The atomic bomb in American culture

Did you know that the Kremlin was responsible for getting the castaways off of Gilligan's Island, or that the 50's hit song, "Sh'boom (Life could be a dream)" had its genesis in the Bikini Atoll atom bomb tests?

No? Then perhaps you were also unaware that Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were communist subversives under the "able leadership of Pete Seeger," or that Mia Farrow was a poster child for the famous (or infamous) "Duck And Cover" civil defense campaign. Well, if you need to brush up on your Atomic and Cold War culture, CONELRAD: All Things Atomic can assist you with everything from stocking your fallout shelter to infiltrating the neighborhood communist cell - and make some helpful entertainment suggestions along the way.

Named for the CONtrol of ELectronic RADiation radio system (aka, The Emergency Broadcast System), CONELRAD is a growing pop cultural archive with contents that span from the late 1930s to such recent developments as the 1999 film comedy, "Blast from the Past," and last December's induction of "Duck And Cover" into the Library of Congress National Film Registry. (While the Cold War may be over, it appears that Cold War ephemera might prove to have an impressively long half-life.)

And with so much material to cover, CONELRAD wastes no time in presenting a few choice offerings from the Atomic age. Icons and a JavaScripted ticker at the top of the home page start things off with such selections as the story of two 1959 contest 'winners' who spent their honeymoon in a 6 by 14 foot fallout shelter, the Disney classic, "Our Friend the Atom," and the unsolved mystery of Arthur Godfrey's "Ultimate PSA." (This rumored but as-yet-undiscovered public service announcement was apparently prepared for television broadcast in the case of a Soviet attack, but ongoing attempts to obtain a copy of the film have been unsuccessful.)

The center of the page is dedicated to the recently inducted "Duck And Cover" film ("The Citizen Kane of Civil Defense"), with links to an impressively thorough history of the movie's creation. (Interested surfers can also download or view the nine-minute masterpiece, courtesy of the Prelinger Archives.) Below this prime real estate are a mixed bag of links to everything from movie reviews to personal reminiscences.

Some of the features include:

The CONELRAD 100 - a collection of films with Atomic, Red Scare or Cold War themes (along with a listing of Civil Defense short subjects, and a page devoted to the classic documentary, "Atomic Cafe").

Mutated Television - a survey of The Bomb's effect on TV, from post-apocalyptic episodes on the Twilight Zone to Russian spies on Gilligan's Island. (Though, personally, I think that Barbara Eden's Jeannie as a metaphor for the atom might be stretching things just a bit.)

Ground Zero: The Greenbrier Five Star Fallout Shelter - a virtual tour of "the Graceland of Atomic Tourism." This decommissioned government shelter (originally intended for the members of Congress and later made available for tours and private theme parties) is located under the Greenbrier Hotel, a few hours from Washington.

Periodic Table of Atomic Music - 100 catchy Cold War ditties with catchy Cold War titles, including the "Atomic Polka," "Radioactive Mama," "Tic Tic Tic," by Doris Day, and "Mr. Stalin, You're Eating Too High Off The Hog," by Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith & his Crackerjacks.

While there are no audio samples to accompany the Periodic Table's text notes, there is sound onsite - such as RealAudio clips from the 1961 LPs, "Inside a Communist Cell," (with a "re-enactment of an actual cell meeting") and "The Complacent Americans" (which CONELRAD compares to a Cold War variant on "It's a Wonderful Life"). Other audio sources include "The Marxist Minstrels: The Communist Subversion of Folk Music" (featuring, "Bob Dylan: He, she or it?"), and a link to CONELRAD's Atomic Platters program on Live365 web radio.

The site itself has been online since 1999 (which is presumably the reason for the left-justified, 640 pixel-wide layout of most of the pages), and it would appear that the continual additions have contributed to the site's navigation being, well, a mess. With indexes and bottom of the screen navigation links that change from page to page and the lack of an overall site index, it won't be difficult to lose your way back to something you had just seen or even miss some content entirely. (If you do find something of interest and it's a few levels removed from the home page, you'd be well advised to bookmark it for safety's sake.) But the lack of structure can introduce an element of surprise, and you won't be missing any vital plot twists if you skip a page or two. In any event, perseverance should be expected from anyone determined to vanquish the Red Menace.

CONELRAD elicits a variety of emotions on its pages. The concept behind the US Post Office "Safety Notification Card" is a sobering one, while "The Marxist Minstrels" qualifies as pure (albeit unintentional) farce. But for good or ill, from "Dr. Strangelove" and "Godzilla" to NORAD's annual tracking of Santa's Yuletide activities, the period remains a part of our culture - and for those who may have forgotten that connection, Conelrad serves as a reminder of our shared atomic 'heritage.'

CONELRAD: All Things Atomic can be found at http://www.conelrad.com/.

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