Few films, let alone ones running under ten minutes, have been as frequently referenced, reproduced and satirized as Duck and Cover, yet it is never regarded seriously. Conelrad gives this key piece of cinematic history the treatment it deserves:
We have spent the last two years thoroughly researching DUCK AND COVER’s production history as well as its initial public reception in 1952. Interviews were conducted with living participants involved in the making of the film as well as surviving family members of those key players who had passed away.
Just how did the term “Duck and Cover” become universal shorthand for the paranoid excesses of the Cold War and for every geo-political panic attack since? The film is, after all, the Citizen Kane of American civil defense motion pictures. Clips from this movie are used almost every time a news piece is produced on the 1950’s or the Cold War. It struck us as odd that so little was known about the origins of a work that has had such a reverberating impact on the culture.
In many ways DUCK AND COVER is the perfect synthesis of the competing themes of the 1950’s: Fear and prosperity. In the context of the Cold War’s epic struggle between communism and capitalism, it seems oddly appropriate that the American government turned to private industry to help sell survival to an anxious population.
The FCDA was never afforded a large budget to pursue its education mandate so it used whatever avenues it could to cheaply maximize the distribution of the civil defense message. Two of these avenues were the public school system and the educational film market. Public school administrators were cooperative, even eager, to embody President Truman’s slogan “Education is our first line of defense.” Toward that end and beginning in 1950, public (and many private) schools—particularly in obvious target cities—began regular air raid drills sometimes known as “cover” or “sneak attack” drills. In such exercises the teacher would, without warning, yell “Drop!” and the students would kneel next to or under their desks with their hands clutched around the back of their necks.
nother step many school districts took during this period was to provide identification tags (i.e. dog tags) to school children to wear so that in the event of an attack their bodies could be identified more easily. Dog tags were the preferred method of identifying pupils because the other ID options that were considered like tattooing had negative connotations or, in the case of fingerprinting, elicited privacy concerns. Moreover, metal tags were thought to be the smarter alternative because metal was decidedly more “permanent” than human flesh. With such bizarre debates and practices shaping the childhood memories of the baby boomer generation is it any wonder there was a counter culture in the 1960’s?
Read the rest at Conelrad.