1. Protect and Survive - Coming right out of the gates with a downer!
Protect and Survive was a 1970s series of Public Service Announcements in the UK aimed at educating people of the things they needed to take care of in the event of a nuclear attack. Unlike a lot of nuclear propaganda from the time there’s not really a lot of paranoia here, just a stiff upper lip and a level-headed rundown of what would need to be done. The even tone of the PSAs makes the whole thing even more chilling, particularly when they’re explaining how to bury and tag a body in terms even a child would understand.
The thing is, horrific what-if aside, there’s a lot to love about this series. The graphics and animations are great and the soundtrack is a chilling synth dream.
The opening graphic of each PSA.
A visualization of what the attack siren will sound like.
A visualization of the Fallout Warning.
The top two floors are bad for fallout!
An unnecessary but beautiful graphic of the radio making…sounds.
Watching this compilation of PSAs really affected me in a way a lot of these nuclear attack preparation videos haven’t. I think it’s that the practical approach to survival and daily life highlights the reality of just how horrific this situation would be for a family. This was a genuine concern back then, and finding something that doesn’t over-dramatize this already dramatic situation makes it more…real.
1. Rural Civil Defense Films - There’s a lot to scratch your head over when watching these 1965 Rural Civil Defense PSAs about nuclear preparedness. These films appear to be targeted at farmers, or anybody who might have lots of land and livestock and not much access to up-to-the-minute events. It seems that these savvy filmmakers decided that farmers respond best to marionettes acting out very broad ideas for how one might prepare for the end of the world.
Like most of the media from around this time, there are decent nuggets of advice buried among other suggestions that are just…weird. For example, securing your livestock and thinking of their safety is a good idea! What’s the best way, you might ask? Line their barn with blocks of hay to protect against fallout!
The fertilizer and, you know, actual blocks in this shot are strictly for human use. Livestock gets the hay!
One of the PSAs focuses specifically on nuclear fallout, highlighting it as a concern but then kind of casually suggesting ways to avoid it: peel your fruit, wash your food. And throw the peels in a clearly labelled trash can?
I guess these PSAs are better than no PSAs at all, and people probably did need these tips, but it just feels sort of half-baked. They all end with a call to action to “Contact your county agent of civil defense director”, but did they really think anyone watching this PSA would do that?
1. How Nuclear Radiation Can Change Our Race - Here’s an interesting branch of the nuclear scare of the 1950s: this “article” was published in the December 1953 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, informing the masses of what would probably happen to the human race in the event of a Nuclear War.
(This is a serious article.)
I’m actually going to post the entire thing since, besides being absolutely hilarious, the ads are fantastic. The tl;dr for you, if you don’t want to soak in all 9 pages, is that a nuclear conflict has the potential to cause a sudden and widespread mutation in humans – effectively creating a new race. This guy really specifically predicts what this new race would look like – huge heads, very tall, and four toed! This new race will either become our masters, or they will kill us all, or we will hunt them down to the last mutant, or we will co-operate with them. Really taking a stab there, listing literally ALL possible outcomes.
1. The Kids Guide To The Internet - Here’s what appears to be an effort to position the internet as the least cool thing in the world. If the “Christmas Jammies” family existed 20 years earlier, this might be what they’d be doing.
Kids Guide to the Internet shows how a nuclear family of the ’90s uses the ‘net (they call it that) to change their lives, and really drills down on how the kids might use the internet- mostly writing emails to the President, looking at museum floorplan layouts, and hitting up the Wall Street Journal.
This is back when “professional” webpages looked like spam webpages do today. The video is largely useless, and you have to wonder who was buying it. Schools for rainy days? Grandparents? Clueless parents? Probably all three, and throw a couple of copies for a youth group or two in there as well.
There’s also a catchy ragtime tune that pops up every two or three minutes. WATCH IT.
1. Is This Tomorrow? - This comic book from 1947 seems almost like a parody of the anti-Communist paranoia of the day. But it’s not.
As the sticker indicates (why would you use a red sticker for an anti-Communist pamphlet?), this is the doing of the Catechetical Guild Educational Society, You can see from the first page that the fear is laid on pretty thick. It’s all about how the Communists will infiltrate our government, labor unions, schools, and Hollywood to make us all hate each other and bring us to a tipping point…and then cause a crisis that will naturally put them in charge. Once in charge, they’ll obviously burn all of the food and then go for the Catholics… which is what I think the Catechetical Guild might have been afraid of the whole time.
The whole thing’s over at archive.org, but here are some of my favorite panels. It’s all just so absurd.
Just like that, government overthrown.
Those soldiers have….machine guns!
As you do.
Actually hard to argue with most of these. Be American first is kind of an odd one.
1. Our Friend the Atom - In 1956 the Disney propaganda machine and the Disney futurist machine held hands and created Our Friend the Atom, a book and documentary that really is Disney at its best.
Our Friend the Atomwas a joint effort with the German physicist Heinz Heber to position nuclear energy as a constructive tool that could be used for good – not an easy job in an era where the effects of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had given the atom a pretty bad reputation. The documentary and book both rely heavily on both Heber’s clear explanation of the science and Disney’s expertise at…everything else. The animation, illustration, and production of both book and documentary are top-notch. The story relies heavily on a parallel drawn with an old fable about a fisherman who unleashes a wrathful genie. He quickly outsmarts the genie, tricking him back into the bottle so that he can be contained. It’s interesting that they position nuclear energy and nature as something that needed to be “tricked” in order to harness it.
Here are some of my favorite images from the book – it’s a layout dream:
And here’s the special itself. It sounds weird to say, because all of the videos I post here I feel are worth watching, but this one is really something great.
1. Nintendo Arm Wrestling - Nintendo had a unique arcade cabinet set-up in the 1980s. Their Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! cabinets had two screens, a prelude to their later success in the handheld business. It’s debatable whether both screens were necessary – the top screen served little purpose but to show your player’s stats or play time remaining to anyone standing behind you – but the cabinets stood out.
In 1985, following up on the success of Punch-Out!, Nintendo explored the next level of combat, a more intimate level of combat.
Arm Wrestling was basically Punch-Out!! with arm wrestling as the activity instead. That’s not a bad thing. The roster of opponents was unique and memorable, the graphics looked great, the voices were adorably bad, and the challenge was…well, challenging.
1. Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space – This 1983 Atari 2600 and 5200 title is pretty serious business. It’s a flight-sim program for the Space Shuttle that might be the deepest title released for these Atari systems.
Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space tasked players with piloting the shuttle to a satellite, docking, and returning home, requiring them to use not just the joystick but the switches on the console itself as command inputs. If you could successfully dock four times and return with a certain amount of fuel left you could send a photograph to Activision and receive a Patch for your achievement.
The marketing was gorgeous – all of the box art and design of these stands above the already-high bar set for videogame box art of the time:
As you could guess, this game wasn’t for the normal Atari customer. It stands as less of a nostalgic gameplay experience and more of a testament to what the Atari was capable of. Not bad!
Here’s some gameplay – it’s gorgeous and serene, not an easy thing to pull off in those days! The serenity is probably a necessity, given how many hours of frustration you’d probably rack up with this thing!
1. The Return of Halley’s Comet (1985) - I’ve mentioned before that I had a slight obsession with Halley’s Comet in 1986, devouring any book or TV show on the subject that I could find. And there were plenty; it seemed like Halley’s Comet’s return provided either a window in which you could make countless gobs of money with a related product or a window in which many companies thought you could make countless gobs of money with a related product. I don’t know how it all shook out for them, but they certainly got my parents’ money.
I came across a video from 1985, The Return of Halley’s Comet, that prepares kids for the comet’s triumphant return the next year. It’s bad. It takes a ten minute subject and stretches it into thirty. That said, I remember seeing this thing multiple times as a seven-year old. The animation is super crude, like barely even animation, and the video effects are awful, too. Some of that’s due to the VHS rip, sure, but they didn’t really have great source material to work with. Still, there are some unintentionally beautiful design elements in this video. Like these:
This one is from a song in the middle of the video about how the excitement of the comet is “hypnotizing”:
Here’s the video. The real victory here is the last two minutes, starting at around 26:00. This is a song that was also on my Return of Halley’s Comet book-and-tape that I’ve been trying to track down for about thirty years. I finally did it. It’s so cheesy, but I wore that song into the ground in 1986.
1. NASA’s Spinoff - in the late 1970s, NASA began providing a report to the public regarding the technological advancements gleaned from the Space program in an attractive, easy-to-read format. Called Spinoff, this wasn’t the first attempt at a report of this nature but it was definitely the most digestible. And the most stylish.
What is it about 1970s-era NASA that’s so slick? Pretty much everything they did from that decade is a font-and-layout-lover’s dream.
The reports seem to focus on NASA’s current work among the stars, their aims for the future, and then trickle out to the practical everyday uses of their findings. Some of them are pretty obvious, like solar panels, and it’s neat to see how some of the ideas have manifested 25 years later:
Others were practical, smaller enhancements to our lives, ones that flew under the radar:
And some became the sustenance of dorm kids around the world…