November 17, 2013


The impact of The Bomb on popular culture in the post-war era was a strange cocktail of fear and fascination. The 1982 documentary film The Atomic Cafe illustrated a trend in the US to transform this weapon of mass destruction into a cartoony, Sci-Fi mascot. Diners enjoyed Atomic Burgers and shakes, and the space-age fashion designers in the 1960s popularized new styles born from a fear of radiation. The influence of Cardin, Rabanne, and Courreges is even felt today in Retro Futurism. But while we enjoy the creative reactions to the Atomic Age and Cold War, it's important to keep a weary eye on the dark realities behind the artifice. 

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto created a conceptual piece in 2003 that presents a running timeline of every nuclear bomb explosion on earth between 1945 and 1998. Hashimoto's "1945-1998" (also called "2053" based on the number of bombs used/tested) takes the form of a digital world map, where each detonation is represented by colors and sounds arranged by country. The piece begins slowly as the timeline ticks forward, but soon the bleeps build to a cohesive pattern of sound reminiscent of early Kraftwerk or Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO). To transform such data into an art experience is interesting- and even entertaining- but Hashimoto also succeeded in sending an ominous message. We might look back on the Atomic Cafe culture as a quaint period in our naive evolution since WWII, but viewers shouldn't be fooled by a false sense of security. Maybe Ian Fleming's warning of a "little man with a heavy suitcase" has thankfully not come true (ref: Moonraker/1955), but the radiation from our own nuclear testing (and power plants) is all too real. Fukushima may seem like a world away to many readers, but the crisis in Japan continues to unfold with dire details. More about Hashimoto at ctbto and Wired. Below: "1945-1998" by Isao Hashimoto. 

The music group DEVO satirized many elements of post-war culture and values in the 1980s. Readers might recall the leak of president Ronald Reagan's 1984 ill-conceived joke on NPR: "We begin bombing in five minutes." Cold War anxiety was alive and well! DEVO's iconic radiation outfit is available on their website with the ad: "Protect yourself from dangerous human elements and stay cool during meltdowns in this official DEVO yellow suit." If you're asking why this parody is still relevant, check out these T-shirts available from the official Atomic Museum (top photo).

Below: A recent Kraftwerk performance of "Radioactivity". The song was originally released on their 1975 album Radio-Activitivity (Radio-Aktivität). They have re-recorded it a number of times over the years and their Japan performances since the 2011 earthquake have included Fukushima in the list of nuclear disasters. Founding member Ralf Hütter has been leading a new line-up of Kraftwerk on a number of world tours to present 3D concerts at major museums like MOMA and the Tate

Learn more at the National Museum of Nuclear Science History here, and these Spy Vibe links: Cold War Comics, Bear Family's Atomic Platters box set, Fear and FashionBe safe this weekend, Spy Vibers, and look for ways you can make a healthy difference for the planet. Below: Atomic Fire Ball candy. This spicy jawbreaker was introduced to children in 1954.

Recent Spy Vibe posts: Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. Artist Editions, David Tennant's Ian Fleming audio books, The Prisoner & Captain ScarletHMV returns to Oxford st w Beatles promo, Diego Fortunato & Verner Panton,  Saturday Morning CartoonsAssassination Bureau on DVD, new Young Bond series,  Peter AsherGerry Marsden tour, Elio Petri on Blu-ray, Sophia Loren, new Beatles BBC album, new Hercule Poirot novel, Beatles fall 2013 releasesA Hard Days Night cinematographer diesMagic Christian on Blu-ray, Early Beatles image archive, Julie NewmarErno GoldfingerHitchcock tribute.

Recent Ian Fleming posts on Spy Vibe: Erno Goldfinger, Ian Fleming Music Series links: Noel CowardWhispering Jack SmithHawaiian GuitarJoe Fingers Carr, new Ian Fleming CatalogJon Gilbert interview, Double 007 Designs, Bond audio book reissues, discovery of one of Ian Fleming's WWII Commandos, James Bond book covers, Ian Fleming's Playboy interview for Kindle, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, rare View to a Kill, Fleming's Royal gold typewriter, Ian Fleming's memorial address, Spy Vibe's Ian Fleming image archive

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