I am reading a book called “One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture.” It’s a fascinating book for a lot of reasons but one is that the author describes about the importance of metaphor in shaping public opinion during the Cold War era.
Fallout shelters were quite controversial and, generally speaking, were not viewed favorably by lawmakers and the American public. Lots of people argued that the government should build a large system of fallout shelters. Other advocated urged every family to construct its own personal fallout shelter. But neither of those things ever happened on a widespread basis.
From the book:
“Shelter advocates may have had reasonable arguments, but what they did not have, for the most part, was metaphor. It proved to be extremely difficult to put a admirable (much less heroic) spin on burrowing into the earth to save one’s hide.
“On the other hand, vesting fallout shelters with negative connotations was virtually effortless, so plentiful were the available metaphors.”
One such metaphor was the “mole” metaphor. One opponent described Americans “groveling underground like moles.” Another described Americans “slithering into storm cellars.”
Another theme was that building shelters represented a devolution of the human species and that “humanity’s long climb out of dark caves was now being reversed.” Opponents said it was as if we were returning to Paleolithic days. Therefore, the shelters were framed as representing an unnatural return to a more primitive state of human existence.
The author concludes with: “Perhaps more than any other factor, the images that these metaphors called forth – of a militarized nation and a fearful people huddled beneath the ground in dank shelters – would spell doom for a national shelter system.”
I wonder what counter-metaphors could have helped to reframe the debate?