NYC’s Nuclear Warning PSA: A Hot Mess

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NYC’s Nuclear Warning PSA: A Hot Mess

By Robert Stahl


Here are a few tips for New Yorkers in case a nuclear bomb hits their city in the coming days, as we learned in a recent PSA video from safety officials:

  • Get inside
  • Shut doors and windows
  • Remove clothing
  • Shower with soap or shampoo

The 90-second film debuted in mid-July and has been viewed over 850,000 times.

“So there’s been a nuclear attack,” said the female narrator in a downtown cityscape lined with buildings and cars. “Don’t ask me how or why, just know that the big one has hit.”

The video immediately caused many New Yorkers, and me, to say, “WTF?”

“There is no direct threat to the city,” said Allison Pennisi, head of public information for NYC Emergency Management, in a statement. “But we felt it was important that we addressed this topic.”

The video was personally approved by Mayor Eric Adams. He further attempted to calm the residents by saying the PSA was a “very proactive step.”

But then he blew that notion to hell when he cited Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine as the reason. “We need to be prepared,” he said.

Just, wow! Way to make us feel safe, Mr. Adams.

So, was it just routine? Or does Mr. Adams know something we don’t? I can’t recall any other time a PSA like this was issued, and I lived through the nuclear nightmare of the 80s.

Back then, the U.S. and Russia teetered on the brink of war, both of them apparently hellbent on taking each other out with nukes.

In school, we were forced to read Alas Babylon, a novel about a coastal family attempting to survive a nuclear holocaust. We lived in constant fear we could be blown to smithereens at any moment.

When one watches the PSA, one gets the feeling the film is a harbinger of things to come. Like, it’s their way of trying not to create a panic, but also getting to say, “Hey, we warned you.” Which seems very on-brand for our government.

The video isn’t frightening at the onset. In fact, it seems like its producers were deliberately trying not to raise too much alarm. The narrator is calm and approachable and speaks in a friendly non-threatening tone. It’s charming, even.

But on repeated views, it’s impossible to miss the film’s ominous tone. The narrator strolls through a silent city that’s remarkably void of life.

Several buildings in the background appear to be damaged, although it’s difficult to tell if they actually are, or if the damage is just shadows.

The top of one building looks blown apart, with exposed rebar spikes protruding from the top. A tree in the foreground appears to be burned to a crisp. Or is it? The camera work makes it difficult to tell.

Dark sepia colors impart a surreal feeling of dread. The narrator dresses somberly in all black. Is she heading to a funeral or auditioning to be the next Grim Reaper? I wondered if she chose the colors for a reason.

I searched Google for colors that repel nuclear radiation. While I couldn’t find a solid answer, I did learn that dark colors work best to repel UV radiation. There’s no evidence black clothing would stop a nuclear blast, but maybe it’s worth a shot, citizens of NYC?

The whole film, and the public comments surrounding it, seem to be an exercise in ambiguity. We wonder, should we be concerned or not?

Haven’t seen the video? If you missed it the first time around, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s been a tough summer for everyone trying to survive the hottest summer on record.

Say, come to think of it, isn’t the sun basically a nuclear explosion? Because the PSA’s safety tips pretty much describe my life for the past three months in this hellish heat:

  • Get inside
  • Shut doors and windows
  • Remove clothing
  • Shower with soap or shampoo

Robert Stahl is a former bartender who left his bottle opener behind to follow his dreams as a writer. Now the Dallas-based freakazoid writes advertising copy by day and fiction in the evenings. He loves to connect with others about the craft of fiction. Click the link to find his blog as well as links to some of his stories:

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