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historical truth

Scott spent the following week researching the early years of the Cold War.

In particular, he wanted to learn all he could about the great fear he encountered in the latest film. He found The Family Fallout Shelter, the pamphlet loaned to him by the Professor, to be a great assistance. He spent several hours studying it.

Call them fallout shelters or bomb shelters, the pamphlet offered helpful suggestions and even blueprints for readers to use in building fortified bunkers at home, safety areas in which to survive nuclear attack. But, it was the general descriptions that most attracted Scott's attention. One section declared “We do not want a war. We do not know whether there will be a war. But we know that forces hostile to us possess weapons that could destroy us if we are unready.” It continued in a terrifying manner, “These weapons create a new threat—radioactive fallout that can spread death anywhere. That is why we must prepare. No matter where you live a fallout shelter is necessary insurance. It will not be needed except in an emergency. But in emergency it will be priceless—as priceless as your life.”

At another point the pamphlet claimed, “One thing is certain, if this country is attacked with nuclear weapons our air and missile bases will be primary targets. The enemy would try to knock out our retaliatory power. He might also try to destroy our cities.”

This unnerving commentary was especially striking because the pamphlet was written by the U.S. government. It was produced by Office of Civil Defense, a division of the U.S. Department of Defense. And it was published by the United States Government Printing Office.

Important, too, Scott noticed that it was originally published in June 1959 and reprinted more than two years later. This meant that the government's scary warnings and encouragement to build bomb-shelters nationwide survived the Fabulous Fifties. The great fear he encountered in 1950 during the presidency of Harry S. Truman was still a social reality well into the administration of President John F. Kennedy.

Scott spent several days searching the internet for clues to understanding the film. He downloaded insightful magazine articles from the period. Trying to comprehend the motives and goals of the East-West confrontation, he read about the origins of the Cold War and its history. He also looked through memoirs of several statesmen who had been part of the struggle.

Always guiding his inquiries was the mnemonic device, STAMPIERE, which the Professor had introduced to Scott. Using each perspective—from Social to External—the young man assessed his latest transport experience. To him, this was a serious investigation. But he also found it intellectually exciting.

At the public library, Scott uncovered an interesting aspect of the film. By perusing the Educational Film Index, a sales catalogue for educational motion pictures, he discovered in the 1953 edition that You Can Beat the A-Bomb was not the only commercial movie concerned with atomic survival. In fact, there were sixteen titles listed under the category “Civilian Mobilization and Protection.” Curiously, four years earlier in the 1949 edition there were no such films. In fact, the category didn't even exist. Scott concluded that concern about the A-bomb must have emerged suddenly in 1950 and spread rapidly within the general public.

He looked more deeply and learned that news of the Soviet Union possessing the atomic bomb appeared in the United States in September 1949. Scott figured that the fear generated by this news undoubtedly spurred the emergence in 1950 movies such as You Can Beat the A-Bomb . And by the time the USSR acknowledged possession of the hydrogen bomb in 1953, he surmised, Americans must have been extremely frightened by prospects of a World War III.

The more Scott thought about such a development, the more he was disturbed by one experience he had while being transported into the movie. That occurred when the narrator talked about the H-bomb and suggested preparation for the atomic bomb was exactly the same for the newer, bigger bomb. When he asked his guide, Veronica, for her reaction, she denied hearing or seeing anything about an H-bomb. In fact, she didn't know what the term meant.

Suddenly, it hit him: the film was from 1950, but the Soviets, as he learned, did not test their hydrogen bomb until three years later. Scott concluded that he must have entered a newer printing of the film that had been slightly altered after the announcement that the USSR had the superweapon. And since Veronica was associated with the original production, she could neither hear nor see the short H-bomb segment that had been edited into the movie later.

As he turned on Third Street and headed toward The History Shoppe, Scott walked briskly but with confidence. After seven days of extracurricular research and contemplation, he was sure he could handle himself adequately when Professor Papadopoulos began the conversation. As he neared his destination, he realized that he was learning history, indeed consuming history, without recourse to the memorization of dates and disjoined facts. This must have been what the Professor meant when they first met, that history is an experience, not a list of events learned in a mechanical manner.

The Professor was standing in the doorway when the young man approached the store. “Hello, Scott, I'm so glad to see you this week,” he said warmly in greeting his visitor. “I hope you spent a profitable time since we last met. Come in, come in, my boy.”

“Oh, I did, Dr. Pop. I spent lots of hours reading at the library and on the internet,” responded Scott, as he and the Professor entered the Shoppe. “And it was all so exciting. I couldn't stop searching for more and more information.”

“That's excellent. I was so afraid you would be discouraged by the atomic bomb movie,” the Professor remarked. “After you left last week, I realized that I had selected a horrifying film. You seemed so excited when you entered the Clio machine last week, but you were so serious looking when you left it.

“What was it you exclaimed just before you entered that film from the ‘Fabulous Fifties?” Oh, yes, I believe you said ‘Rock and Roll forever.” Well, as you know now, that was no rock and roll motion picture. And it wasn't so fabulous either, was it?'

“I'm glad you brought that up, Dr. Pop. I wanted to apologize for being so juvenile when I was about to be transported last week,” Scott said with regret in is voice. “I know I acted improperly, even disrespectfully.”

“Nonsense,” insisted the Professor. “Please don't worry about it. I dismissed your words as an expression of exuberance—with a touch of youthful naivety. There's no need for apology. In fact, I appreciate enthusiasm and curiosity in students. These are two qualities that help shape first-rate scholars. But, let's sit over there on those two big chairs, and you can tell me what impressed you most about the film?”

As he made himself comfortable in the large leather-covered armchair, Scott began to discuss the conclusions he had drawn from the movie. “There was so much to learn” he admitted. “For one thing, I noticed how men appeared to control the society. In every scenario, men took charge and women and children followed their orders. I guess we would call that sexist by today's standards.” he remarked.

“Indeed, it was a male-dominated era,” answered the Professor. “Those values were a holdover from the agricultural world of the past in which male muscular strength was primary in the struggle to stay alive whether by hunting, plowing, harvesting, or physically defending the homestead. Women's world was primarily inside the house and close to home. Old social norms die slowly.

“Also,” he continued, “despite the fact that women in large numbers had been dedicated factory workers during World War II, by 1950 most American women did not work outside the home. Millions were taking care of their new babies since this was early in the so-called Baby Boom of the postwar years,” the Professor noted.

“Another point I'd like to make,” Scott interjected, “concerns the humorous quality of the film. Not ‘funny ha-ha,' but ‘funny peculiar' because many of the points it made were ludicrous.

“Just think about it: you can survive an atomic bomb by snuggling against a brick wall, or diving into a gutter, or building a bomb shelter underground or in your basement. I know my friends would laugh out loud at these ideas. It's all so campy,” Scott explained.

“Oh, be careful, young man,” the Professor interrupted. “Too often students laugh at the outdated situations they encounter in old motion pictures. They consider it high camp because things are so different nowadays. In films from the 1930s, a mention of the price of food at the market or the cost of a new automobile always generates audience laughter. The same is true matters such as clothing styles, social values, methods of transportation, and even career choices.

“All such aspects of the historical experience change over time. But, as an historian, you must not fall into the trap of laughing at the past because it seems so quaint,” he warned Scott. “In English, we have the saying, ‘Everything is relative.' It means that what appears silly to you was serious to the people in the film and to the audience watching the film at the time.

“You cannot giggle at outdated images because they clash with contemporary standards. You must see those old images and prices as part of the realities of their times. If milk cost twelve cents a gallon and a new Ford automobile was $600 in 1936, that was only because the average salary was $40 a week or $2,000 per year. If you compute the cost-of-living increase since then, you will see that milk and cars cost relatively the same percentage of a person's weekly or annual salary.

“If children wore Knickerbocker trousers in the 1920s, or teenager girls learned how to give a social tea for their mothers in the 1940s, or in the 1950s cars had whitewall tires and boys wanted to grow up to be TV repairmen, you must never snicker at them. You must see these situations as part of their world.”

Scott was a little unnerved by the Professor's criticism. “I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect to the movie or to scholarship,” he answered. “I guess I need to be more sensitive toward the standards that were operative when these films were made.

“However,” Scott declared, “it strikes me as overly optimistic to hear that people will survive if they learn how to duck and cover their faces and then scrub the radiation down the sink. What about the people who are at ground zero when the bomb is dropped? There's no way they will survive. They will be disintegrated immediately. How far from ground zero must a person be for these survival techniques to be effective? A mile? Five miles? Ten miles?”

Scott continued his criticism of the film. “And what about food and water: where do you find these items when stores are gone and transportation has been destroyed? What about radioactive fallout? How long does it last? Where do you find medical care when hospitals have been obliterated and doctors have been killed or injured? How does a survivor find emergency assistance when the city is devastated, radioactivity is intense, fires are blazing, and maimed people need immediate attention?

“None of these matters was treated in the film. Instead, we are told that we're lucky, now relax and let the authorities make the decisions. Wasn't the threat of atomic annihilation the result of decisions made by authorities on both sides of the Cold War? All of this makes the movie very simplistic.”

“Now, you are getting to the core of the film,” the Professor replied. “What is not said can often be more important that what is actually said. And what is left unspoken in You Can Beat the A-Bomb is significant, just as you say. Why do you think these considerations were absent? And because they were omitted, what do you think was the purpose of the film in the first place?”

Scott thought for a short while. “Maybe the topic was just too horrifying to present in this film,” he speculated. “What would the public have thought had it been told that for a substantial percentage of people, atomic warfare meant instant death, massive injury, psychological damage, and long-term misery—not to mention the destruction of social institutions from government to food production and supply?

“If this film was so deceptive about the A-bomb, maybe the film makers and everyone associated with its production were fooling themselves and their viewers,” Scott speculated.

“Perhaps,” the Professor responded. “Some might suggest that public movies like this actually fueled the Cold War. Such films frightened people into accepting an aggressive U.S. foreign policy in the years after World War II. Specifically, they scared people in trusting in the authorities. After all, the alternative was annihilation.

“On the other hand, others might argue that such movies withheld the full truth about the bomb because government a feared a public backlash and demand for a return to a 1930s policy of isolationism. This would have doomed the West and probably would have led to the triumph of Soviet Communism. But we can never be certain because there are no documents to explain the film makers' thinking on such matters.”

“I see your point, Dr. Pop. I guess I wasn't serious enough when I was transported last week,” Scott admitted.

The Professor looked carefully at the young man. “I hope the experience has taught you another lesson about being an historian,” he said.

“You mean, don't approach historical evidence so lightheartedly?” Scott asked.

“That, too,” answered the Professor, “but more importantly, you should have learned that a single piece of source material can offer only a partial view of the past. If you were trying to understand an entire decade from this one film, you would fail. It's not possible.

“Each document or artifact is like looking at an event through a straw,” he continued. “Try it some day, and you'll discover that what you see may appear clear and understandable. But, it's only a small fraction of the total picture. If you look at the same picture through a second or third or fourth straw, each view will increase your comprehension of what happened.”

“I guess I realized that,” Scott responded, “because I spent a lot of time this past week looking at the Fifties through other sources, other straws, if you will. I read all about the Cold War. I looked into the general fear many Americans felt because of the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Even before going into the film, I saw that in the bubble gum cards and the old magazines. And the pamphlet you loaned me was very useful in making me see that East-West tensions lasted far beyond 1950.”

“Very good, Scott,” the Professor said. “You make valid points. But you are missing my lesson. The straws you looked through all relate to the fear you recognized in the film. However, there are many other perspectives from which the 1950s in America can be understood.”

“What do you mean, Dr. Pop?” asked Scott with a degree of confusion.

“Well, young man,” Professor Papadopoulos continued, “despite your pessimistic personal reaction to You Can Beat the A-Bomb , you were not totally incorrect about that decade being the Fabulous Fifties. Cold War fears played a significant role, but they were not the whole story.

“To comprehend the full sweep of the 1950s, you need many different straws through which to view the times. Clio could transport you into a hundred films, each offering a varying perspective. And you would learn something new from each. To prove my point, I want you to enter one short movie that should suggest that the diversity of the era.”

“Right now?” Scott asked.

“Yes, if you are ready to travel,” the Professor replied.

“It sounds intriguing, Dr. Pop. I'm ready to go,” said Scott. “I have the rest of the afternoon.”

The Professor explained that the film was from 1958—certainly, in the midst of the Cold War—but it was not overtly political and had nothing to do with A-bombs or H-bombs. “This is a short industrial movie called The Image of a Man ,” he told Scott. “It was intended to introduce viewers to a scientific method of social inquiry called motivational research, MR for short. MR was a new process for questioning people and measuring what motivated them to do what they did. The conclusions could then be quantified and reported as percentages.

“I hope this is not too confusing,” the Professor continued. “But, as you will soon see the goal of MR is to discover the image people have of themselves and report it in statistical terms. Then those figures can be used by commercial corporations in marketing products to meet and even create consumer demands.”

“Sounds like science working in the cause of commerce,” Scott remarked.

“Correct,” Dr. Papadopoulos noted. “In this film, the client is a popular man's magazine called Esquire . The editors of this periodical wanted to know what type of man reads Esquire . They hoped the answers could help them fine-tune their articles and images to please readers. This, they felt, would boost the popularity of the magazine and, in turn, generate increase advertising to fit the self-profile their readers revealed.

“But for our purposes, the most important thing is to understand this film as…,” the Professor said, catching himself in mid-sentence. “There I go again, influencing a student's own intelligence. It's always better for a student to assess evidence from the past without being told the answer by the teacher. You go into the film and draw you own conclusions. Then, we'll compare notes, student to student, historian to historian.”

“Before I go, Dr. Pop, this new film already sounds different from what I saw earlier,” Scott declared. “The first told a story; the second offered short skits to illustrate its points. But this one sounds less like a drama and more like an analysis.”

“Good observation,” answered the Professor. “The first films were more or less narratives that related stories. This new motion picture is a social profile of an average man of the 1950s. So, it should be challenging for you.”

Scott knew the routine. He seated himself in the Clio and placed the transporter on his head. “Ready to go,” he declared.

The Professor placed the film in the machine and instantly Scott was in 1958: the sun was rising over a large river, and he moving up an asphalt driveway toward a large stone house, the headquarters of the Institute for Motivational Research. Scott was impressed as the fall colors and earthen tone of the building made the Institute appear so friendly and comfortable.

While he admired the rustic views, an announcer explained that the purpose of this short movie was to introduce the Institute, what he called “a place devoted to the intriguing business of finding out why people behave as they do; why they buy as they do; and why they respond to advertising as they do.”

Upon entering the Institute, Scott spotted a scholarly, middle-aged man in a dark suit standing behind a large desk and smoking a pipe. Scott moved toward the man, but from behind he heard a voice saying, “Hello, young man, may I help you?” He turned to see another serious-looking man whom, he assumed, was associated with the Institute. “Hello, I'm John Pinkerton. I work with Dr. Ernest Dichter, the founder of this Institute. And you are?”

“I'm sorry, I didn't see you standing there when I entered,” Scott replied. “I'm Scott Tennyson. I'm a student of history, and I've come to observe.”

“Wonderful. Glad to meet you. Just stick by me and I'll be happy to escort you and answer any questions you might have” John answered. “That's Dr. Dichter at his desk now preparing for this movie. He is a pioneer in the field of motivational research, especially as applied to advertising. Brilliant man.”

With the cameras on him, Dichter began by explaining MR. Speaking to an audience of corporate executives for whom the film was intended, he claimed that MR sought to learn the total personality, the self-image of individuals. This was the key to knowing what motivated people to buy certain items. By using the tools of modern social-science research to draw conclusions, Dichter suggested that advertisers could influence the purchasing decisions made by consumers.

Moreover, he argued, advertisers in a mass publication such as a magazine needed to know how this “channel of communications” was perceived by its readers. It is not enough to know the income level of the readers reached when advertising in a certain magazine, said Dichter, you must also discover the personality profile of the publication, the way readers see the magazine. In this way, he suggested, advertising could be streamlined and selling made more effective. To prove his point, he offered a case study of one of his clients, Esquire magazine. The study was called “The Image of a Man,” and it essentially answered the question: What kind of a man reads Esquire ?

“This is a bit confusing,” Scott said to John. “Is Dr. Dichter saying that social science can learn everything about a person, and then an advertiser or a manufacturer could use that knowledge to manipulate that person?”

John looked amused. “No, this is not some mysterious methodology aimed at controlling or manipulating the American people. This is simply a scientific way of discovering why someone buys what he or she buys, and how a seller can best appeal to that person—and, hopefully, to persons who are not yet clients.”

Scott seemed a little unconvinced, but his attention was quickly diverted to the introduction of the Esquire study.

“The Image of a Man. Want a description?” the narrator asked. “Well he's tall and he's short. He wears a crew cut and he's bald, and he combs his hair like a piano player. He's about 34, and he's about 41, and he's about 55. He was a tackle at Minnesota once, and a high jumper at Yale and a second tenor at Tulane.”

It became clear to Scott that the Esquire reader was an adult male and he could be almost anyone anywhere. To make their point, the film makers introduced a typical 1950s reader: Robert Rossiter, Esquire, a young New York sales agent for a factory in Indiana.

Rossiter lived on Long Island in a mortgaged home and earned a salary of about $15,000 per year. His world was one of work and relaxation at home with his wife and two children and his beagle dog. But, Rossiter also liked to window shop on his lunch hour whether he was inspecting the latest in tweed sport coats or a lavish “conspicuous” Lincoln convertible parked on the street. Even the glamorous new Cadillac that drove by caught his eye as he strolled along a sidewalk in Manhattan.

To Scott, Rossiter was about as far from the atomic bomb as one could be. It was impossible for Scott to imagine him in the same country as that portrayed in You Can Beat the A-Bomb . No great fear here, Rossiter was the essential consumer. He had the latest in phonograph equipment, his taste in music ranged between jazz and musical theater. He smoked a pipe, wore Navy blue pajamas, enjoyed a cocktail in the evening, and liked family barbeques in the backyard with his boat docked in a canal a few feet away. Rossiter also liked football games; he played golf; and, as Scott observed later in the film, he drove an expensive Jaguar automobile.

A taped testimony by another Esquire reader, a man who intended to buy a new station wagon for his wife and kids, and a sports car for himself, magnified the materialism central to Rossiter's life. To justify this emphasis on consumption, the narrator quoted a British prime minister from the 19th century: “‘Increased means and increased leisure are the two civilizers of man,' Disraeli told the House of Commons many years ago.” Indeed, Scott deduced, Benjamin Disraeli could have been predicting this composite Esquire reader.

Rossiter was an adventurous sort, too. The narrator praised his desire and willingness to depart from the conventional. “He has a great desire to try out tomorrow's things today,” he declared. The Rossiters of the world were described as hard-headed individualists with “the courage to be themselves,” men who wanted to test new things, new experiences, new ideas.

Using Dr. Dichter's MR methods, Rossiter was quizzed on his perception of various magazines. Scott paid close attention as the narrator explained that in describing modern publications Rossiter choose certain words because he associated those words to his self-image, or he would like to see them in his own personality. Sure enough, Rossiter saw in Esquire such adjectives as masculine, well-dressed, sophisticated, well-rounded, formal, unique, clever, and subtle. And above all, he preferred this magazine because it was a lens through which he saw life and filtered out all that bored him.

As the narrator continued to reveal the world of Rossiter, Scott asked John about the portrait he was seeing. “Isn't Rossiter rather shallow? Is there anything in his life except purchasing things that prevent him from being bored?” he inquired.

“I don't follow what you're saying,” replied John. “I thought all American men would want to be like our Esquire man. Look at him: he is economically well-off; he has a happy home life; he has a boat, a sports car, nice clothes, and an adventurous personality that's matched by his choice in magazines. What could be missing?”

Scott wanted to criticize Rossiter's environment, but he remembered that this was not his purpose today. He was in this film solely to understand the 1950s from another point of view—to see life through another straw, as the Professor put it. And, certainly, this movie offered a perspective that was the opposite of Cold War terror.

Preparing vodka cocktails and brandied pears, window shopping as “rehearsal for purchase,” “anxious to indulge himself,” all such scenes and references buttressed Rossiter's image as an upper middle-class consumer. In fact, Dr. Dichter ended the motion picture by praising Rossiter as “a responsible hedonist” who had “the courage to be self-indulgent”

Scott had so many questions. But when he started to ask Mr. Pinkerton more questions, the film ended and he was back in The History Shoppe.

  “Wow. What a fascinating film,” Scott said. “I was amazed to see so much consumerism in the midst of the Cold War. Rossiter seemed to have everything except a fallout shelter.”

“Try not to be facetious, young man. Remember, your purpose is to assess the past, not to mock it,” the Professor responded.

“My fault,” replied Scott. “But I wasn't mocking the Rossiter film. I was comparing it to the A-bomb movie and the fear it revealed.

“What I draw from experiencing Rossiter's world is that the 1950s was a decade of great contrasts. The atomic bomb and Esquire coexisted, if you will, along with countless other realities. I see now that an historian must inquire widely before reaching defining conclusions.”

The Professor seemed pleased with the increased maturity in Scott's response. “That's correct,” he told the young historian, “but be careful not to discount your original observations about the Cold War and the sense of dread among the American people. Moderate your conclusions a little, but don't abandon them. There was tremendous apprehension inherent in the East-West confrontation. Well into the 1960s millions of Americans believed that thermonuclear warfare was imminent. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, the United States and the Soviet Union came close to unleashing a nuclear world war. And that was in late 1962.

”On the other hand, there was Rossiter. Millions of people were, or aspired to be like him. He was the embodiment of economic achievement in mid-century America. After decades of depravation in the Great Depression and global warfare, the U.S. economy was thriving by the late 1950s. People like Rossiter—white, male, college-educated—were riding the crest of this new prosperity. They had grown up in anxious times, gone without for two generation—but now they had good jobs, money, leisure time, and they took advantage of it.”

Scott understood the lesson he had learned. “Well, I know now that historical research means learning as much as possible about a situation, avoiding the overly-simplified and stereotypical, and understanding that events happen in a world of complexity and broad differences. I guess I could be transported into a hundred films from the 1950s and find something new each time. And that's probably true for any other decade, time period, or event.”

“You're right, but we will not do a hundred movies today, just the two you have already investigated” said Professor Papadopoulos jokingly. “The afternoon is getting short, and you must be on your way. I have places to go also.

“This time, however, I will not send you home to prepare for our next meeting. I think your analytical skills have developed to the point where you can enter a film and discuss it in the same day. So, that's how we will proceed from now on.”

“Wonderful,” Scott answered. “Besides, there's no school next week—we're off for spring break—and my parents are taking my sister and I to the lake for a few days. Plus, I've been spending so much energy preparing for The History Shoppe, I need the extra time to catch up in my other classes.”

The Professor had no problem with Scott's revised schedule. “That's fine,” he said, “we will meet two weeks from today. Go, catch up in your other classes and have a good time at the lake.”

“Thanks. But, out of curiosity,” Scott inquired, “can you tell me what kind of movie I'll be visiting next time?”

The Professor smiled. He was impressed at the young man's attitude. “Well, because I want you to have a refreshing time on your break, I won't tell you too much. You might waste your vacation getting ready for it. Suffice it to say, the next film will be short but stunning. You will remember this one for a long time. I guarantee it.”

As he opened the door and the now-familiar bell sounded, all Scott could say was “Goodbye, Dr. Pop. I can't wait until my next visit.” With that he was out the door and on his way home.

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