In the May 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Joseph Masco tracks the production of nuclear fear in America, and how this has shaped and disciplined citizens and national community Continual contemplation of nuclear ruins, Masco writes, ³installed an idea of a U.S. community under total and unending threat, creating the terms for a new kind of nation-building that demanded an unprecedented level of militarism in everyday life as the minimum basis for "security."
To understand how nuclear ruins have shaped national consciousness since the early days of the Cold War, Masco looks to movies and television, examining, for example, how civil defense initiatives launched after the first Soviet atomic blast in 1949 included a widely distributed film of an actual test on a model desert town. The films show scenes of houses and mannequins, whom human volunteers rush in to "rescue" after the blast. Masco goes on to describe how images of a "bomb proof society" gave way in the 1980s to grim visions of nuclear holocaust. A decade later, after the collapse of the Soviet empire, apocalyptic imagery of national destruction and heroic self-sacrifice reappeared in Hollywood movies. Asteroids and other natural calamities displaced nuclear threats but dramatic portrayals of catastrophe that required discipline and sacrifice continued.
We live not in the ruins produced by Soviet ICBMs," Masco argues, "but, rather, in the emotional ruins of the Cold War as an intellectual and social project. The half-century-long project to install and articulate the nation through contemplating its violent end has colonized the present. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., in 2001 may have produced a political consensus that the 'Cold War is over' and a formal declaration of a counterterrorism project. But American reactions to those attacks were structured by a multigenerational state project to harness the fear of mass death to divergent political and military industrial agendas The affective coordinates of the Cold War arms race provided specific ideological resources to the state, which once again mobilized the image of a United States in nuclear ruins to enable war."
Joseph Masco is Associate Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences in the College at the University of Chicago.
Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on American culture and politics. See, for example, George Lipsitz's 2006 essay "Learning from New Orleans: The Social Warrant of Hostile Privatism and Competitive Consumer Citizenship" and also his 1986 essay "The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television Programs." Also see Joseph Masco's 2006 essay, "Mutant Ecologies: Radioactive Life in Post-Cold War New Mexico." A list of Cultural Anthropology essays focused on the United States can be accessed here: http://culanth.org/?q=node/27
Cultural Anthropology has also published extensively on media, culture and politics. See, for example, Charles Brigg's recent essay "Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narrative and Violence" (2007), Paul Manning's "Rose-Colored Glasses? Color Revolutions and Cartoon Chaos in Postsocialist Georgia" (2007) and Laura Kunreuther's "Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone and Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu" (2006) A list of Cultural Anthropology essays on media can be accessed here: http://culanth.org/?q=node/19
A new list of Cultural Anthropology essays (put together by editorial intern Michelle Stewart, of UC-Davis) focused on security can be accessed here: http://culanth.org/?q=node/129
Links to essays noted above:
Learning from New Orleans: The Social Warrant of Hostile Privatism and Competitive Consumer Citizenship
Cultural Anthropology. Aug 2006, Vol. 21, No. 3: 451-468.
The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television Programs.
Cultural Anthropology. Nov 1986, Vol. 1, No. 4: 355-387.
Mutant Ecologies: Radioactive Life in Post-Cold War New Mexico
Cultural Anthropology. Nov 2004, Vol. 19, No. 4: 517-550.
Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narrative and Violence
Charles L. Briggs
Cultural Anthropology August 2007, Vol. 22, No. 3: 315-356.
Rose-Colored Glasses? Color Revolutions and Cartoon Chaos in Postsocialist Georgia
Cultural Anthropology. May 2007, Vol. 22, No. 2: 171-213.
Technologies of the Voice: FM Radio, Telephone and the Nepali Diaspora in Kathmandu
Cultural Anthropology August 2006, Vol. 21, No. 3: 323-353.
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