My daughter Rebecca had the terrific idea for this post. We were watching the movie “Grease 2″ together this past weekend, and there was a scene involving a bomb shelter. Rebecca suggested I should mention it on my blog. It turns out that both this sequel to “Grease” from 1982, and the popular 1970’s tv sitcom, “Happy Days” are instructive in building citizen preparedness now.
In the “Grease 2,” which is set in the early 60’s, one of the characters, Rydell High student Louis DiMucci takes his girlfriend Sharon into a fallout shelter for a date and sings the song “Let’s Do It For Our Country” (video below).
“Let’s Do It For Our Country” video from “Grease 2″.
The scene is a bit goofy (like the rest of the movie), and the song’s double entendre title “Let’s Do It For The Country!” and lyrics are a bit suggestive for a family audience. But for the purposes of this blog, it actually makes a couple of revealing points about the difference in how the nation viewed preparedness in 50 years ago, and how we do now.
In the run up to the scene as he tries to coax Sharon into the shelter (though it is not in the video), Louis cites President John F. Kennedy’s plea that Americans prepare for a possible nuclear attack. Now, the efficacy of bomb shelters and ‘duck and cover’ to deal with Russian missiles may not have been the a viable public preparedness strategy. However, the focus and mobilization on preparedness starting at the top clearly get through to the public (even if the recommendations were flawed). if high school student Louis DiMucci knew that President Kennedy had asked the country to take the subject seriously. The song that Louis sings in the video “Let’s Do It For The Country!” is mischievous but does indicate the preparedness was viewed in 1961 as patriotic, which is not how it is viewed in 2010.
After we finished the movie, my wife suggested that the 70’s sitcom “Happy Days,” also had an episode in which the Cunningham family considered building a fallout shelter. Checking YouTube I watched “Be The First On Your Block,” which turned out to be quite interesting. As you can see below, the decision process portrayed on the show mirrored the deliberations of many Cold War-era Americans. There was a serious consideration of preparedness even if no steps were eventually taken.
“Be The First On Your Block” fallout shelter episode video from “Happy Days” (part 1)
The Cunninghams held a family meeting about the shelter in which the dad said his aim was not “to scare anyone but to try to protect the family” and it was “important” enough to talk about in front of their teenage children. The initial decision to go ahead (like “Grease 2″ it also involved a shelter’s value for teenage dating) soon did not seem as smart when the kids were beseeched by all their friends for a place and that “surviving” a nuclear attack alone wasn’t such an appealing prospect even if it worked.
This type of family debate (and even a family drill) on preparedness was common in the “Happy Days” era, but these days it’s rare that families talk about the subject. (And, ironically, there are more things that a family can do to protect themselves from disasters, including attacks, these days than they could then.) Particularly for those who didn’t live through the Cold War, it’s worth taking a look at these two shows to see the huge difference in how we as a society approach preparedness.