The Atomic Café

Atomic Café

In the early 60’s I remember going through atomic bomb drills in school.  We were dutifully herded by our teachers down to the depths of Roger’s Elementary school here in Bloomington, past the furnaces, and seemingly below the floors to the area in which we were to remain until the radiation levels dropped enough for us to come out.  I can still remember the big storage cans of water stacked along the walls and under stairwells marked with the Civil Defense emblem.  I assume, though I can’t really remember seeing them, that there were food rations that were available for us to eat as well.  Along with the television advertisements for cereal, candy and toys we saw public service announcements with “Burt the Turtle” teaching us how to “duck and cover” if we should ever see the flash of an atomic bomb.   How naïve these advertisements and steps seem today when more accurate information about atomic blasts and radiation is common knowledge.   We know for example that we can’t survive an atomic blast by hiding inside of a refrigerator.

Atomic Café is a documentary that presents no new facts. All it gives to us is archival documentary footage, news reels and advertising from the 1940’s and ‘50’s regarding the possibility of a nuclear war and how to react if it should take place; no additional commentary is needed.  Today, they seem almost laughable, but this was the information that was being given to the general public of the time. The movie looks at the government information machine that was designed to help alleviate our fears should the United State ever be faced with nuclear war.  Its job was to paint such a war as survivable.   The film is not simply a nostalgic look back at our history, but it is also an examination of the methods a government uses to reassure its people with information.  Information that was often less than accurate. Atomic Café is sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking and sometimes disturbing. The film was released in 1982, but it is as relevant today as it was then.