Did America really learn to "stop worrying and love the bomb," as the title of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove, would have us believe? Does that darkly satirical comedy have anything in common with Martin Luther King Jr.'s impassioned "I Have a Dream" speech or with Elvis Presley's throbbing "I'm All Shook Up"? In Margot Henriksen's vivid depiction of the decades after World War II, all three are expressions of a cultural revolution directly related to the atomic bomb. Although many scientists and other Americans protested the pursuit of nuclear superiority after World War II ended, they were drowned out by Cold War rhetoric that encouraged a "culture of consensus." Nonetheless, Henriksen says, a "culture of dissent" arose, and she traces this rebellion through all forms of popular culture.
At first, artists expressed their anger, anxiety, and despair in familiar terms that addressed nuclear reality only indirectly. But Henriksen focuses primarily on new modes of expression that emerged, discussing the disturbing themes of film noir (with extended attention to Alfred Hitchcock) and science fiction films, Beat poetry, rock 'n' roll, and Pop Art. Black humor became a primary weapon in the cultural revolution while literature, movies, and music gave free rein to every possible expression of the generation gap. Cultural upheavals from "flower power" to the civil rights movement accentuated the failure of old values.
Filled with fascinating examples of cultural responses to the Atomic Age, Henriksen's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the United States at mid-twentieth century.