Bunker mentality: the family fallout shelter in US thought and culture

Bunker mentality web

Tom Bishop, School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies presents the lecture ‘Bunker mentality: the family fallout shelter in US thought and culture‘.

Read Tom Bishop’s blurb: Although now the subject of satirical retro-futuristic depictions in video games and TV shows, the family fallout shelter and the question of ‘to dig or not to dig’ once occupied a central and very serious place in U.S. culture. With the release of Bethesda’s Fallout 4 set to bring these debates back to the forefront of US popular culture the time seems right to re-examine the origins of shelter culture and its depictions in film, literature and on screen.

This lecture will explore the controversial role fallout shelters have played in the cultural imagination of the Untied States. Focusing specifically on nuclear crisis years, 1958 to 1963, I will outline the manner in which ‘shelter culture’ emerged in Cold War America as writers, politicians, musicians, and activists contemplated and responded to the prospect of an American public building private fallout shelters in order to stave off potential nuclear annihilation. It is my contention the family fallout shelter made concrete the reality of the nuclear age, bringing the question of ‘what can I do to protect my family’ directly into the homes of millions of Americans.

Over the course of lecture I will guide the audience through a number of key cultural representations of family shelters: including the discussions of ‘shelter hatch ethics’ in popular televisions show The Twilight Zone (1961), the depiction of suburban middle-class violence in blockbuster film Panic in the Year Zero (1962), and the failed attempts by the Eisenhower administration to ban the film version of the post-apocalyptic novel On the Beach (1958). Taking these cultural depictions of fallout shelters together this lecture details how cultural responses to the family shelter brought to the fore the moral, social, domestic and political implications of everyday life on the Cold War homefront.

The lecture will conclude by examining nuclear bunkers in contemporary US culture. Notably examples will include ‘Bart’s Comet’ from The Simpsons (1995), the award winning Take Shelter (2011) and the commercially successful Fallout game franchise – with the latest instalment Fallout 4 published in November 2015.

Admission free, all welcome.

Part of the Popular Culture Lecture Series. For more information, visit their website. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Art by AJ Frena

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