Images from the Cold War are endlessly fascinating, especially the 1950s kitschy variety. When I stumbled across this article by Fraser MacDonald, “Space and the Atom: On the Popular Politics of Cold War Rocketry” in the December issue of Geopolitics, Inner Geek took over.
Here’s the abstract:
This paper considers the imbricated domains of space exploration and Cold War geopolitics by following the trajectory of the ‘Corporal’, the world’s first guided missile authorised to carry a nuclear warhead. It examines the popular geopolitics of rocketry as both a technology of mass destruction and as a vehicle for the transcendent dreams of extra-terrestrial discovery. Avoiding both technical and statist accounts, the paper shows how these technologies of Cold War strategic advantage were activated and sustained through popular media and everyday experience. Particular attention is given to such mundane activities as children’s play, citing the example of die-cast miniature toys of the Corporal. Through such apparently modest means, nuclear weapons were made intelligible in, and transposable to, a domestic context. The paper is also situated within a wider emerging literature on geographies and geopolitics of outer space.
The article reads well, too. As MacDonald puts it in his introduction, “this is an essay about, among other things, heavenly visions and hellish anxieties.” Writing an “historical geography of the outer earth”, he suggests, interestingly, that “a geography of outer space is a logical extension of earlier geographies of imperial expansion.”
MacDonald is obviously in need of additional socialization before he can be properly called an academic: “It has never been clear why the perennially stupid question what do you want to be when you grow up? [original italics] often anticipates an answer like ‘austronaut’.” Hmmm. Anyway, since I myself am a child more interested in neat pictures than reading serious academic work, here’s the last one from the article, the point of which was the way rocketry was popularized to the point, literally, of child’s play. Say hello to Dinky Supertoys No. 666 (seriously, look at the details in the picture), a.k.a. the Corporal Missile, Missile Erector Vehicle, and Launching Platform. Just what every closet satan-worshiping 8 year old wants to find under the Christmas tree.