A Grand Daddy Traumafession:: Michael Bennett, Ph.D (“Doctor Future”) on “A Short Vision” (1956)

I have particularly been fascinated by traumatic media products from the Cold War era, particularly those which traumatized entire generations of Baby Boom youngsters with warnings of imminent death – often traumatizing their parents as well. Just yesterday I first came aware of such a film on a small-time digital television channel – the 1963 film “Ladybug, Ladybug” about the heart-rending choices made by some school teachers and the children when they think an atomic attack is imminent. I was unaware of this amazing and influential film of its era, which evidently traumatized a whole generation of viewers.

I mentioned this film to a former boss of mine, who grew up during the peak of the Cold War, and in turn he recounted to me another such seminal event which amazingly had slipped through my awareness, but not from his generation, even after 58 years.
It all surrounded a little harmless 6 minute short film, shown to 50 million or so viewers by no less than Ed Sullivan. On May 27, 1956, he decided to show his vast live audience an animated film produced by a British husband and wife, entitled “A Short Vision”, to show the futility of war, and in particular to commemorate the dropping of the first H-Bomb by American warplanes a week earlier. Given that the subject matter for his show normally entailed acrobats and men spinning plates on poles, this insertion at the end of the show truly came from left field. After a very mild warning to the viewing audience that suggested that they send the children out of the room, he aired the animated film to a stunned studio audience, and television audience nationwide…

The music and images, and even droll British narrative truly create a brief nightmare scenario, where even animal predators and their prey suddenly flee together to hide from the menace overhead they now sense. Audiences in 1956 could not have been prepared to see Caucasian people, overnight in their sleepy town, awakening to have their eyes and faces melt in the glow of a thermonuclear blast, as life on earth is quickly extinguished. Obviously, this created a sensation in the papers the next day, as they described the “shocking” film Sullivan had unleashed on the public. The outcry was so massive, that Sullivan aired the movie a second time, two weeks later, but with a more stringent warning for young people. However, by various means, many young people did glimpse it, and evidently were never the same afterwards.

My boss, 58 years later, remembers being sent to his room by his parents when it was being aired, but heard the film’s audio through his bedroom wall – a memory still vivid in his mind. Others were not so lucky. One blog page (HERE) devoted to the movie notes one responder at the site who not only viewed the traumatic piece, but had met another baby boomer who as a child had watched A SHORT VISION alone when it aired, and it was medically determined that his hair began to permanently turn white in response to fright from seeing it. Now I call that a traumafession!

I am curious to know how many more of these long-forgotten productions that suggested the imminent nuclear destruction of earth and had imprinted upon a generation are still waiting to be discovered. I caught the tail end of such movies before the collapse of the USSR, when my church youth group left the Sunday night service to watch the well-publicized national airing of “The Day After” in 1983, resulting in our stunned silence, as well as the subsequent discussion shows on air concerning nuclear destruction, featuring commentary by “concerned parents” and other figures (ABC even ran 1-800 numbers then for viewers to call in and talk to counselors, as well as books people could get on nuclear war; even Mr. Rogers had a series of shows on nuclear war afterwards, to help calm youngsters). Later in 1987, another miniseries Amerika was run, where the United States had been overtaken by the USSR, prompting yet more citizen-led discussion groups – also, I vaguely recollect, leading David Letterman the next evening to hold citizen-led discussion groups concerning the other movie shown during the “Amerika” time slot that night – “The Facts of Life Down Under”.

Do any of you recollect other “end of the world”, nuclear holocaust movies or shows that caused sleepless nights for you, or your parents?

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8 years ago

Thanks for a great post. That animation must have scared people pretty bad back then. If I had seen that as a kid I would have been horrified. I’ll watch that Ladybug movie, I love stuff like that. Thanks again for sharing.

8 years ago

last night

thanks for the recommendation…

Dr. Future
8 years ago

Thank you for the kind acknowledgements, friends – that’s why I like hanging out here (I learn a lot of stuff, too). In addition to the aforementioned great examples in the last post, I would also suggest the legendary 48 min documentary “The War Game”, by the legendary anti-war documentary filmmaker Peter Watkins. He portrayed a realistic nuclear attack on the UK, under commission from the BBC, who then refused to air it in 1965, saying “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting” (is that a ringing endorsement on Kinder Trauma, or what?). Nevertheless, it won at Academy Award in 1966, but was not allowed to be aired on British television under 1985, twenty years later. I believe it is available on Youtube.

4 years ago

Whoa! I bet Steven Spielberg was watching the show that night; after all, he was 10 years old. I’ve never seen this ’till now, but all it reminds me of is Raiders of the Lost Ark!

…oh, and that Simpsons where Homer is late to pick up Bart and when he does, Bart imagines Homer’s flesh melting off. Now THAT scared me as a youngster. (Hey, I was 4!)