Sad Topographies by Damien Rudd

Sad Topographies by Damien Rudd

Author:Damien Rudd [Rudd, Damien]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

WELCOME TO DOOM TOWN: the American dream in the heart of the Nevada desert. The 1954 Civil Defense propaganda film Let’s Face It describes this magical place as made, ‘with steel and stone and brick and mortar, with precision and skill – as though it were to last a thousand years. But it is a weird, fantastic city. A creation right out of science fiction. A city like no other on the face of the earth. Homes, neat and clean and completely furnished that will never be occupied. Bridges, massive girders of steel spanning the empty desert. Railway tracks that lead to nowhere, for this is the end of the line.’

On the morning of 5 May 1955 at 5.10am, a 29-kiloton atomic bomb (twice the size of that dropped on Hiroshima) obliterated this cheerful town from the face of the earth. Known to the Civil Defense as Apple II Test Site, to the optimistic as Survival Town and to everyone else as Doom Town, it was designed and built for the sole purpose of destruction. The detonation was just part of numerous operations in which the town was built, destroyed, then rebuilt and re-destroyed like a nightmarish version of Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. It was the quintessential American suburb: along with a fire and radio station, it had a library, buses and cars, and a dozen homes filled with all-white, smiling, middle-class American families (substituted with mannequins). It was no longer necessary to imagine the destructive havoc of Soviet bombs on American cities – it could now be created. The ‘before’ photos appear like advertisements from a 1950s Harper’s Bazaar magazine. In one black-and-white photograph from Operation Doorstep we see two youthful, smartly dressed mannequin couples sitting casually around a kitchen table. It appears they are about to dine; white porcelain plates and decorative glassware are set neatly across the table’s sleek wooden surface. In another ‘before’ image, we see a different house with a family relaxing in a large, brightly lit living room. On a long, floral-patterned couch a handsome middle-aged man casually reclines. Across from him a tanned and identically dressed man perches on the edge of a chair, his head cocked slightly to one side, as if listening to the man on the couch argue the unfavourable state of the economy. Around them, small children play. To the left of the men a slender, attractive woman sits on a round leather footrest. She is wearing an elegant evening dress. Perhaps they are going to dinner. The fiction unravels when one looks out of the window behind her – not over lush green lawns marked by a white picket fence, but across a bleached desert landscape, an endless expanse that stretches to meet a cloudless Nevada sky. Each of the dozen or so houses was carefully arranged to depict similar dioramic scenes: untroubled children being tucked into bed, archetypal housewives preparing dinner, proud fathers reading the evening paper. What is perhaps most disturbing is the way in which Civil


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