• Lea Springstead

Dr. Strangelove Revisited

Updated: Aug 16

The suspension of public art events, film screenings, performances, and so on, leaves a vacuum of time and idle cerebral predisposition, doesn’t it?

Instead of despairing the loss of opportunity to cultivate intimacy with new works of art, let us look to the opportunity to review past works.

Unlike the hulking glass optical lenses on display at the Corning Museum of glass, individual consciousness is a mutable lens, that calibrates throughout time, and refracts the light of the world into new depths; in increasingly mysterious ways.

I first saw “Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” when I was 14. I was living with my mother in an apartment on Ulster Heights Road.

We did not have cable in the mountains, instead we rented movies. The Ellenville Library was a two and a half mile walk from the apartment on Ulster Heights Road, and I made the trip on foot frequently. The library had a surprisingly well curated VHS and DVD selection. I can’t remember how I learned of the existence of certain cult classics, but I do remember hearing their titles mentioned anecdotally and feeling that watching them was a bedrock essential.

Some of the titles that I recall renting are: Full Metal Jacket, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Metropolis, 12 Angry Men, Psycho, The Graduate, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now. Many newer films too, like American Beauty, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Eyes Wide Shut, Adaptation, House of Spirits, Waking Life, Spirited Away, and so many others stored somewhere in my memory.

My afternoons alone were comforting pagan rituals: I made cheese fries in the toaster oven, drank coca cola, huffed the empty soda bottle, and watched cinema, that was arguably too mature for my 14-year-old self.

I remember the experience vividly.

Watching the hypnotic surrender to insanity in Apocalypse Now; connecting with the fact that the vindication of innocents exists within the extreme circumstances of humanity. Our human reality is often understood through the lens of polarization: good or bad, right or wrong, and so forth, seemingly for the sake of the unimaginative status quo. Yet the tones of reality are of a broader spectrum than what may be contained in the black-and-white-only existential filing cabinets that society stuffs us in.

So, a mad man isn’t necessarily so without merit, and the rest of us “sane” people don’t have much room for error when it comes down to the thin line, that some say separates “us” from “them”.

Beneath what we’d like to think about ourselves, this and numerous other less manageable truths, lay in the heart of every person.

I remember feeling my mind stretch to meet these intuitive truths, that up until this point, were inarticulable.

It was the first time that I can remember feeling like myself as I know myself today.

The world was far more complex than anything that I had experienced in childhood, and I always knew it. I was seeking validation of and admission to that larger experience of life. For me, films like Dr. Strangelove provided that larger context to begin individuating through.

Let’s talk about the women of Dr. Strangelove.

One woman is present in the entire film: Miss Scott, secretary and mistress to General Turgidson. Doting and multi-tasking she answers the telephone in lingerie for the General at 3 o’clock in the morning. In soft ultra accessable feminine tones she politely receives and conveys Turgidson's phone messages through the bathroom wall: that there is an emergency; specifically, code “R” had been issued. We don’t see Miss Scott again, but we are interrupted by her when she phones General Turgidson in the war room. Miss Scott was consumed by the anxiety of her unsecured relationship with the General, and had to know if their relationship was only physical. Naturally, if you've been vaporized by radiation, the context of "being used for sex" ceases to exist: better tend to the question while it still has context.

The only other stale-fart-of-a-whiff of a female presence in the film is in the end scene. Once the single rouge plane dropped a hydrogen bomb onto Russian soil, war room strategizing easily transformed into whiskey drinking and conversation about the bleak collective future.

Reserving a “specimen” of the human race could be done, by moving a small, intentionally cultivated, portion of the population underground. For the sake of expeditious repopulation, the underground society would consist of highly attractive women who outnumbered men 10 to 1.

It is here that the dark dawn of the masculine agenda rises over the horizon, and you think “my god, is that what’s been going on the whole time?” Are the war mongers just fiending for the chance to repeal the laws that they have established, that have created ridged access points to sexual pleasure? Are military conquests actually the veiled sexual rebellions of male consciousness? It is probable, especially in the Freudian context, that men fiend war to secure the prospects of procreation. War equals death and death necessitates new life. They want to breed like bacteria in macaroni salad, slow cooking in the sun. Sounds like my ex.

Is war a biproduct of the repressed male sexual identity, and a simulated act of rape?

For millenia, the biological male sex has relentlessly worked to create structures of sexual control that enforce the economization of women. These structures of control also inhibit the administrative male identity: the male identity must participate in the conformity of the structures it creates or the system collapses, thus self imprisoning. However, the energy of sexual domination does not disappear as it conforms, but rather in the instance of the geo-political drama, it manifests in the form of the militarized rape of nations.

The score of Dr. Strangelove hits a level of comedic brilliance like a contestant on the cooking show "Chopped", who manages to use lychee, wild mushroom, and grape Koolaid to create a decadent flaming creme brûlée, that actually Naomi Campbell likes.

Cartoonish military hymns mock the core plot content, as we arrive at the fated "we all told you so" moment of nuclear doomsday. From our pedestrian vantage point, we can only momentarily enjoy the experience of tonally mocking authority, until the terror begins to crystalize and the mortar cures between the carefully laid bricks that men in power have serendipitously placed on the path of least resistance to our mutually assured destruction.

Haha this is funny, wait no it's terrifying and it's real.

In Dr. Strangelove we see what the masculine culture of power has done with its authority: fabricated a culture of fatalistic bureaucracy, that inevitably implodes on its own short sighted vision of power. Its doomed model thrives on acceptance and submission to the status quo, which is its most powerful tool of oppression, and at the same time its greatest weakness in imagining the future.

Such fatalistic power structures, as we see in the film and unfolding before our eyes, creates situations that are naturally the worst-case scenario.

The question is: how do we dig ourselves out of this hole, that since the production of Dr. Strangelove, has grown deeper with every stalemate in the house and the senate, government sanctioned golden parachute, bomb dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan, and every preventable Covid-19 case?