Web Project 2 - Cultural Anxiety and the Atom Bomb


When the author William Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950, he echoed a gnawing fear felt by most Americans: "Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?" Along with the pride in scientific achievement, we all had to live with the possibility that our world had irrevocably changed and that we might all be annihilated.


  1. Find out more about how these fears became part of popular culture.
  2. Then, create a web page, with an original title, in which you briefly illustrate and describe at least one example from four (4) of the categories listed below.
  3. Now, assume that you are a teenager in Middletown, U. S. A., in the 1950s and that these images and ideas are a part of your life.
  4. Describe for your viewer a day from your ‘50s life in which all of your examples appear.

    Feel free to be creative here!

(you must choose 1 example from 4 of these categories)

1. Music - Who could forget hits like "50 megatons" or "Old Man Atom"?

2. Movies - We worked out our anxieties by screaming at the monstrous results of atomic testing gone wrong:

  • The Giant Gila Monster (1959)
    A west Texas teenager who wants to be like Elvis fends off mutant desert reptile with the help of his friends.
  • Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957)
    Researchers on a remote island disappear at the claws of mutant crustaceans.
  • Them (1954)
    my personal favorite – giant atomic mutated ants. The picture closes with the apocalyptic lines: "We haven’t seen the end of Them . . . . We’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us."
  • Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)
    You get the picture . . . .
  • The Thing (1951)
  • The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
  • The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
  • The Creature with the Atom Brain (1956)
  • The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
  • The Fly (1958)
  • The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman (1958)

Or we transferred our Cold War fears of invasion from Communists to aliens:

  • It Came from Outer Space (1953)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

You can find plot summaries & posters on the web for all of these.

3. Civil defense drills, fallout (bomb) shelters, and the Emergency Broadcast System - We had to be prepared for the mushroom cloud.

4. Toys and comics – Maybe if we played with it, we could somehow control it.

5. Art or literature – Artists and writers confronted the anxiety of the decade.

6. Your choice – Find another example of atomic influence in popular culture.


Here are some websites to start you off:

Many people hailed rather than feared the atom and thought it would take us to new heights:

Are you interested in art? New York became the center of the art world in the 1950s as a young group of artists known as abstract expressionists grappled with the post-war reality of man’s vulnerability and irrationality:

From The Authentic History Center:


  • Original title for your page
  • 400 – 500 words of text
  • In-text parenthetical citations for all material either paraphrased or directly quoted
  • Acknowledgement of sources for both text and images at the bottom of your page in MLA format


  • At least 4 images
  • Page name that reflects your project
  • Link from your menu page to the project and from the project back to the menu page
  • Link to an at least one external website, opening in a new window, that gives your viewer additional information
  • Alt tags for images
  • At least 1 thumbnail of an image
Project due: March 26


“Civil Defense poster.” Online Image. Civil Defense Museum. 9 February 2004. <http://www.civildefensemuseum.com/artgal/artgallery.html>.

Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom. Online Image. Authentic History. 9 February 2004. <http://www.authentichistory.com/images/1950s/atomic_comics/atomiccomics01.html>.


University of Houston State of Texas Privacy and Policies Homeland Security Compact with Texans Reporting Copyright Infringement Contact U H Feedback Site Map Statewide Search U H System