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Seeing GreenThe Use and Abuse of American Environmental Images$
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Finis Dunaway

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780226169903

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226169934.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 17 September 2021

Nuclear Meltdown I

Nuclear Meltdown I

The China Syndrome

(p.121) Eight Nuclear Meltdown I
Seeing Green

Finis Dunaway

University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers the production and reception of The China Syndrome, a 1979 Hollywood film starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and Michael Douglas. Depicting an accident at a fictional nuclear power plant, the film sparked controversy even before opening night. The nuclear industry and conservative commentators lambasted its antinuclear message. Yet the film received some of its harshest criticism from leftist reviewers, who claimed that it failed to foster activist feelings and to imagine citizens playing any role in shaping the energy future. While questions about the blurring of fact and fiction shaped the initial reception of The China Syndrome, the notorious accident at a nuclear power plant on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania—only twelve days after the movie’s release—made the intersection of film and reality even more salient and politically charged. The spectacle of mass culture merged with the spectacle of media coverage to make the movie’s premonition of nuclear meltdown into an oppositional vision. As the crisis at Three Mile Island seemed to imitate the film, The China Syndrome became a surprising tool of protest, a movie that circulated beyond the screen and outside the theater to popularize and advance the antinuclear movement.

Keywords:   The China Syndrome, Hollywood film, nuclear power, Three Mile Island, Jane Fonda, antinuclear movement

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