Screens and Life 2

In 1960, Life magazine featured a “spare room” converted to family fallout shelter that was designed, at the request of the American government, by the American Institute of Decorators, and presented in a cutaway model to onlookers who gaze through the cinderblock wall into a room intended to house an American family of five in the event of nuclear war. The shelter is filled with objects intended to reassure onlookers of normality and stability, for instance a child’s rag doll and a coffee pot, and the exercise bicycle that suggests mobility, fitness, and even youthful insouciance. The global wall map indicates that the world outside is geographically intact and retains its political divisions, and the animals on the wallpaper (buffalo, horses) tell the public that the flora and fauna are growing and grazing in the world beyond the cinderblocks of their bunker . . .

And the television?—“battery-powered” says the caption, and in the Life photograph the eye moves to locate the television as the central focus of the room.

From Cecelia Ticchi, Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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