Date of Award

Summer 8-2011

Degree Type




First Advisor

Michelle Brattain

Second Advisor

Joe Perry

Third Advisor

Kathy Fuller-Seeley


This dissertation examines how the major television networks, in conjunction with the Reagan administration, launched a lingering cloud of nuclear anxiety that helped to revive the Cold War during the 1980s. Placed within a larger political and cultural post-war context, this national preoccupation with a global show-down with the Soviet Union at times both hindered and bolstered Reagan’s image as the archetypal conservative, cowboy President that could free America from its liberal adolescent past now caustically referred to as “the sixties.” This stalwart image of Reagan, created and carefully managed by a number of highly-paid marketing executives, as one of the embodiment of peaceful deterrence, came under attack in the early 1980s when the “liberal” Nuclear Freeze movement showed signs of becoming politically threatening to the staunch conservative pledging to win the Cold War at any cost. And even if the nuclear freeze movement itself was not powerful enough to undergo the Herculean task of removing the President in 1984, the movement was compassionate enough to appeal to a mass audience, especially when framed in narrative form on network television. In the early 1980s, debates over the possibility of nuclear war and other pertinent Cold War related issues became much more democratized in their visibility on the network airwaves. However, the message disseminated from the networks was not placed in an educational framework, nor did these television productions clarify complicated nuclear issues such as nuclear winter theory and proliferation. I argue this renewed network attention on nuclear issues was not placed in an historical framework and likely confused American viewers because it routinely exposed audiences to both fact and fiction, undifferentiated at the level of the mass media.


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