Laughing at Bombs: An Ideological Analysis of the 1957 U.S. Civil Defense Film "A Day Called X"
After the second world war, numerous civil defense efforts were undertaken by the United States to respond to Soviet threats of nuclear attack. One such effort was the 1957 civil defense film, A Day Called X. This film was produced as a dramatized portrayal of an evacuation drill in Portland, Oregon, a drill that actually occurred as “Project Greenlight” in 1955. Developed by the CBS Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, in partnership with the Portland Civil Defense program, this short film was broadcast around the country as a demonstration of the potential successes of civil defense efforts nationwide. Using ideological criticism, a form of rhetorical criticism, I seek to identify the discursive construction of American exceptionalism and farce within the film. I argue that the rhetorical construction of an American town’s calm, organized response to impending nuclear attack in A Day Called X is farcical in that it provides an unfair, untrue, and idealized picture of a hypothetical American response to the situation. This divergence from likely reality in this fictional representation will be shown to constitute a work of farce. This farce is amplified by the underlying theme of American exceptionalism. In the course of my analysis, I demonstrate that this assertion of superiority bolsters the absurdity of the representation and constitutes what I term “apocalyptic exceptionalism.”
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