Television review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"It's really creepy isn't it," said Reggie Nadelson, standing at the New Mexico site where the first atomic bomb was exploded. But it wasn't very, unless she had in mind the absence of reverent solemnity amongst the picnickers. What you saw was a dusty car-park, filled with T-shirt salesmen, souvenir hawkers, military PRs ("so, you can understand we all need radiation to survive") and quite a few of those two kiloton bellies favoured by American holidaymakers. Two laughing tourists had spread their picnic cloth as close to ground-zero as they could get: "Am I glowing yet?" said one as she had her picture taken at the Bethlehem of the Bomb.

This was an early stop on Nadelson's trip along Interstate 25 for Travels with My Camera (C4), a blacktop pilgrimage through the holy sites of atomic fission. She had started in the White Sands Missile Park, a retirement home for redundant rocketry, and a spiky testament to the prodigious product development of capitalism - 53 types of dog food and twice that number of delivery systems with which to protect them from the Commies. Nadelson, who delivers her narration with a laid-back, gum-chewing manner, made it plain that she wasn't over-impressed by the bristling display of manhood: "That's what you'd call a pencil-pecker," she said, looking scornfully at a small missile. Then she was on her way again, past the Star Wars Diner and Albuquerque's K-BOMB radio station, towards the mesas of Los Alamos, where "science threw the biggest party ever and everybody came". She served up a little bit of historical perspective as you rolled through the flat desert landscape - "Just think," she said, "there were conquistadors schlepping up this road at about the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet." I liked the idea of conquistadors schlepping - I imagine they were kvetching too, as they toiled along in the New Mexico sun, cursing the schlemiel who'd sent them there, 6,000 miles from the nearest kosher deli. Nadelson, 400 years on, displays a similar disenchantment - resisting the hucksterism of nuclear PR with the practised sarcasm of a blooded New Yorker. "Oh look! A bunny! Must be a nice place to live," she said, while visiting a plutonium waste plant which prided itself on its ecological record.

Even she, though, succumbed to the seductions of military procedure, confessing to her thrill at being airlifted into a High Plains missile silo in a Huey. She was placated by the high-minded ordinariness of the men and women she met but I have to confess these scenes worried me. It wasn't just that the technology looked a bit Bakelite for the 1990s but, there amongst the toggle switches and duel key systems, the coloured lights and code keyboards, you could see four ordinary clothes-pegs, lined up ready for use. I thought of Challenger, brought low by penny pinching on the O-rings, and prayed that the Pentagon had gone for the best pegs money could buy.

Edmund Teller, interviewed by Nadelson in Los Alamos, claimed that the Bomb had won the cold war. But watching Shopping (BBC2), the first of a promising series, you realised that an equally good case could be made for the supermarket as America's most powerful weapon. The mercantile arms race began with the Piggly Wiggly store, a modest self-service shop which introduced many of the staples of supermarket design - a floor plan based on the lab-rat maze, freezer cabinets, chocolate bars by the check- out. The man who ran it made a fortune then lost some of it in a selfless attempt to push the boundaries of the silly name envelope. His Keedoozle supermarket, operated by electronics, wasn't a hit. Shopping trolleys were a stroke of genius, though, instantly increasing the productivity of busy shoppers, who had, quite unwittingly, volunteered for unpaid work in the temples of consumption.

Comments