Boomers Watched the Apocalypse on Screen

When COVID-19 first began its spread across the United States, very quickly people created lists of pandemic movies that were either eerily similar to our situation or a good distraction to the reality outside our doors. Mister Boomer checked out a bunch of them, and found that the vast majority completely ignored films from the boomer era. Most started their lists with films released in the 1990s and later, and almost all included the movie, Pandemic (2016). We’re talking about our generation here, so those lists aren’t of much use in these parts.

When Mister B put on his thinking cap and let his fingers do the walking through the Internet, what he did discover was there were very few films made during the boomer era of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s that pertained to bacterial and virus-related epidemics. There was the occasional zombie infection and all, but take a look:

• 1950s sci-fi films were often metaphors about the perils of nuclear war. All the giant monster films begin with radiation turning smaller creatures into gargantuan size. Others featured alien invasions of Earth, either the bad aliens out for their own gain (to gather slaves, food, people as food, our water, etc.) or the good aliens coming to warn us against using atomic weapons.
• The 1960s went far-out there imagining all sorts of ways for mankind to be on the brink of extinction. Many of these films were foreign-made and most were unmemorable. One has to wonder if the era of experimental drug use influenced the writing of films.
• The 1970s films were a bit more interesting. The one that Mister Boomer recalls and would like to recommend is The Andromeda Strain (1971).

First the Book, then the Movie
Michael Crichton published The Andromeda Strain in 1969. It was the first of his novels published under his own name. Boomers will recall he went on to pen the Jurassic Park series of books and films, among others. The Andromeda Strain was brought to the silver screen in 1971.

Just over a decade after the first men were launched into space, Crichton envisioned a time when the U.S. military would launch a satellite into space for the express purpose of discovering and gathering microorganisms. Their intentions were to seek out microorganisms that could be made into biological weapons.

As luck would have it, a meteor containing such a microorganism crashes into the satellite, causing it to fall to Earth in a small desert town in Arizona. The town’s population is wiped out within minutes. This organism clots human blood almost instantly.

Naturally, the military gets involved and tries to cover up the entire project while scientists discover the true intent of the military satellite and rush to identify, contain, and neutralize the virus. Suspense and drama ensue.

In the end, despite heroic means, the organism can’t be controlled by human science and escapes its containment facility to a level in the Earth’s atmosphere that is more an environment to its liking, leaving the question of, if it is still out there, waiting for the moment when it will return to devastate life on the planet.

It’s a suspenseful movie that mixed science and fiction in a way that made people wonder if it could actually happen. Now that we face an actual Earth-bound foe that is wreaking havoc around the globe, maybe it’s time for us to once again view those monster, disaster and apocalyptic movies of the boomer era to digest the overarching moral that ties these stories together: namely, it’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature, in any part of the Universe.

How about it, boomers? Did you read The Andromeda Strain or see the movie when it was released?

Boomers Remember the First Earth Day

This “pause,” as the governor of New York has labelled our multiple-month home sheltering, has caused us to examine many things. One is, the fact that the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day was celebrated this past week without crowds of young people yelling at the Establishment to do something now, was sorely missed by Mister Boomer.

The anniversary reminded him of his Earth Day experience fifty years ago in April of 1970. Mister B has told the story before, how he and his sister made an Earth Day flag of green and white stripes with a Greek Theta symbol in the area that holds the stars on the national flag. It was something he saw somewhere, and wanted to copy the design, because the following day — Earth Day — he was to lead a bicycle parade for two miles to his high school. It worked well enough, suspended on the makeshift flagpole that he carried throughout the route.

Along the way, cars would honk at the parade of a few dozen teens on bikes, flag waving in the breeze, but it is still unclear to Mister B if they were honking in solidarity for this new national day of awareness or honking to get the group out of the way. Possibly a little of each.

Once the parade reached the high school, students, teachers and the principal were outside the school to greet them. Bikes away, students and teachers made their way into the awaiting classes. At 11 am, there was a scheduled school assembly outside in front of the building. Students filed out and sat on the grass to hear from some environmentally-minded science and art teachers. The principal came over and asked Mister B if he wanted to run his flag up the flagpole. The grommets he had hammered in the night before were perfect receptors for the clips of the flagpole. In a quick minute Mister B’s handmade Earth Day flag was waving under Old Glory.

It may seem a very liberal thing for a school to do back then, but history as well as personal memory tells us the mood of the country had changed since Rachel Carson’s publishing of Silent Spring in 1962. Living in an industrial city, every person in the school experienced air and water pollution on a daily basis, so it was a topic of great interest. At Mister B’s parochial school, the aims of the environmental movement were in direct harmony with religious teaching.

Here we are, now, in a situation that has made us stop and look out at what is happening on the other side of our windows. What is immediately evident is there are fewer cars on the roads, and many more birds chirping all through the day. Yet, despite awareness to the issue of pollution being raised for fifty years, the fact that reports indicate a thirty percent drop in nitrous dioxide pollution in the United States since the shelter-in-place orders were given a little more than a month ago, clearly show we have a long way to go to protect ourselves and our environment.

What memories do you have of the first Earth Day, boomers?