Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 10, 1980s nuclear culture

25 Nov

threads_rtcoverHaving taught classes on The War Game before, I was genuinely fascinated to see if teaching a class that involved the grim and disturbing Threads would be any different.

The fascinating thing about this seminar was the variety of opinions on the film. Some found it deeply disturbing and moving, others realised the impact it must have had, but were less shocked by the visceral imagery and storyline.

One thing that the class allowed me to do was articulate why I ended up teaching a course like this. Threads had a major (and terrifying) impact on me from a young age, and that terror is one of the reasons I ended up studying nuclear issues: a need to understand what made me so scared as a kid. Threads, the Greenham Common protests, post-apocalyptic cinema in general, and the news media all had a significant impact on me growing up. Teaching a course such as this is an outgrowth of that.

The image to the right scared the holy living hell out me. In fact, it still does. The image of the bandaged, badly burned, rifle-wielding traffic warden is one of the enduring images from the film. There’s something peculiarly British about this: the traffic warden as almost universally despised low-level authority figure, made in this case literally faceless and carrying the ultimate symbol of post-apocalyptic authority.

It’s important to emphasise that this wasn’t only cultural product that we studied. The Day After – a near contemporary of Threads – was also a film that I asked students to watch and analyse. And, the class also brought in other cultural products such as When the Wind Blows, The Terminator, Riddley Walker, and so forth.

I felt that this produced a valuable discussion that linked into our seminars on – obviously – The War Game and the Strath Report. Many students agreed that the BBC was correct in suppressing The War Game. Would they agree that Threads should have received a similar treatment? The answer was, in the main, mixed. There was debate about the maturity of societies, increasing awareness of nuclear issues, the growth of citizen protest, and so on.

In the second half of the class, I asked the students to come up with their own pitch for a short nuclear drama-documentary, as if they were itching to the BBC’s head of drama. The results were fascinating and sometimes hilarious, from Black Mirror-esque Margaret Thatcher in a bunker programmes, to reverse chronological explorations of a nuclear war, from the point of view of those living many decades after events. All interesting stuff, and something of light relief from the heavy thinking.

This coming Friday we come, sadly, to our last class, looking at the end of the Cold War and reflecting on what we’ve learned together. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what students have to say as we conclude our trip through the nuclear Cold War.

2 Responses to “Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Week 10, 1980s nuclear culture”


  1. Teaching the Nuclear Cold War: Conclusions | theatomicage -

    […] game’ (see the entry on Week 7) and the ‘create your own BBC docudrama’ (see the entry on Week 10) were two exercises that were entertaining and educationally useful. It was also fantastic to see […]

  2. Atomic Triggers | theatomicage -

    […] Nagasaki, through the bleak awfulness of the Strath Report, to the profoundly disturbing imagery of Threads, there’s a lot that can upset, anger, or […]

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