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?
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
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
In one year, over a ton of explosives,
including dynamite, C-4 plastic explosives, ANFO, raw
Approximately 23,000 American nuclear
warheads are armed and ready in silos, bases and
Four sunken nuclear submarines sit at
the buttom of the Atlantic Ocean. One, a Russian sub
In 1996, the U.S. Army planned to destroy
over 14,000 tons of chemical weapons by burning
Hackers infiltrate Pentagon computers
more than 160,000 times a year. Roughly 65% succeed
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?