would help immensely. If you can get me one of them then I think this story would blow up. Could you try and do that?’

I hesitated, and started to chew my lower lip.

‘It’s fine – fine – was too forward of me to ask. Don’t worry.’ He looked downcast.

‘No, I can try. If it will help the story, but that’s all I can do – try. It’s more than likely I won’t be able to get my hands on stuff like that.’

I quickly became lost in my own thoughts of the logistics of finding the material he wanted.

‘Anything would be a great help,’ he added as he flipped through the stuff I had already given him. ‘Emailing me it would be a great help.’

I nodded, but stayed silent.

‘Listen, it was fantastic to meet you, but I have to get back to work.’ He drained the last of his pint, boxed off the papers and slid them back into the folder.

‘I understand.’  I stood, and he followed suit. He shook my hand warmly, and was off out the door before I could blink.

I walked into the job centre on Monday morning with a smile plastered across my face. I nodded to the security guards at the entrance before realising that this was totally out of character, and checking myself. Head hung, and looking at my shoes, I scooted to my desk, attempting to compose myself before the morning meeting. Before I had more than a couple of seconds to myself though, the bosses walked through and called the meeting. Their eyes lingered on me, or did I imagine that? I trudged into our meeting room full of trepidation.

The meeting went as predictable as anything. Short speeches on how the targets are being met, some case officers raising certain issues they had with clients. About half way into it a wave of nausea consumed my mind, so I had to make my excuses and leave fearing that otherwise I was going to vomit onto the conference table. I figured avoiding that possibility was worth all the dark looks I got as I left.

After sitting in the cool air of the toilets I started to feel better. I splashed water on my face thankful that I hadn’t threw up. As I left and made my way towards the meeting room that was still full, I walked across the office of my supervisor. His computer was switched on and logged in. He must’ve been called away from his desk just like I had. I cast a glance over my shoulder to check the rest of the building was empty. It was. The security guards were all either outside smoking, or so far towards the entrance that they were not going to look back into the building, at least not while there were no claimants inside. I remembered Ward telling me an email would put the icing on the cake, and make a real difference. My blood cooled to a chill and shot through my body.

I tried not to overthink.

I darted sideways, cushioning my footsteps like a fencer. In an out. It’d be quick, they’d definitely still be in the meeting. I hit the back of the chair fast, making it skid backwards. My eyes darted to the screen and back to the door. I loaded up the internal email and prayed he was lazy enough to have his password saved, like I was. He was!

His inbox floated in front of my eyes. Mostly just memos talking about the performance of the people he watched off. I pointedly ignored any emails with my name as the subject line. There were just too many. I was at a loss. I reluctantly typed “targets” into the search box and hit enter. This was essentially damning me to being discovered, if he ever used the search box himself – but I’d come this far.

The search gave me three emails. Short ones, too. The second was about the proposals, the second a stupid query about installation and a third from Whitehall. This was it! I pulled out my phone and snapped pictures of the email from the central civil service. My breath was coming in ragged spurts.

I closed all the windows, and despite my legs feeling like jelly I headed for the door of the office. The second I left the, the meeting room across the way started emptying out. I received more than a few looks, but I don’t think anybody actually saw me leave. I clutched my phone in my pocket.

‘I’m so sorry I missed the meeting! I just feel terrible, I’m sorry,’ I feigned regret to my colleagues but primarily to my supervisor at the back of the crowd leaving the meeting room. ‘I hope I note contagious,’ I half-smiled at the rest of them, hoping to diffuse the tension that was palpable.

Usually with a sickness laid on this thick, even the supervisors would relax the rules and just tell you to go home. The silence on this now was telling. I started to panic that they had found out somehow. My mind whirred.

I turned heel and walked with the crowd to my desk. I sat, and breathed deeply until everyone was settled. I leaned over my desk, and took my phone out as quietly and discreetly as I could. I cracked its back and took out my SD card. I slipped my foot out of my shoe and dropped the card inside. My paranoia suddenly seemed ridiculous to me, but I maintained it. Better to be safe than sorry. I stood, and made immediately toward the exit. Hopefully, people would assume I was going on a smoke break – and conveniently forget that I had never done so before.

The story was straight on the homepage of the States blog the second it was posted. It got 600,000 hits the first day, one of the highest breaking news page view counts of the year. It spawned hundreds of comment pieces, discussing it – countering, supporting, suspiciously analysing, attacking (the piece or me personally). Ward hadn’t named me directly, but he had called me “she”, so that narrowed it down. The documents I had given him were redacted to keep my identity safe (although we both knew this was largely a hollow exercise) and published straight up there with the piece for anyone to download at their leisure provided they were behind seven proxies. These were highly confidential government documents after all.


Games and Diversity

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In response, (or agreeable comment) to the Guardian’s ‘A divsersity challenge for developers’.

It’s an article about how the games industry is slowly, slowly starting to change how it represents things – primarily its protagonists. games are moving away from the straight, white, male leads in their droves as they rush to properly represent their audience – apparently. If they are, which a few isolated cases would suggest maybe the tide is turning….it’s not quick enough.

The excuse used by many for why there isn’t a diverse gallery of mixed race, bisexual, old protagonists in inter-species relationships is usually ‘It took the film industry nearly sixty years to stop projecting stereotypes to its audience, and even today it still has problems’. And this is true. The film industry was slow to change its representation of women, race and sexuality – and on the whole is still appalling at it; but so what?

This doesn’t excuse games being the reactionary preserve of the white, overweight, male, middle class gamers. The film industry grew up in a nation where segregation still existed. Films changed with the world, often glaringly behind the world but still it adapted to suit the modern world when it realised films with female or black leads wouldn’t be box office poison is when it finally, properly changed. And still today the most bankable stars are white and male (except maybe Jennifer Lawrence is changing this?) – but in the end it was financial motivations that heralded a true change.

It will be the same with games. It shouldn’t be, but it will.

Part of the problem may be the players themselves, or at least a segment of the player base that is vocally resistant to change. “Mainstream fan communities tend to be overly hostile when diversity issues are brought up, and I feel that they tend to get much more hostile and abusive when the person bringing up the issue is a member of a minority demographic,” says Regina Buenaobra, North American online community team leader for Guild Wars developer ArenaNet. “Games are meeting the needs of straight white male gamers, but when others say that their needs aren’t being met, they just can’t empathise. A market that doesn’t cater to them is beyond their experience.”

This is exactly why games creators need to lead their fanbase (the core of which might be these bigots) by the nose into the 21st century. Kicking and screaming if they have to. The problem is developers can make as many indie games as they want, it won’t change the paradigm. As a community we need two or three Triple A games to come out with non-white, or female, or gay, or transgender leads to change how people consume their entertainment. Creatives need to go out on a limb, in an attempt to change attitudes; to drive the conversation.

“Without speaking for others, I think there’s a fear of exclusion, rather than an appreciation for the opportunity for inclusion,” says Noah Hughes, creative director on the recently rebooted Tomb Raider. “They might be losing people by making these choices, as opposed to flipping it around and seeing that you can invite more people to have these experiences.”

The issue of representation has drawn increasing focus over the last 12 months from those working in the industry. At last month’s Game Developers Conference in California, the subject was a key talking point. Microsoft’s Tom Abernathy went as far as stating that “women are the new core”, and called for greater diversity in games, saying: “Our industry, our art, and our business stand to gain in every sense simply by holding a mirror up to our audience and reflecting their diversity in what we produce.”

Tomb Raider made an effort. It wasn’t perfect, and it failed more often than not – but it tried. And it was successful. It was a successful game. It’s time that the games industry started recognising that while white, male, straight gamers might be the people who post on their messageboards, or @ them on Twitter, or write them emails, or run blogposts on them (like me), or attend their conventions – more and more gamers are coming from backgrounds that aren’t this.

It’s true that we need to change how we think. We need to stop thinking “This type of character will lose me the white male audience unless it’s stereotyped in a way that is comfortable to them”. It should be “This character will open up a whole new stretch of people who can enjoy this game – and forget the bigots who don’t want to come with us.”

Promisingly, parts of the mainstream industry are already heading in that direction. Telltale Games‘ episodic adaptation of The Walking Dead won near universal acclaim last year for its emotional clout and sympathetic cast, including black lead Lee Everett, and developers at Sony’s Naughty Dog studio fought for co-lead Ellie to be prominently featured on box art for forthcoming post-apocalyptic thriller The Last of Us.

Elsewhere, Capcom’s impending sci-fi action title Remember Meintroduces Nilin, a mixed-race woman. “I want to keep faith in humanity and in the fact that gender doesn’t matter when a protagonist is created,”Remember Me‘s creative director Jean-Maxime Moris says. “We are in 2013. It is high time game companies noticed what has been happening in other forms of storytelling in the past couple of thousands of years. In the world and the story of Remember Me, the only choice we had was to go with Nilin. We didn’t consider having a male character, and we hope she resonates well with players from all ages and countries.”

Maybe there are calls to be optimistic. It’s already happening.

Or maybe we should remain pessimistic and realise that until they start losing money making the same homogenised game again and again, nothing will change. Like the Republicans drubbing the election, when they suddenly realised maybe they should try to include people. Maybe games should try to include people.

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.


Thomas Murphy


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.


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.


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, 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, 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.

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[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.

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[50] ‘Fukushima fallout fears over Japan farms’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th January 2012.

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[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, accessed on 28th March 2012.

[92] Hilda in When the Wind Blows, reproduced at ‘When the Wind Blows: 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, 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, 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, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[122] Stanley Thorne MP, 15th February 2982, reproduced at, 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, 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, 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, accessed on 14th April 2012.

[164] Ibid., p. 16.

[165] M. Schulzke, ‘Moral Decision making in Fallout’, reproduced at, accessed on 13th March 2012.

[166] ‘MS: 17.7 million 360s sold’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[167] ‘Modern Warfare 2 breaks UK record’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[168] ‘Call of Duty enjoys record sales despite retail woes’, reproduced at, 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, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[172] ‘DEFCON: Everybody Dies’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[173] ‘Los Angeles hit. 3.2m dead’, reproduced at, 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, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[180] Franklin, Stars, p. xi; ‘President Bush outlines Iraqi Threat’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[181] Masco, Survival, p. 387.

[182] Franklin, Stars, p. xi.

[183] ‘Search results for Iran’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[184] ‘Threats’, reproduced at, 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, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[192]‘Influenza at the Human-Animal Interface (HAI), reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[193] ‘Swine flu – everything you need to know’, reproduced at, accessed on 2012.

[194] Brave New World with Stephen Hawking, Series 1, Episode 2, ‘Health’, accessed via on 25th January 2012.

[195] ‘Climate Change’, reproduced at; ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ reproduced at, accessed on 15th April 2012; ‘Climate Change’ reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012; ‘Global Climate Change’ reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[196] ‘Doomsday Clock Moves One Minute Closer to Midnight’, reproduced at , accessed at 13th April 2012.

[197] ‘Children of the Tsunami’, reproduced at, accessed on 7th March 2012

[198] Weart, Nuclear, p. 254.

[199] ‘3/11 and 9/11: Codes for Tragedy’, reproduced at, 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, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[202] ‘Japan crisis: Germany to speed up nuclear energy exit’, reproduced at, accessed on 27th March 2012.

[203] Masco, Survival, p. 388.

[204] Boyer, Fallout, p. 203.

The Return of Full Employment

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The Return of Full Employment

Labour plans radical shift over welfare state payouts

Hey, everybody! If Labour gets back in then the government commitment to full employment will be back!

Full employment is part of the social democratic consensus after World War II where Labour and the Conservative both agreed that getting people to work in decent wage paying jobs should be one of the clearest aims of any government. From 1945-1979, disregarding recessions, unemployment was at levels we could not even dream of now – about 2-3% more than half of what they are now.

The huge spike there for the war, obviously – but notice the rise from 1975 onwards. The Winter of Discontent, and a raft of strikes by the unions that led up to it brought the country to a halt, and led to British governments advocating a Three Day Week (only using electricity and stuff three days a week – mental, right?). So when Thatcher came to power she declared the social democratic consensual experiment between both parties dead, and she remade the Tory party and its policies along neo-liberal lines – which is why Thatcherite is a term in its own right.

A major part of her economic platform was that the greatest social ill was inflation. Everything must be done by the government to minimize inflation and so protect people’s savings (old people who actually had savings and were more likely to vote Conservative so it was also a handy vote winner). It would mean that bargaining with the unions over wages would have to handled, so she manufactured crises to complete neuter and destroy the unions and collective bargaining rights. It also meant pulling the government out spending so much money, so she cut public spending down incredibly (I would say to the bone, but the deepness of speed of her cuts aren’t anything compared to the current Tories in office). All of this brought inflation down, and everyone was happy. We were immediately thrown into a recession, but certain sections got mega-rich off the market and they donated to the Tories and voted Tory so all was well that ended well as far as they were concerned.

The consequence of this? The government commitment to full employment vanished. People’s savings were more important than other people’s jobs now. Many politicians and economist floated the idea that there is a natural level of employment that should just be accepted. This change in thinking on employment meant that unemployment levels no longer determined whether you won or lost and election as thatcher and reagan both won landslide with unemployment levels at very, very high levels.

So the Labour Party coming out and saying that they wish to return to this standard is great news.

At the heart of Labour’s plan is the reinstatement of full employment as a government objective. Under its plans, no one would be able to remain unemployed for more than two years, reduced to a year for a young person. After that, they would be offered a real job with appropriate training funded by the taxing of bankers’ bonuses and restructuring pension tax relief for the wealthiest.

I’m not sure whether the measures mentioned could actually fund that policy, but let’s set that aside. It’s great. I’ve been unemployed for nearly a year now (without claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance) and I’d bite the hand of a guaranteed job. I’d take it and work and be instantly paying taxes back into the system. The more people we have working, the better – particularly young people who will spend the money to stimulate the economy.

If we had full employment the recession would vanish, gross domestic product would increase, and suddenly (even without cutting) the debt would start to come down because less people were claiming benefits, and more people were working and paying taxes.

Well done, Labour.

But…hold one.

If they fail to take the job they would be stripped of benefits.

Oh…okay. Presuming the job is a good one, they can reach there fine, they have the skill to do it…then okay. Maybe this is okay. But it does sound quite right-wing. Let’s let it slide.

Still better that the goverment, though right? Anything would be.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, unveiled a poster highlighting what he called a “tax cut for millionaires” which would see 13,000 people earning over £1m get an average tax cut of £100,000. Labour said three of the Tory party’s biggest donors alone would together receive a tax cut of over £500,000. Balls said: “The whole country will today see whose side this Conservative-led government is really on and who is paying the price for their total economic failure.”

Further changes will mean that the amount pensioners can earn without paying tax will no longer rise with inflation, a move labelled as a “granny tax” by critics. The threshold for 40% tax also comes down to to £41,450 from £42,475, adding 400,000 people to that tax band.

The shadow chancellor claims that as a result of the changes working families will be up to £4,000 worse off, while millionaires receive average tax cuts of £100,000.

See? Fuck you Osborne.

Labour also goes back on the attack over benefit cuts, revealing freedom of information responses from 326 local authorities, to which 259 replied, showing that 394,000 disabled people, including 117,000 households claiming severe or enhanced disability benefits, will pay council tax for the first time.

This is a result of a 10% cut to council tax benefits given to the vulnerable and the decision to shift decisions on where cuts will fall to local authorities.

Yeah! This is unfair. I’m happy with Labour to have one right-wing sentence in a policy when this is the alternative. Phew. Roll on 2015.

Why did they have that little added Rightist policy, though?

As Ed Miliband’s party seeks to counter Tory claims that it is soft on welfare, the Observer understands that detailed work is under way in the party’s policy review on how to revolutionise the way the system works and address concerns that it promotes a “something-for-nothing” culture.

Oh, right. The Tories have called them soft on benefits, and dragged up the Philpotts case. And benefit cuts are very popular with the centre-ground Southern voter that will decide the election. Right, makes sense. You’ve got to be a little bit out there to convince them you’re not Michael Foot.

Anything else?

One central idea under consideration is the creation of a flexible payments system offering higher benefits to those who have been employed for longer and have therefore made more national insurance contributions.


 “The problem at the moment is that you have a person aged 50 who has worked all his life and then becomes unemployed getting much the same as the person next door who has never worked. It is about linking what you take out to what you have put in,” said a senior party source.


“There are lots of people right now who feel they pay an awful lot more in than they ever get back,” Byrne writes. “That should change.”

In a further move to reward work rather than welfare, Byrne says Labour will allow councils to give priority when allocating housing “to those who work and contribute to their community”

Housing too? So we’re just going to abandon the people who need help most? We’re going to scramble to get these few million votes in the South by bringing out buzzphrases and fly-by-night policies that will catch the news cycle for about an hour in the hope of convincing them you won’t be giving money to any more Mick Philpotts.

We’re going to use all these codephrases and smokescreens words as euphemism for benefits cuts. Cuts on the smallest part of the welfare budget – when pensions dwarf the welfare budget for out-of-work, and even housing benefits.

We’re going to move to the right to stop criticism from the Tories even though that criticism will always keep coming and landing home because no matter how far Right Labour go the Tories will always be further waving and laughing, and saying “Look, you’re still soft on welfare!”. Standing there with these fucking know-nothing selfish, semi-detached house owning, two estate car owning, Daily Mail sympathising, anti-immigrant, lazily racist Southern Little England voters that will apparently decide the next general election?

Stop triangulating, Labour and grow a fucking spine. Stand up for what you believe in. Make a stand against these fucking stupid cuts. Articulate a vision that isn’t about a semi-demonisation of those out-of-work because you’re “on the side” of the “hard-working family” – articulate a vision of a more compassionate society where we acknowledge finding work can be hard and that it’s not that much of a drain of the system to have a substantial efficient welfare system – and that the system as is is not broken or unfit for purpose. Tell people that if we focus on creating jobs, then the problems you see in the welfare system will disappear because they weren’t really there in the first place. This is the real politics of envy that you’re engaging in. Stop it. I thought this was One Nation Labour? What described is one nation; not your snivelling, cow-towing rush Rightwards.

Shape up, Ed or when Scotland get a vote for independence I’ll either move to Glasgow or be the first in line to call for independence for the North of England.


Appearance and Reality in ‘Bring It On (2000)’

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Appearance and Reality in ‘Bring It On (2000)’

English Literature can seem very distant to the lives of many schoolchildren, and teachers recognise this. They spend a lot of their time trying to construe ways to engage the kids, and I think I just stumbled across one.

Finding important things in the supposedly ‘low-brow’ is really interesting to me. I spent most of my uni career doing it, and, oh, I miss it so.

Which brings me to Bring It On (2000)the teen comedy about a cheerleading compilation that cemented Kirsten Dunst as a Hollywood star, and was a breakthrough for Eliza Dushku too. It’s a film I saw when I was very, very young and probably one of the first DVDs I ever owned. Probably this has clouded my opinion of the film’s quality.


I think it’s great.

But here’s the thing I want to talk about.

At a point in the Kirsten Dunst’s character, Torrance, ascends to the role of team captain (after the current captain “Big Red” goes off to college). With this comes the responsibility for devising the routines for the team, and the knowledge that she is now the captain of the Toros – a team that has won the national cheerleading championships for the past five years.

Torrance, during opposition research on the other teams the Toros will face, discovers a poorly funded inner-city school team is rumoured to be fantastic. Torrance sits in one of the Clovers’ practice lessons and to her shock discovers that the routines her predecessor ‘Big Red’ was so feted for and won national championships, were clearly stolen from the Clovers.


In a lesson of morality too, but lets not get into that; Torrance very quickly decides this is wrong and tries to devise new original routines. Without enough training, or practice time the Toros are very clearly going to lose their national crown.

In a panic Torrance hires a professional choreographer to help her team win. He is very expensive, has a foreign accent and teaches the team very strange techniques and routines.


He teaches them the secret to success: jazz hands, and spirit fingers. The team are worried, but don’t see through the expense of the guy so assumes he’s legitimate and quality. They go to one of the events leading up to Nationals and perform his appalling bad routine including the robot, jazz hands and spirit fingers. It goes down like a lead balloon, and only then do they realise that the instructor was a charlatan.

The team, under Torrance’s leadership, reconcile with the Clovers, and perform an original routine in Nationals and achieve second place to the Clovers. They are very pleased to have achieved the runner up spot on their own merits (another lessons that’s great for kids).

My point being, Bring It On is a good entry point for discussing the theme (phrased like this by my English teachers during our exhaustive analysis of Macbeth) ‘Appearance and Reality’. The idea that things can seem one way, while in actuality being very different. It allows kids to see into ideas of change, and even (later on, maybe, when they’re more advanced) the idea of an unrealible narrator.

The instructor was bad. The team knew he was bad, but they didn’t trust their instincts – they couldn’t see through the clothes the man wore, or the size of the cheque he demanded, his demeanour, his accent, the way he walked. They couldn’t get back his appearance; while, in reality, he was a bad professional. It’s a good lesson for kids, no?

What d’you reckon then?

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That First Draft? Worth pursuing?

Or bullshit and I should give up?


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AttMemeI just made this!