Feb 7 2012
When atomic testing in Nevada began on January 27, 1951, the bomb was at once romanticized and naturalized, painted fantastic, funky, and even friendly. It was art deco in the desert. Jackrabbit chiaroscuro. I was proof of the success of the enlightenment project, the truth of evolution, and the superiority of America’s technology.
As testing became more routine, cavalier reporters described the weapon as if it were a new toy, showing off a kind of atomic connoisseurship. Atomic clouds that varied from the mushroom norm were assigned metaphorical shapes. The atomic cloud from test Easy (February 2, 1951) fluffed into a giant bow; another cloud assumed the shape of a dumbbell, and Fox’s mushroom (February 6, 1951) became a “great fist” with four knuckles showing clearly.
One mushroom cloud was described as looking like the “head of Donald Duck, soon dissolving into Dame Democracy, and then becoming the head of an angry man—like a slideshow parody of changing public reactions to the bomb itself.
Following a 1952 atomic test, a broadcaster “barking like a coxswain into his microphone fastened on to the word mushroom and couldn’t seem to let go…. ‘That’s no mushroom,’ yelled a spectator; ‘that’s a Portuguese man-of-war…. Look at those ice tentacles coming down from the cloud.’”
(Find more on this topic in Bombast: Spinning Atoms in the Desert by Michon Mackedon