The transition to the photograph of a school desk is an image that evokes in generations of Americans, through Generation Xers (to whom I belong), memories of those farcical exercises in which we prepared for inevitable nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviets by stuffing ourselves under our desks.
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed over a month and reports surfaced that the Russian nuclear forces put on high alertthe culture of the late cold war made rocking return. Think of it like a Cultural Cold War 2.0 in which Russia will replace the former Soviet Union.
“Red Dawn” a 1984 Patrick Swayze/Charlie Sheen/Jennifer Gray film about a group of small-town Colorado high school students who fight off a Soviet invasion with a few hunting rifles and resourcefulness, saw surge in popularity on streaming services after the Russian invasion. Also experiencing a boom after the invasion of the 1985s. “Rocky IV” from the Sylvester Stallone boxing franchise in which the all-Italian-American hero fends off machine-like Soviet aggressor Ivan Drago, played by Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren in mean mode.
References to these films There are also materialized on TikTok after the invasion. “Don’t worry guys. Generation X has been ready for this ever since we were kids.” there is one post in honor of “Red Dawn” followed by the obligatory “Wolverine!” in capital letters, a reference to the high school mascot, which also serves as a battle cry for these high school guerrillas who not only fight off the Soviets, but their beefy Nicaraguan allies. (“Red Dawn” peak The Reagan era is absurd.)
There are also references to 1983 TV movie The Next Day. in which Jason Robards played a kind doctor in Lawrence, Kansas who struggles with the devastation caused by a Soviet nuclear attack. The film, when it first aired on ABC, was a cultural event, drawing an unimaginably huge audience of 100 million (at a time when the US population was about 236 million) and terrorizing an entire generation of viewers with its scenes of pathetic devastation. When I was in junior high, we took a whole period outside social studies classes to have a serious discussion about this.
A few days after the invasion of Ukraine, TikTok user @Vampslayin published an old news report on the film’s social impact: “Who remembers watching this as a kid?”
“Yes,” @chefmichelleagnew replies. “It was and still is intimidating.”
“I was going to show some video,” says @diva_Di25 movie in a post about the movie, “but then I realized when I watched the video again, it sort of re-traumatized me because I felt like I was back on the day I first saw this movie.”
“The Day After” really deprived me of sleep. As NPR’s Neda Ulabi, who grew up in Lawrence and was on set, noted, reportage for the 20th anniversary of the filmThe Day After landed amid intense Cold War militancy and anti-Soviet paranoia. The year it was released, President Ronald Reagan branded the Soviet Union. “evil eempire,” and Tips shot down a Korean commercial airliner who accidentally entered their airspace.
The radio plays songs like “99 balloons” German synthpop band Nena envisioned a devastating war caused by the innocent launch of several helium balloons into the air. The song appears as the soundtrack to another bullshit on tiktok which features a school desk with the caption: “Today I bought a Gen-X bomb shelter.”
In hindsight, The Day After is hockey. Before moving on to the main event, the film pummels audiences with an hour of heartbreaking backstory. When the nuclear weapons finally arrive, the devastating effects of the bombs on people are depicted with the outlines of their skeletons, as if they were cartoons.
If you want to experience the horror of the late cold war, I recommend “Flows,” British film about nuclear annihilation that aired on the BBC in 1984. Combining elements of fake documentary and fiction, the film follows the lives (and grim deaths) of several people who inhabited the English city of Sheffield in the days, months and years after the explosion. nuclear attack. Clearly filmed – at times still images juxtaposed with clinical performance by unseen speakers – it evokes elements of French director Chris Marker’s stylish and disruptive film. “La Jete”.
As with other cultures of the late Cold War, “Streams” also appeared on TikTok.
These cultural artifacts, along with the Ukrainian war itself, are now the grain of the meme mill, often presented on the Internet through the lens of Generation X, the generation born between 1965 and 1980. Video posted on TikTok on @Kristanistan explains the differences in leadership styles between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky with generational differences.
Putin (born 1952) is a boomer: “He’s an authoritarian gaslighter with zero economic policy,” the narration says. “He’s outdated.”
Footage of Zelensky (born 1978) in his trademark olive attire urging the citizens of Ukraine to take up arms against the invasion. “Then you’ve got this cool Gen Xer,” the narrator continues, “who’s sick of this boomer shit.”
“Perhaps this is a request,” the video concludes, “to the old leadership to hand over the reins to the new.”
Many social media posts describe Gen Xers as being somehow perfect for the Cold War 2.0 era. Now, at an uncomfortable age (I’m 50), we’ve gone through bomb-clearing drills, watched disturbing movies, and participated in events like “Miracle on Ice” take up space in our brains. (This was the time, in 1980, when the US hockey team unexpectedly beat the Soviets 4-3 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.)
What separates us from the American baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) who also survived the Cold War is that we were too young as a generation to be politically involved. (I was 18 when the Berlin Wall fell.) Instead, at least in the US, most of our memory consists of helplessly watching from the sidelines, in the hope that a delusional hawk with access to a button will not be death for all of us. .
“That’s why Gen X is taking it easy,” the caption to the post reads. TikTok user @ shelc21 when she listens to Alphaville’s “Forever Young”, another popular German synth-pop tune about the anxieties of life in a nuclear world. Sample text: “Hoping for the best but expecting the worst / Are you going to drop the bomb or not?”
It was the song I slow danced to in middle school.
In one recent TikTok video, a millennial goes crazy about the invasion: “I’m so damn tired of reliving important historical events!” he is outraged. Meanwhile, in a reaction post, a Generation X member who goes for the handle @thatcrazyaunt watches him, bewildered, as she grabs a glass of orange juice. The inscription materializes under it: “Do not start a cowshed. This is the behavior with which those historical events begin.
AT tweet published at the end of February (which has since spread to TikTok), comedian Jay Black gave the following advice to millennials and zoomers experiencing “the first panic attack in connection with World War III.” As he writes, “Find yourself a Gen X friend to help you get through this.”
The idea that Gen Xers are mine scrutinized ruthlessly slacker generation, come into their own against the backdrop of Cold War 2.0, are morbidly funny. So is the idea that a bunch of old people who have watched Afternoon on TV are somehow ready to meet this moment – psychologically or otherwise. (After all, the birth of Generation X largely coincides with the transformation of the military into an all-volunteer force in the US. in 1973so I can’t say how well most of my generation would have handled a real war.)
Generational divisions always easy at best. (Syrian dictator Bashar Assad(after all, someone born in 1965 is technically Gen X.) But collectively, the wave of social media posts marks a moment when history and culture are circling on their own in the familiar darkness of bloody proxy wars and harrowing uncertainty. And as we know from the last time, hiding under our desks – well, this will not save us from anything.