Web Project 2 - Cultural Anxiety and the Atom Bomb


The author E. B. White articulated an underlying fear felt by 1950s Americans in the following passage from his 1949 essay “Here is New York”:

“ The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

Along with the pride of scientific achievement in harnessing the power of the atom came the knowledge 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 five (5) 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 5 images
  • Page name that reflects your project
  • At least 2 pages with navigation between pages
  • 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
  • Link to an audio or video clip
  • Alt tags for images
  • At least 1 thumbnail of an image
Project due: March 9


“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>.


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