Monday, October 26, 2009

A is for Atom

A is for AtomA is for Atom is a 1952 (released in 1953) educational cartoon explaining the wonders and mysteries of atomic power, sponsored by General Electric and directed by Carl Urbano (who later went on to work for Hanna & Barbara).

Like the more well known and widely distributed Our Friend the Atom, a longer, part live action, part animated, 1957 film from Disney, this was basically an indoctrination for school children as to why atomic power was a Good Idea. As part of an overall campaign to promote acceptance of that idea, they were quite successful.

Both films, Disney’s explicitly, this film implicitly, treat atomic power as an obedient genie, ready to grant our wishes for nuclear powered cruise ships and airplanes, saving lives with isotope based medicine, and, of course, providing the clean, efficient and oh-so-advanced Energy of the Future to power our cities.

In the course of their ad for atomic power, the two films actually manage to teach some basic principles of atomic physics.

A is for Atom in particular is charming and efficient in this. I especially like portrayal of “Element Town” (about 5 minutes in) and the wonderful building representing “Science”.

Though A is for Atom opens with a (somewhat mild) representation of a mushroom cloud; as you might expect, it conveniently dismisses with a few nods to “shadow of the atom bomb” and “men of good will” the fact that hundreds of thousands had died in the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki only 7 years earlier. (For a sobering counterpoint, see my post on Barefoot Gen.)

This was the dawn of the “Atomic Age”, a time of postwar prosperity with the promise of atomic power balanced against the cold war insanity in which school children were drilled to cower under their desks or line up in the halls with their hands over their heads, and enterprising, forward-thinking families were building backyard bomb shelters. (Ah! The shining promise of the future!)

Films like A is for Atom illustrate again the power that cartoons and animation have to explain and educate (and influence), with the strong appeal of moving drawings.

I’m convinced there was more before the beginning scene, which seems abrupt and more like the end of a sentence than an opening statement, but I haven’t found anything to indicate that is the case.

[Link via BoingBoing]

 

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