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Radiation as Cultural Talisman: Nuclear Weapons Testing and American Popular Culture in the Early Cold War via Japan Focus

Robert Jacobs
Introduction
On what appeared to be a normal day off the Pacific coast of California, Scott Thomas was relaxing on his boat and enjoying a peaceful day of leisure. His wife had just gone below to grab two beers when he noticed a strange fog approaching. He stood up, and for a moment, the fog enveloped him. The cloud passed, and when his wife returned, she saw that Scott seemed to be covered with glitter. The couple thought nothing of this until the impossible began to happen: Thomas began to shrink; he had been transformed into The Incredible Shrinking Man.1

Released in 1957 as public concern over radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests was rising, The Incredible Shrinking Man uses the device of a radioactive cloud from a nuclear weapons test as a plot twist to miniaturize an actor to the point where he has to fight with cats and spiders. He shrinks out of his job, out of his marriage, out of his life. His exposure to radiation has a devolutionary impact on him; he fights progressively smaller and smaller adversaries, until finally he becomes microbial. At no point do we see any form of destruction or horror; the only monster is the silent cloud of fallout. After Thomas innocently notices it in the opening scene of the movie, it slowly and inexorably dehumanizes and erases him.
The monster postulated in this movie was a real monster; its clouds blew across the United States even as the movie was in theaters. Moviegoers could consider the notion that the fog in the air when they left the showing of The Incredible Shrinking Man might just be that real, live monster.

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