02 February 2014

Two Anniversaries

by Leigh Lundin

Fact: Less that 0.002% of American males will be reading this article instead of watching the Superbowl. Nevertheless, we press ever forward with our own take on entertainment including a part of Superbowl history.

In the past few days, a couple of entertainment anniversaries came to my attention, one a film and the other an advertisement.

An ad?

Yes, an advert that appeared only once, but oh, what a work of art by none other than that master filmmaker known for Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, and Hannibal: Ridley Scott. It was an ad run just one time thirty years ago during the Superbowl.

By now, you know I’m referring to Apple’s 1984 introduction of the Macintosh. Go on, watch it again; you know you want to.

I surmise the author of the article that reminded me of the Mac’s anniversary is quite young, not realizing the cycles of history. Without irony, she writes “The ad follows a popular theme of that era; that ‘Big Brother’ is watching you.”

Julia, Big Brother IS watching us like never before. Here in the US, we’re debating the rĂ´le of the NSA and exactly how many of our civil liberties we’re willing to forego in the pursuit of, er, liberty.

The UK has grown more heavy handed. After misusing an anti-terrorism law to jail at least one reporter, David Cameron’s government ordered its spooks over to The Guardian to oversee the destruction of hard drives and computers (including *gasp* a beautiful MacBook Air!) containing Snowden files. So much for freedom of the press.

Visiting this theme of governments and misleading their citizens brings us to another landmark film by another superb filmmaker, a man who brought us such classics as 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick.

Of course, I’m talking about Dr. Strangelove, which came to the screen fifty years ago. You’ve noticed I possess a dark sense of humor and awareness, but for personal reasons, that’s a film I can’t watch.

Baby Boomer

Events that happen in early childhood can effect a person forever after. When I was quite little, my parents attended a talk about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve never witnessed anything as frightening as that presentation with its graphic slides and descriptions of atomized citizens flashed into the sides of buildings. That was the first time I learned that people not only killed other people, they could do it on a mass scale.

After the talk, audience could meet the speaker and look at his exhibits. One was shiny metallic pellets from a Japanese bomb site in, of all things, a baby food jar. When I looked closer, the presenter joked, “Don’t drop it or it’ll explode!”

Thereafter when I was supposed to be sleeping and heard a large aeroplane overhead, I worried it might drop bombs. I’m convinced Strangelove is a great film, but for me, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time, the reason I’ve not been able to bring myself to view Dr. Strangelove.— yet.

Now, fifty years later, we learn that Dr. Strangelove portrayed the truth much more accurately than our government, which pooh-poohed the notion of an out-of-control military officer starting a war on his own but secretly knew it was all too true. The actual situation was far more volatile and dangerous than anyone imagined, not just on our side, but also the Soviets.

Do I hear Clydesdales?

Back to Superbowl Sunday. I’ve read that modern sports are bloodless (usually) reenactments of war. That might make non-sports fans look more kindly on football.

Now about those cheerleaders…


  1. Leigh, as I read your post, I reread a story in the newspaper this morning about how some states are thinking of returning to firing squads, the gas chamber, and electrocution to carry out the death penalty because of the shortage of lethal injection drugs and the botched executions some the drugs have caused. Seems we are constantly looking for ways to kill people.

    Aside from my love of football another reason to watch the Superbowl is Peyton Manning. He attended the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville, so I consider him a hometown boy.

  2. Right you are, Louis. We're very imaginative when it comes to doing in our fellow man.

    I know what you mean. Of course you have to root for Peyton Manning. I feel a vague affinity for the Colts but otherwise I'm uncommitted.

  3. Interesting, your reaction, or non-reaction, to STRANGELOVE. I saw it when it came out---and I don't know how well it's weathered---but at the time, I thought it was hysterically funny. Other people were offended by the fact that Kubrick used the subject for farce. FAIL-SAFE came out the year after, and was extremely somber and claustrophobic. Looking back, I think Kubrick had the right idea, because it actually made you think about how completely nuts the MAD doctrine was, and how the control mechanisms and chain of command could in fact be bypassed.

  4. David, I read Fail Safe and Red Alert (supposedly Kubrick's inspiration) in high school.

    Kubrick said he became obsessed with the subject and decided farce was the only way to make it work. Everyone else including his long time collaborator thought he was nuts, but now think it was genius.

  5. Some interesting observations, Leigh, on Dr. Strangelove. You've made me want to go back and watch it again. By the way, I understand your mixed emotions about the subject matter.

    One thing I remember most about it is a quote: "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here--this is the War Room."

  6. Leigh, as I remember, Peter George, who wrote RED ALERT, wound up suing Burdick and Wheeler, because FAIL-SAFE basically appropriated George's book, without credit.

  7. Although the original '1984' ad was flighted just once, I read that for the 20th anniversary they ran an updated version, complete with iPod and distinctive white earbuds. Clever recycling with reference to past, present and future.

    Speaking of clever ads: the Oreo ad posted on Twitter ten minutes after the power outage at last year’s Superbowl was hard to beat .
    (Apparently they had the ad ready in five minutes, but waited to ensure everyone was safe, that it was a blackout and not something more sinister.)

  8. Apologies. That should read:... ten minutes into the power outage...

  9. I thought Dr. Strangelove was hilarious, but then I got used to crazy people early in life. You remember General Ripper, who thought that the Ruskies were after "our precious bodily fluids"? Well, back when Vladimir Putin was put in power by Boris Buy-Me-A-Drink Yeltsin at midnight on 12/31/99, I decided Ripper was right, because our family physician was the dead spit of Putin...

    Sadly, yes, we're always into new ways of killing people. It is a never-failing source of invention. And yes, 90% of sports are war games. A great book is Barbara Ehrenreich's "Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War".

  10. David, I looked that up and your memory serves you well. Apparently the authors agreed to an out-of-court settlement.

    John, that’s a terrific line!

    ABA, you’re right– that was a great move by Oreo.

    I thought it telling when the board hated the 1984 ad and John Sculley panicked, the two Steves (Wozniak and Jobs) believed in the advert to the point of offering to pay for it themselves. The board of directors ordered Apple’s ad agency, Chiat/Day, to sell off the 90 seconds of commercial time the Steves had so foolishly bought. The agency so believed in the ad and what they were selling, they sold 30 seconds but without telling the BoD didn’t bother selling the rest… which became history.

    Eve, the write-up on Barbara Ehrenreich's Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War sounds like a must-read with a different conclusion from other thinkers.

  11. unsurprising:

  12. Leigh, I used to assign "Blood Rites" as the first book we read in my class on "War in World History." It got the students talking, that's for sure.


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