Terrifying Beauty

Tonight’s disquisition is a trip down memory lane, following connections as they come. I watched Sunshine State, a film by John Sayles on Friday night. I frequently forget to mention Sayles when someone asks me about my favorite movies or directors. His work is extremely good, but often understated. He almost always uses an ensemble of characters to create a portrait of a particular place at a particular time. Among his best are Matewan and City of Hope.

Sunshine State stars Jane Alexander as a community theater impresario in a small Florida town that is trying to keep land developers out. Seeing Alexander reminded me of one of the most affecting nuclear war movies I saw back in the 1980s - Testament. [The Day After]() and Testament were both released in 1983, the height of Reagan’s rhetorical campaign against the ‘evil empire’ of the Soviet Union. Before glasnost, perestroika, and Gorbachev it felt like the world really was teetering on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. It was more than a feeling.

Fifteen years after the Cold War ended it seems hard to believe that we all lived through 45 years of nuclear brinksmanship. Believing that mutually assured destruction was a rational state of affairs seems ludicrous. But it was official. When Carl Sagan offered his admonition against self-destruction at the end of Cosmos this is what he was thinking about.

Today is the sixty-first anniversary of the United States attack on Hiroshima. I wrote about the sixtieth anniversary last year.

Along with Cosmos, I recently watched a documentary on the atomic bomb tests. Watching these explosions is mesmerizing. It’s a terrifying beauty that I find hard to turn away from. The music in the first video makes the aesthetic of destruction even stranger. And there are more musical hybrids on YouTube if you wish to search.

The etymology of bikini may be the ultimate evidence of the strangeness of the whole era.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrjpgnvusBI]

Aim for the body rare, you'll see it on TV
The worst thing in 1954 was the Bikini
See the girl on the TV dressed in a Bikini
She doesn't think so but she's dressed for the H-Bomb
(For the H-Bomb)
I found that essence rare, it's what I looked for
I knew I'd get what I asked for
Aim for the country fair you read it in the papers
The worst happens any week a scandal on the front page
See the happy pair smiling close like they are monkeys
They wouldn't think so but they're holding themselves down
(Hold themselves down)
I found that essence rare, it's what I looked for
I knew I'd get what I asked for
I found that essence rare, it's what I looked for
I knew I'd get what I asked for
Aim for politicians fair who'll treat your vote hope well
The last thing they'll ever do act in your interest
Look at the world through your polaroid glasses
Things'll look a whole lot better for the working classes
(Working classes)
I found that essence rare, it's what I looked for
I knew I'd get what I asked for
I found that essence rare, it's what I looked for
I knew I'd get what I asked for

Lyrics from here