Formative TV Experience No. 9: The Day After the Day After
Maybe I'm still a little shook up from our long national silver-balloon nightmare yesterday, but I got PTSD-ish flashbacks re-watching this excerpt from The Day After, the Very Scary and Important Television Event of 1983.
For those of you who weren't around to be excessively vulnerable to television in 1983, the seventies and eighties were an era of traumatically educational television events, many extended throughout multiple nights: Holocaust, Roots, Shogun. Here's a column I wrote on the subject a few years back, explaining my Amelia Bedilia-ish linguistic misunderstanding of the time: "As a teenager, I didn't even realize that 'mini' was a prefix: I simply jumped to the conclusion that a miniseries (rhymed with rotisseries) was a literary genre in itself — a sprawling, quasi-educational epic studded with torture and interracial romance."
The Day After ran for one night, but as far as I was concerned, it might as well have been on television every night of my junior year in high school, since concerned adults kept raising the show again and again, attempting to solicit earnest conversations about nuclear war. (It was a little like those cockeyed, horrifying encounter groups about suicide in Heathers: "Whether to kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make!")
The network was clearly worried about me, too: The night it aired, ABC had 1-800 hotlines with counselors on hand for their freaked-out viewers. Afterward, they hosted a debate between Carl Sagan and William F. Buckley Jr., with Sagan comparing the arms race to "two sworn enemies standing waist-deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five."
I'm not saying it wasn't educational! But as a result I had a series of very weird dreams, including one in which an imminent bomb blast in New Jersey somehow created the opportunity for everyone to switch bodies before they died. Due to my insane craving for pin-straight hair, I swapped with a Japanese girl; by the time I decided to switch back, she had turned her soul into a painting. The fact that I still remember this dream a mere 25 years later I blame entirely and litigiously on ABC Motion Picture Division president Brandon Stoddard.