"When you're out here workin', you don't have time to think about a nuclear war," says a man in Charlottesville, Va., as he unloads a beer truck. "Living Double Lives," a half-hour, low-key polemic produced by Washington's Public Interest Video Network, says everybody should take the time to think about a nuclear war and then do something to help prevent one.
Do what? The examples served up by the program, which Channel 32 will air Sunday night at 10:30, don't seem all that potent. A Charlottesville artist distributes a poster that shows smiling children in the foreground and a mushroom cloud in the background, and below this image the words, "Hiroshima, Nagasaki, New York, Chicago." A waitress at a local restaurant weaves nuclear war into daily conversations with customers.
A shop owner says she has joined a letter-writing group that dispatches missives to Congress; the conductor of the "Charlottesville Peace Choir" explains how Mozart's Requiem is staged as an antiwar offering; and another citizen displays the slide show he has organized "to get people to wake up." Best, in a sense, of all is the Baptist minister who not only preaches pacifist sermons but dresses up in a red nose and raggedy wig for a "clown ministry" that spoofs the arms race.
Yes of course. Clown ministry. Even if the media seem weak, though, the spirit seems admirable, as celebrated here by producer Arlen J. Slobodow and director Robert Uth. To its credit, the program, crispy-bright on videotape, avoids most of the usual peacenik cant and rant; the tone is more the folksy-woodsy liberalism of, say, National Public Radio, or Studs Terkel.
Colleen Dewhurst is the on-camera narrator, a little too noble, but then the subject does bring that out in people. The title comes from the warning offered by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lipton, who says "psychic numbing" has set in on the matter of nuclear annihilation. We've gone from denial that it could happen to a resignation that it will and that we are helpless to stop it. We live double lives in the sense that our day-to-day selves work and play always with the lurking awareness that everything could end one moment from now in a bang, albeit one followed by a long and tortuous whimper.
Unfortunately, the program attacks the subject from too many different angles. Beautiful Charlottesville, we are told, is to be a "host" city, according to a dubiously practicable federal plan, for nuclear-war refugees from Washington and Richmond, but this is not explored, and the city is inadequately profiled. The citizen-activists are not heard from until the second half of the program. And then at the last minute, the producers toss in extraneous sound bites from Sen. Jennings Randolph (D-W. Va.) and Hodding Carter, the world's greatest authority on nothing.
"Living Double Lives" means well, but its ability to do well seems severely limited. The producers would probably want it said of them, "At least they tried." Indeed they did.