How We Got This Way

Nigh on two months ago, I sustained an injury that has required me to sit quietly for long periods of time while electrodes shocked various parts of my body. Never mind the details. In such a situation, it is natural to turn to distractions, and I turned to Hulu.

Hulu is a website (which may only be available in the US) that allows the viewing of old TV shows and movies with minimal commercial interruption. I pulled up a number of my old favorites, TV shows that I watched mainly in rerun in the late 1960s or early 1970s. And as I watched some of them, the obvious occurred to me…part of the received culture for any generation in the Modern West comes in the form of the prevailing forms of entertainment. This may be where gender roles are defined, or where political attitudes are formed. In the case of the Nuclear Generation, it is where specific fears are learned and embedded.

I am of the generation of the nuclear flash…during the 1970s, it was not uncommon for me or people like me to think, when catching a bright flash off a car window or an airplane passing at the correct angle in relation to the sun…that a nuclear bomb may have just gone off somewhere. We all knew that would be how it would hapen, a flash we’d see in the distance, then the various shock and sound waves, then the melting of the flesh off the bone if you were close enough, or whatever.

Ways to socialize, ways to love, ways to hate, ways to be afraid come in part “naturally” and in part from specific role models, and in part from popular culture. And that popular culture includes these old TV shows.

So, thinking about this, I plan to write a handful of posts providing examples of TV enculturation. And to start off, I’ve got a wonderful example from the old TV show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Voyage was produced in the early 1960s, but it was set a decade later (you will hear a reference in this clip to a date in the 1970s). This particular episode is about coming to the very edge of nuclear war with the Soviets, and in this episode, the main characters are required to literally press the button to launch nuclear missiles.

Why there were several armed nuclear missiles on a research vessel is an interesting question. Even more interesting is that I think that question did not really arise very often at the time, though we may find it obvious today. This particular scene does not explore the entire plot of the show. Rather, this is the opening scene of one of the more significant Cold War TV episodes of the day, presented to you simply because it provides a whimsical opening scene for this discussion.

Listen closely to the dialogue. This clip is a tad over a minute long.


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5 Responses to “How We Got This Way”

  1. April 29th, 2010 at 11:24 am

    John McKay says:

    The same thing was going on in “Star Trek.” For its “five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds [and] to seek out new life and new civilizations,” the Federation chose a fully armed warship.

  2. April 29th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Good point, John.

    IIRC, sea hunt was also research, but I may be wrong about that. I’ll have to check.

    And flipper, gentle ben, and lassie … did they have a lot of belligerent themes as well? This could be a major pattern. .

  3. April 29th, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Phillip says:

    Keep in mind about Star Trek, that the Federation sent these ships into unknown and sometimes hostile areas of space. Also, Enterprise was the flagship of Star Fleet, which is the military arm of the Federation. If I remember some of the episode correctly, there were ships that were either unarmed or had minimal armament. But Enterprise often pulled duty in military assignments.

    Good article though, and looking forward to more. I know that I sometimes am surprised when I see an old show and realize that they couldn’t get away with some of those stories today.

  4. April 29th, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    Phillip: Yes, I think there were unarmed craft. Of course, the Navy has unarmed craft (or barely armed).

    It all really harks back to the day when the minlitary did the exploration. The Beagle was commissioned by the Admiralty after all, though they had very few battles at sea … ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. May 1st, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Donnie B. says:

    I understand that quite a lot of sword polishing goes on in the Navy.


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