Remembering the day (and The Day After)

Remembering the day (and The Day After)

I'm sometimes taken aback when talking with people who don't recognize cultural touchstones which might be "before their time." Maybe growing up when I did informed my pop culture database through the viewing of incessant reruns of TV shows of all eras, making me understand the references Lucy and Desi would make as readily as I understood who IG-88 and Bossk were.

It doesn't happen as readily, anymore.

With widespread access to so much new content, there's seemingly less need to rerun Bewitched, Dick Van Dyke or Laugh-In a thousand times. Thus, sadly, fewer and fewer people get Nixon jokes and precious few will have any idea how funny my Fearless Fosdick impression might be. I'm willing to bet most of Robin Williams' ad libbed referential humor* in Aladdin goes right over modern viewers' heads. They just think he's doing funny voices.

That's all forgivable; things move on. I'm sure ancient Egyptians included a lot of topical pop culture gags in their hieroglyphs that is totally lost on us. That's expected when it comes to things like comedy, but there's a stunning lack of awareness of even recent history in today's kids.

You'd be astounded how many people not yet born or too young to remember at the time have forgotten that 31 years ago this month, in November 1983, the United States was all but destroyed by nuclear salvos from the Soviet Union.

Many of us remember it like it was yesterday, but if you've forgotten, I highly recommend finding a copy of The Day After, which tells the story of what happened to Kansans during World War III. Looking around now, you'd be hard pressed to believe that just 31 years ago this was all reduced to a radioactive wasteland by atomic fireballs from the sky.

Driving home from Kansas City, I can't help but remember what it looked like on that fateful day as Jason Robards was trying to get back to his wife in Brookside when the first bomb burst a mile above the city, immobilizing his car and everything else with any electrical system via a powerful electromagnetic pulse.

Those of you not around at the time can't imagine the terror of watching loved ones turned into orange and black skeletons an instant before being vaporized in a flash of unimaginable, searing power. It's a shame, because I know my generation is stronger for having lived through the day, and The Day After, and the days after that. (Not The Day After Tomorrow, however, because that horrible film is worse than atomic annihilation.)

John Cullum's family may have abandoned their farm to seek medical help for their son, flash-blinded from looking directly at a nuclear explosion (rookie mistake!) and his daughter who ignored all the things we used to be taught in school and got radiation poisoning from fallout after leaving the shelter too soon, but many Kansas farmers stayed underground long enough to weather the nuclear winter. Looking around at the fields of almost entirely non-radioactive crops** today, you'd never guess they were uniformly incinerated by the closest thing to hellfire just a few short months after the release of Return of the Jedi.

Why when I watch The Day After today, I am stunned at the lack of optimism shown by director Nicholas Meyer. After viewing that film, one would never imagine cities like Wichita would so fully recover*** and even prosper — no longer a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but a post-post-apocalyptic wonderland. While stories of the years between 1983 and today tell harrowing tales of what life was like while society was being rebuilt****, kids today can't seem to remember a time before Pokemon, a time when crazed bands of outlaws roamed the scarred landscape searching for gas, food and whatever other loot they could plunder.

For more evidence that today's youth have lost perspective, look at the educational game series Fallout. It is played in many schools today much in the same way we used to play Oregon Trail — strictly as amusement and without much regard to the fact these were real events that happened to real people.

So as you head to The Donut Whole today, on Nov. 20, to celebrate Fallout Day, enjoy their popular Day After themed donuts*****, take a moment while you're enjoying just how delicious they are to give thanks for the fact that they are not contaminated with nuclear fallout. In fact, there is almost no danger of dying from radiation poisoning and the chances of another nuclear exchange with a Russian government are, for the moment, statistically less than they were in 1983.

*arr arr

**Depending on their proximity to Koch Industries.

***Aircraft industry notwithstanding.

****See The Road, The Road Warrior, Road To Morocco

*****These don't exist — or do they? Also, enough with the footnotes already.