This past weekend I marathoned the WGN Family show Manhattan. I had been aware of the show for several months, but had been somewhat reluctant to watch it because of the emphasis on family. Based on the 1940s, and surrounding domestic issues, I can’t say that I was too keen on viewing something that centered the domesticity of a (largely white) intellectual and scientific community.
But boy, was it interesting. Aired for the first time in 2014, the show’s representation of 1940s America is seen through contemporary lenses of liberal multiculturalism. There is:
Dr. Winter’s team, working on the “implosion model” of the atomic bomb, comes to be painted as the underdog. They have only six members on their team, compared to Dr. Reed Akley’s several hundred strong team working on “Thin Man” based on the gun model. We learn early on that there are complications with “thin man” and that the implosion model is on the verge of a breakthrough, yet lacking the resources to actually break through. This creates an interesting dynamic in the show where I want to root for Dr. Winter and his team to find the atomic breakthrough! The thin man team is painted as so obnoxious, in-step, and arrogant that the implosion team seems like a breath of fresh air. However, the show does not let you forget for long that these men are convinced that their work is going to end the war, and Dr. Winter is naive enough to believe that the bomb will never have to actually be deployed - its existence will be enough of a threat (and thus signaling the beginning of Cold War politics).
The show’s liberal multiculturalism is just the beginning of all the things it has me thinking about. Expect future posts on the show touching on issues of sexuality, militarization, mental health, American-ness, and security.
(And how's that for a first real post!)
Rusty Bartels, PhD teaches in Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.