Our Friend, The Atom - The Atomic Age In Pop Culture

Vanessa Barklay

Ravenshoe, Australia

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I was watching The Simpsons for the 435,786th time and noticed the Atomic Nuclear Reactor from Mr Burns power plant, thinking about how the Atomic theme was very 1950’s when the logo of the atom was everywhere, the Space Age was new, it was post-War and the world was enjoying prosperity, even Walt Disney advertised it’s wonders in a short movie called Our Friend, The Atom as part of a new Tomorrowland theme at Disneyland, such was the power of the atom it was going to ‘power the future’….

The atom and nuclear reactors and nuclear accidents featured heavily throughout what is known as the Atomic Age which starts at the end of World War 2 but was beginning at the turn of the 20th century and continues until the final nail in the atomic reactor coffin, Chernobyl in the Soviet Union in 1986.

Sci-fi and bad B grade movies all loved the atomic reaction, from Godzilla to the Bikini, we find reference to it everywhere. So I thought I’d investigate the world of Atomic Pop Culture and found some fantastic, futuristic, fusion blowing stuff starting with the sci-fi writer who was ahead of his time…
1914 — H. G. Wells publishes science fiction novel The World Set Free, describing how scientists discover potentially limitless energy locked inside of atoms, and describes the deployment of atomic bombs.
October 1939 — Amazing Stories published a painting of an atomic power plant by science fiction artist Howard M. Duffin on its back cover.
1940 — Robert A. Heinlein published the science fiction short story “Blowups Happen” about an accident at an atomic power plant.
1940 — Robert A. Heinlein published the short story “Solution Unsatisfactory” which posits radioactive dust as a weapon that the US develops in a crash program to end World War II.
5 July 1946 — The bikini swimsuit, named after Bikini Atoll, where an atomic bomb test called Operation Crossroads had taken place a few days earlier on 1 July 1946, was introduced at a fashion show in Paris.
1951 — Isaac Asimov’s science fiction novel Foundation (consisting mostly of stories originally published between 1942 and 1944) is published. In this novel, the first novel of the Foundation series, the Foundation on Terminus, guided by Psychohistory, invents a religion called Scientism which has an atomic priesthood based on the scientific use of atomic energy to pacify, impress, and control the masses of the barbarian inhabitants of the stellar kingdoms surrounding Terminus as the Galactic Empire breaks up.
1954 — Them!, a science fiction film about humanity’s battle with a nest of giant mutant ants, was one of the first of the “nuclear monster” movies.
1954 — The science fiction film Godzilla was released, about an iconic fictional monster that is gigantic irradiated dinosaur, transformed from the fallout of an H-Bomb test.
23 January 1957 — Walt Disney Productions released the film Our Friend the Atom describing the marvelous benefits of atomic power. As well as being presented on the TV Show Disneyland, this film was also shown to almost all baby boomers in their public school auditoriums or their science classes and was instrumental in creating within that generation a mostly favorable attitude toward nuclear power.16
1958 — The Atomium was constructed for the Brussels World’s Fair.
1959 — The popular film On the Beach shows the last remnants of humanity in Australia awaiting the end of the human race after a nuclear war.
23 September 1962 — The Jetsons animated TV series began on ABC, attempting to humorously depict life in the fully developed Atomic Age of 2062.
1964 — The film Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (aka Dr. Strangelove), a black comedy directed by Stanley Kubrick about an accidentally triggered nuclear war, was released.
1982 — The documentary film The Atomic Cafe, detailing society’s attitudes toward the atomic bomb in the early Atomic Age, debuted to widespread acclaim.
1982 – Jonathan Schell’s book Fate of the Earth, about the consequences of nuclear war, is published. The book “forces even the most reluctant person to confront the unthinkable: the destruction of humanity and possibly most life on Earth”. The best-selling book instigated the nuclear freeze movement.
1983 – The cartoon book The End by cartoonist Skip Morrow, about the lighter side of nuclear apocalypse, is published. 17
20 November 1983 — The Day After, an American television movie was aired on the ABC Television Network, and also in the Soviet Union. The film portrays a fictional nuclear war between the United States/NATO and the Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact. This film was seen by over 100,000,000 people and was instrumental in greatly increasing public support for the nuclear freeze movement.
17 December 1989 — The animated cartoon series The Simpsons debuted on television on the Fox Network, providing a humorous look at the Atomic Age, since the main protagonist, Homer Simpson, is employed as an operator at a nuclear power plant.

Trust The Simpsons to have got in on it…

All references from Wiki article – The Atomic Age
Created in Incendia

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