On the Coarsening of Culture and What We Have Lost – As Seen In a Movie

There was a movie that came out in 1999 called Blast from The Past. The movie begins in the early 1960s at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. An eccentric man and his pregnant wife have built an elaborate fallout shelter underground in their backyard. It is no ordinary bomb shelter, but a large, well-stocked one that has many amenities, including the ability to grow food and raise fish.

When a plane crashes nearby, they think that the country is under attack and that an atomic bomb has hit. They run into the shelter and lock it behind them, setting the automatic locks not to open for 35 years when the radiation will have dissipated.

During this time the wife gives birth to their son, Adam, whom they raise in the shelter. Adam receives the usual education one would expect for the time, with a strong emphasis on reading, writing, arithmetic, and history. He also obtains a liberal arts college education from his father, who had been a professor. This education included learning Latin, Greek, French, and German. Adam also learns the social skills of that time such as basic manners, the proper treatment of a lady, ballroom dancing, and the meaning of life. He is also raised to reverence God.

In a way the family was frozen in time and preserved the value of the early 1960s. The film does not present that era as being flawless: the mother has a bit of a drinking problem and the father is rather eccentric and xenophobic.

Suddenly it is 1997 and the locks open. The family makes its first excursion out into the world since the bomb (supposedly) went off. The father expects to find that those who survived will show the effects of radiation poisoning and that the world will manifest many signs of the destruction the bomb surely wrought. So they go forth from the shelter cautiously.

Now, you and I know that no atomic bomb did go off. Or did it?

As they emerge from the bomb shelter, they see that their once quaint neighborhood has become a red-light district. They see shocking things: not only prostitutes and adult book stores, but also drug addicts, trash-filled streets, and signs of grave disorder. People are coarse in their behavior. The family runs back into the shelter, concluding that things are even worse than they had expected. They send their son Adam out to get provisions and possibly find a wife (if he can locate a woman who has been less affected by the “radiation”). Then they will once again throw the locks on the shelter and wait for things to improve on the outside before venturing out again, lest they be poisoned by it all. In the following scene, Adam emerges from the shelter and encounters a drug addict who thinks Adam is God. Adam proceeds farther and sees things and people outside for the first time.

As Adam goes forth, he discovers that beyond the red-light district there are other less-devastated areas, but he still struggles with what he experiences. Families seem to be in disarray; people are coarse, cynical, and use God’s name in vain. The technology amazes him, but so do simple things like rain, the open sky, and the ocean. In this scene he is troubled by some modern cultural trends, but then is overwhelmed with awe upon seeing the ocean for the first time:

As the movie progresses, it becomes quite clear that much has been lost. Adam is head and shoulders above the modern people who surround him. He is kind, respectful, polite, and innocent in his interpretation of the world. He is much better educated than those around him as well, having amassed quite an encyclopedic knowledge in comparison. In the following scene, two things are illustrated: Adam’s superior education and his coming to grips with modern technology. How can a computer (a giant thing in his world) be inside a house?

And Adam can dance, really dance! It’s not the gyrating that is common on modern dance floors but 1940s swing, flawlessly executed, which is natural to him due to the daily training he received from his parents. Here is a dance scene showing that although dancing was a little risqué even back then, it still required training and talent. Pardon some of the language in this clip, but remember that the coarsening of culture is what is on display here.

Adam is befriended by a young lady named Eve and her brother. At first they think Adam to be strange and naive but come to discover that he has much to teach them. In this scene, they ponder something he has taught them about graciousness, kindness, and the blessing of strong family ties.

This movie is well worth seeing. Unlike me, it is not “preachy.” It gently suggests to us that we have lost some important things in the past 50 years or so: things like kindness, optimism, the value of traditional education, and the importance of parents teaching and raising their children. In many ways the movie intimates that we have become coarse and cynical—even vulgar. Family ties have often been severed and our culture has melted down to a more base level. Education is less thorough and broad. Simple things like learning to dance have been lost.

As I have already said, the early 1960s was not a perfect time. Many troublesome cultural trends were already well underway. These do not go unreported in the movie. But still the point remains: some things of great value have been lost. The family entered the shelter at the end of an era; when they emerge they step out of the past and are bewildered by what they find. Technology is impressive, but people seem lost and cynical. The world is hostile and disordered. Adam brings with him out of the shelter some healing balm, some of the best virtues of the past to remind us all that we have lost some important things along the way.

A bomb did go off—not an atomic bomb, but an even more devastating, cultural one. Rebuilding will take time.

2 Replies to “On the Coarsening of Culture and What We Have Lost – As Seen In a Movie”

  1. I was born on the cusp of the sea changes that took place in the latter 1960s. The bottom line is that freedom was taken too far to include license and when that happens anything goes. The new mantra was drugs, sex and rock and roll. These contributed to the disintegration of society. We see the results of that today. I miss the innocence of a culture that for the most part instilled restraints or at least sanctioned aberrant behavior.

  2. Looks interesting! Another movie with a similar message is Kate and Leiopold. A duke (Hugh Jackman) from the 1870’s in NYC mistakenly goes through a time portal to the present (2001) in NYC after chasing a modern man who had found the time portal and ended up in that time period. Leiopold is a gentlemen and falls in love with a cynical business woman (Meg Ryan) who his been burned by boyfriends. There is some language and some sexual innuendos, but other then that, it is very sweet.

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