Small apocalypse: Nuclear war representations and rhetoric in made-for-television films

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Loghry, Christopher A.
Parcell, Lisa

Nuclear war is a topic that has captured imaginations since the dropping of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The anxiety born out of these acts of nuclear violence has made its way to both television and film in the intervening years. This anxiety was expressed in many films, including made-for-television films; however there is a distinctive lack of analysis of nuclear issues and nuclear war representations and rhetoric in these made-for-television films. It is the gap in scholarship on made-for-television films that prompts this study. This study investigates nuclear war centric made-for-television films by arguing that the representations and rhetoric of such films can explain the political motivation for the development and deployment of the films. Furthermore, this study argues that the particular contexts in which these films are deployed are as important as their particular representational or rhetorical moves. Five made-for-television films (Special Bulletin (1983), The Day After (1983), Threads (1984), Countdown to Looking Glass (1984), and By Dawn's Early Light (1990) were examined to establish timelines of nuclear war representations to uncover recurring themes or tropes of representations in these works. This study draws heavily from the master themes established by Kinsella: mystery, entelechy, potency, and secrecy to provide a typology of representations found in the various films. The analysis shows that overwhelmingly these films deal with secrecy and entelechy, which illustrates the inaccessible nature of nuclear knowledge as well as a focus on perfection and fruition of physical and rhetorical notions of nuclear weapons.

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Thesis (M.A.)--Wichita State University, Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The Elliott School of Communication