Worst-Case Scenarios: Popular Cultures and the "Risk Society"

Anxiety and Palliative Commodities

Questions Framing My Current Research:

What is risk? What is risk communication? Is there risk communication in popular culture? If so, what forms does it take? What effects does or can it have? Should we take it seriously? What role does popular culture play in the ways we assess and respond to the risks we face in everyday life? Do we alter our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours as a result of risk information we receive through popular culture?

Who benefits from determinations of "risk"? Can the production of risk and its communication be seen as a mode of social control? How do we decide which risk messages we will heed and which ones we will ignore? Why does the world in which we live seem to be increasingly risky?





"Mmmm. Tomacco."

What did this episode of The Simpsons give us to think about, say, genetically modified foods?




What do online animations like The Meatrix give us to think about the risks of meat production and consumption?






Worst-Case Scenarios Online





"With the splintering of opinion about what constitutes 'expert' opinion, the responsibility for risk assessment becomes individualized. We are all constantly engaged in strategies of risk management or in tactics of capitalizing on the risks we are willing to take. " (Ironstone-Catterall)

"We're here to help– and to amuse and entertain. But be careful out there – you just never know."

From The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

Worst-Case Scenarios, The Board Game






Do films such as The Day After Tomorrow (2004) influence our ideas about the risks we face as a result of, say, natural disasters and global warming?







Still from Kubrick's (1964) Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

"While the short title--"Dr. Strangelove"--implies the entire plot of the movie (all about the crazed scientists and generals who are supposed to be in control of the world's nuclear arsenals), it's the subtitle that gives away the ending.

After a false attack alert sends American B-52s on their way to Russia, frantic communications ensue between the President and the Pentagon and the Soviets. All the American bombers except one are safely called back. The one bomber, because its "fail-safe" system unfortunately fails, is incommunicado, can't be reached and is headed toward Moscow to drop the big one.

Further even more frantic communications result in the revelation that the Russians have constructed a Doomsday Machine, sort of the ultimate failure-proof fail-safe device. If just one a-bomb is dropped on Russia, then all the Russian missiles will fire automatically and no one can stop them.

Dr. Strangelove (Peter Sellers in his most brilliant, most manic Henry-Kissinger-gone-off-the-extremely-deep-end mode) is of course delighted that someone has put this system in place. It's his dream (and our nightmare) come true.

Meanwhile, the one American B-52, flying low to avoid radar detection, nears Moscow and gets ready to drop its bomb. But there's a glitch in the plane's release mechanism. The pilot, Slim Pickens, is a good old boy complete with West Texas twang. He's also an Everyman, a stand-in for all us good, do-your-duty Americans, who has to go into the innards of the plane and manually release the bomb, which he then hops on and happily rides down like the patriot that he is at heart (see photo above).

Thus does Slim learn to stop worrying and really, really love the bomb which, as he rides it into the end of history, looks like nothing so much as a huge, white phallus."







Still from Duck and Cover

American "Social Hygiene" and Public Service information films regarding Civil Defense of the 1950s.

See the Prelinger Archives online








Build Your Own Bomb Shelter


"Without a bomb shelter you're better off to be hit directly by the bomb so that
you do not have to suffer through radiation burns. So if I had a choice to buy a
bomb shelter I would in a heartbeat."

Interesting facts, taken from "The Paranoid's Pocket Guide" (Chronicle Books):

There are paramilitary training sites for militia groups and private armies in 23 of the United

In May 1995, an Aryan Nation member living in Ohio was arrested for buying three vials of
frozen bubonic plague bacteria trough the mail. Federal agents searched his house and found
detonating fuses, hand-grenade triggers, and homemade explosive devices.

In one year, over a ton of explosives, including dynamite, C-4 plastic explosives, ANFO, raw
ammonium nitrate, and blasting caps has disappeared from commercial sites in Georgia,
California, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Indiana.

Approximately 23,000 American nuclear warheads are armed and ready in silos, bases and
submarines around the world. After finding dozens of military personnel in key nuclear weaponry
positions who were psychologically unfit, the U.S. Navy elected to review its program designed to
prevent unstable individuals from obtaining access to nuclear weapons.

Four sunken nuclear submarines sit at the buttom of the Atlantic Ocean. One, a Russian sub
resting in deep waters off the island of Bermuda, holds 16 live nuclear warheads. Scientists and
oceanographers are unsure what impact the escaping plutonium will have but warn that corrosion
may lead to a massive nuclear chain reaction.

In 1996, the U.S. Army planned to destroy over 14,000 tons of chemical weapons by burning
them in a specially designed incinerator in a remote area of Utah. After operating for three days,
the incinerator was shut down because it was leaking nerve gas.

Hackers infiltrate Pentagon computers more than 160,000 times a year. Roughly 65% succeed
on their first try.





How to Prevent Alien Abductions








What risks are we willing to take? Do television programs such as "Fear Factor" or extreme sports play a role in assuaging our anxieties about the risks we face every day?


Fear Factor















Extreme Skiing








Roller Coasters







Bungee Jumping








Extreme Skydiving