In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a whole lot of people were more or less resigned to the eventual inevitable newscast alerting citizens to an irreversible catastrophe involving a nuclear power plant. The Three Mile Island accident happened in central Pennsylvania in 1979, the same year that The China Syndrome hit #1 at the U.S. box office for four weeks in a row. The word of the moment was “meltdown,” which has since morphed into a signifier for an emotional breakdown—it’s interesting to ponder the scary origins of that term. The disaster did end up happening, but nobody suspected that the location might instead be a place like Chernobyl, a town in northern Ukraine, then a part of the USSR.
I grew up a few miles from the Indian Point power plant in Westchester County, NY. I vividly remember the helpful and entirely futile document distributed to local residents as to what to do in the event of an emergency. A glance at a map is sufficient to drive home the idea that if something catastrophic were to happen to Indian Point, there wasn’t going to be any realistic way to deal with the roughly 25 million people living in places like New York City, Long Island, western Connecticut, and northern New Jersey.
When you’re confronted with irrational risks and meaningless solutions, the mind turns to satire. The package of lethal radiation pictured above was “canned on location at T.M.I.”—actually, the empty canister was produced by Brenster Enterprises of Etters, Pennsylvania, a town that’s located right where Three Mile Island is. If anyone can make fun of Three Mile Island, it’s got to be the people living right there, huh?
Here’s a list of suggested uses for the product:
Remove label and tell your enemy its laughing gas.
Energy free night light (illuminates in darkness).
Mix with cold cream for that radiant beauty.
Instant male sterilization (sniff twice daily).
Use as a room air freshener.
Toothpaste recipe: mix 3 to 1 ratio with basking soda, for ever glowing smile.
At the Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) website, you can see a few other amusing artifacts from the nuclear age. My favorite is the “Frisky Whiskey,” an empty bottle that had a motor of some kind that would cause it “to shake violently when it is picked up,” explaining the label’s claim that “you will note its 150 proof strength from the moment you pour.” According to the label, every bottle is “tested by Geiger counter.”
The godfather of nuclear-era black humor surely has to be Tom Lehrer, whose “Who’s Next?” artfully called attention to the inevitable consequences of nuclear proliferation.
via Messy Nessy Chic
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Relive the heady era of ‘Uranium rock’ with Doris Day’s ode to the Geiger counter and more!