Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind:
On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break



The Kitchen Debate, Nikita Khrushchev versus Richard Nixon, 2009

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The Fear Industry


During the Cold War, television was eagerly exploited to perpetuate a culture of fear in search of political gain. Live broadcasts in particular became ideal to shape political rhetoric, as was evident in the very first live televised summit that developed into a Cold War stand-off between Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and US Vice-President Richard Nixon. Notoriously dubbed "The Kitchen Debate", the newly invented Ampex colour videotape recorded the historical event in a model kitchen at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow. During the statesmen's rough-and-tumble debate—ranging from dishwashers, to nuclear arsenal, to the role of women—Nixon boasted that the wonder of television gave America the technological edge over the USSR. While Nixon bragged about 50 million TV sets for 46 million families in the US, the more feisty Khrushchev outsmarted Nixon with a quick retort, ironically displaying a true mastery of live television. With flamboyant disdain, showman Khrushchev declared that the Soviet space endeavours were far superior.

In June 1961 the Soviets successfully sent cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit, making him officially the first man in space. As the US space programme lingered behind, its media machine played on the communist scare of "The Red Planet Mars" attacking America.17 By now the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons created a doomsday context that brought humanity to the brink of annihilation. The politically repressed subconscious haunted America in the form of an invisible power from a hostile universe invading the home. Superheroes and creatures from outer space colonized prime-time TV. Sci-fi programmes such as The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone took control of transmission: "There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set. Repeat: There Is Nothing Wrong With Your Television Set. You have crossed into the Twilight Zone!" But then, in September of that same year, reality surpassed television: driving back through New Hampshire from a short vacation in Canada, the interracial couple Barney and Betty Hill were abducted by a flying saucer hovering above, which evidently had dropped in from the Zeta Reticuli star system.18 Officially the very first alien abduction case reported in the US, it opened Pandora's box. Or was it a can of worms?