Nihilism Essay

This essay has a total of 3167 words and 12 pages.


6. Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine that life is meaningless and that there is no
deep order or purpose to the universe. What are the nihilistic elements of the film? Are
there any contrary elements of the film that undermine a general nihilistic theme? What,
if any, are the political implications of the film's treatment of nihilism?

The film "The Atomic Cafe" brilliantly portrays the habitual life in U.S. society during
the Cold War. The Cold War was a period of tension between the United States and the
Soviet Union, the two main superpowers at the time. During the war both parties developed
nuclear weapons and therefore assured each other mutual destruction. This constant threat
led the American society to become extremely paranoid and chaotic at times. Nihilism is
the "general rejection of customary beliefs in morality, religion etc." It is also "the
philosophical doctrine that life is meaningless and there is no deep order or purpose to
the universe." The film contains many nihilistic elements that allow the viewer to imagine
the sociological problems and the political complications at the time while still
depicting some noon-nihilistic issues present in society to and the negative effects of
this philosophy on the political spectrum.

"The Atomic Cafe" is a type of documentary that depicts the social situation of the United
States during the Cold War. It shows the general attitude of the average American citizen
toward the war and the effect of the political conflict on ordinary life. It is definitely
an anti-war war movie since it shows the negative side of the consequence of nuclear
warfare on the general public and therefore convinces the viewer that nuclear war is
ridiculous. The film shows various aspects of the negative results the Cold War had on

"The Atomic Cafe" manages to illustrate the horrors of the Cold War and how afraid the
American people were due to the threat of nuclear destruction leading to the nihilistic
belief that life is meaningless and a general lack of moral values amongst the population.
People knew and feared that there could be a nuclear explosion at any time causing them to
constantly think about the dreadfulness of this event. In the film, a man and a woman were
talking about the terrible injuries of nuclear explosions. They commented that it was "an
awful gas that deforms you, it doesn't just kill you straight out, that's what's scary
about it." Another example of the atrociousness of nuclear tests is when the direction of
the airflow was not as the scientist predicted it would be; therefore the nuclear debris
was drifting toward St. George. The town had to be under emergency regulations for a long
period of nerve-wrecking time; the children had to have their outdoor recess cancelled and
there was a profound anxiousness all through the town. This shows the immense change that
the nuclear threats brought about on everyday life. After the American soldiers in the
film had finished an atomic test, they got issued film badges that informed them if they
were going to die depending on the amount of radiation they received. Soldiers' lives were
constantly threatened by the worse death imaginable causing them and their families to
worry relentlessly. The scary part was not only dying, but the way the commanders treated
their death with such casualty that makes the viewer reject the idea of war during the
film. That particular scene was an example of nihilism because it showed how invaluable a
human life during the Cold War.

The American people lived under constant fear during the Cold War, causing them to loose
focus on the values and philosophies they had previously believed in since all of their
time was wasted fretting over the possibility of their lives being shattered by nuclear
destruction. There was no longer time or effort for rest, relaxation, religion,
soul-searching and other activities that elevate one's spiritual level. Instead, people
watched the news apprehensively; parents sat around worrying about their children while
they were at school and those same kids were being taught to duck and cover and to be
afraid. The search for tranquility and peace was not a common goal since people did not
really have the time to think about these things with the threat of nuclear destruction
lingering around in the air they breathed. The film showed how all of these factors
decreased the level of morality in humanity during the Cold War and therefore depicted the
nihilistic elements of the war. Politicians seriously considered using Nuclear weapons of
mass destruction to annihilate the entire world, and society did not object, even as
preposterous of an idea it seems to be. Because of this reason, life lost its value during
this period of time. The destruction of the world as solely a political conflict, and had
nothing to do with the moral dilemma of wiping out all of humanity.

Society was chaotic, homes were cracked with fear and people were just waiting to hear the
atomic explosion. A society without morals, and that does not value the meaning of life
may be considered nihilistic. Even though the Cold War did not involve any actual fighting
in America, it brought about a lot of instability and anxiousness, issues that were
clearly exemplified in the movie.

"The Atomic Cafe" illustrated the excessive paranoia that was experienced by American
society during the Cold War leading to the creation of a nihilistic society because people
and the politicians who represented them lost their moral grounds and believed existence
had no purpose. In the film, parents were very worried about their children while they
were at school because they would be apart if a nuclear explosion were to occur and would
not know if their child survived or not. Every school had nuclear bomb drills where
children had to quickly hide under their desks to protect themselves in case of an
explosion. In the film the kids were shown a video or "Burt the Turtle" telling them what
to do if a nuclear explosion were to occur. The friendly turtle told them by singing a
catchy tune to "Duck and Cover" since an explosion could occur at anytime in any place.
The short cartoon did not make a nuclear attack seem scary, it just showed it as something
that could happen and any given time and showed the best way to protect themselves. This
cartoon in a way mocks the seriousness of a nuclear injury making the viewer question the
integrity of the society at the time. The constant insecurity felt by the people quickly
led to brutal paranoia that later became part of everyday life. The fact that a whole
population could be blown up and exterminated at any particular moment because of a
decision made by a single politician became a common preoccupation. The leaders of
countries stopped caring about the value of life and the meaning of safety and tranquility
because of their own personal insecurities and profound paranoia that was growing
exponentially on both sides. If politicians actually considered destroying the entire
world, they obviously thought that an individual life had no purpose or significant
relevance to the universe. The film can be considered existentialist since it shows the
rejection of the importance of life since people believed that ultimately nuclear
destruction was inevitable. This is the reason why the film is nihilistic due to its
belief that there was a deterioration of the common moral beliefs and the value of life.

Before nuclear weapons were developed, life was very different. For one thing, world
destruction had never been a possibility, much less a strategy of warfare. Second, the
average person didn't live in fear because humanity as a whole had never been threatened
before, only small troops or maybe independent countries had, but never before had all of
the continents been threatened at the same time. The Cold War managed to broaden the scope
of warfare, intimidating every last person on Earth. The ongoing paranoia of all American
citizens fearing nuclear destruction as portrayed in "The Atomic Cafe" changed the values
and morals of the society they lived in depicting a nihilistic society.

During the Cold War atomic warfare was not treated with the appropriate seriousness it
deserved causing there to be a loss of morality and a change in the value system. In the
film, the chaplain was talking to his soldiers and said that the actual explosion was "a
beautiful sight to behold!" What kind of moral grounds does a religious man have to say
that a deadly chemical reaction should be considered a beautiful image? Obviously, there
has been an obliteration of the ethical scheme that was previously accepted by society if
a Chaplain idealizes atomic explosions. Another example of the misinterpretation of the
gravity of nuclear bombs is when soldiers are told that radiation is not really that
important because it cannot be seen or smelled. This scene showed the ignorance of the
military commanders because radiation was indeed a very important factor and as
professionals should not be throwing soldiers into a land contaminated with nuclear
pollution. These people did not care much about the lives and well being of their
soldiers, depicting the problem of the loss of the value of life. Additionally, there was
one scene in the movie where a family is asked to go underground because there was a
nuclear threat. The family was hiding in the nuclear fallout shelter in the basement of
their house and the father says, "We've been lucky! Nothing to do now but clean up and
wait for the authorities to tell us what to do and relax." Yes, the family didn't die from
an explosion, but are they lucky to have to hide and worry about whether their city will
have been destroyed and be careful not to absorb any radiation? The problem was that
individual life was not cherished anymore. It was about the population as a whole that
mattered, which was a radical change in beliefs and values from previous times making it
more of a nihilistic society that it had ever been before. Even the average citizen gave
up their emotional freedom to a cause that was so foreign such as a rivalry with the
Soviet Union so easily; no questions asked. This showed the shift in the personal goals
and values that seemed to be important to people during the Cold War.
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