I am an anxious person. When I was little I worried neurotically about everything from where all the rubbish went to what if my shower overflows and floods the house (in all fairness, my shower did later break and flood the house so perhaps this was some form of preordained PTSD).
However, I am not the only anxious human in the world, nor are we the only anxious generation. One particular era of worrying in the US, and to a lesser extent in Britain, was the post-war period of the 1950s and 60s. Why, you might ask, were these decades rife with worry? The Red Scare, the Cold War, a floaty/can’t pin down/ omnipresent communist threat. The fear of the H-bomb wielded by the Russians manifested in crazed political and social anxieties, leading to the rise of such dodgy pedagogues as Joseph McCarthy.
Though some historians have argued that this anxiety was more to do with post-war class shifts than a real communist threat, what is important is the palpable and very real anxiety of the American population. Comparable perhaps to the anxieties of our most recent years, in fear of North Korean or Russian use of nuclear weapons, of a World War III, or, in an extreme case (feared by not only but including Elon musk, who suggested colonising mars to avoid such an outcome) human annihilation. In any case, these anxieties must be dealt with.
This is where Stanley Kubrick comes in. Dr Strangelove was seminal for its satirical conduct towards American fears and ideals previously held sacred: John Patterson of The Guardian wrote, “There had been nothing in comedy like Dr Strangelove ever before. All the gods before whom the America of the stolid, paranoid 50s had genuflected – the Bomb, the Pentagon, the National Security State, the President himself, Texan masculinity and the alleged Commie menace of water-fluoridation – went into the wood-chipper and never got the same respect ever again.” The anxieties of the mid-twentieth century were thus dealt with, through satire, art and wit. Kubrick’s only failing, in my opinion, was the time in which it took him to create such a critique, compared to the speed with which contemporary critiques can now be produced.
What relevance does Dr Strangelove hold in 2018 then? How do we apply satirical art to our own political crises and the anxieties that manifest as a result? In some ways, we already have. I cringe at writing down the word “meme,” but this modern age of instant media and communication may be seen to have allowed us to produce tiny, embryonic Dr Strangeloves in each lampooning reduction of contemporary politics into images of Trump with minuscule cartoon hands or Theresa May, famously running through a field of wheat. It would be insulting to compare Kubrick’s work to the creative process of a thirteen year old boy eating Doritos and photoshopping a penis onto Putin’s head, and it must be clear that this is not my intention.
On the other hand, the juvenilisation, the satirising, the mocking of politics and global news that is otherwise used for scaremongering and promoting nationwide anxieties is a play of power on behalf of the general public. Kubrick perhaps did not intend to undertake such a base action, but what we can learn from Dr Strangelove informs us that satirical critiques of contemporary politics are necessary to keep us sane, and to reduce the burden of an already large pile of anxiety.