Track Two: “So Afraid of the Russians” by Made for TV
And so the Cold war-era paranoia continues...
The early to mid-eighties was a period of unease, no better expressed than in the hits of the day. There was the fear of being monitored or followed, superbly conveyed in Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” There was the fear of personal dislocation, perfectly captured in The Motel’s “Suddenly, Last Summer” and Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road.” And there was the fear of total human degeneration in the face of technological omnipotence, exquisitely evoked in the ballad “Pac Man Fever.”
But perhaps the greatest fear was the thought of nuclear Armageddon as a direct result of the Cold War, one that had reached a cultural zenith thanks to the American TV-movie The Day After (in which we learn that Germany will never successfully be united, the new epicenter of the world will be Lawrence, Kansas and the ABC network doesn’t screen its programming for fact-checkers) and the British docudrama Threads (in which we learn that the BBC makes American attempts at socially-conscious programming look like old Morton Downey Jr. transcripts).
Several tunesmiths of the era tried to allay public anxiety by reminding people of the two warring faction’s similarities, rather than their differences. Fishbone expressed both sides’ perspectives in “Party at Ground Zero” with the lines “Johnnie go get your gun, for the commies are in our hemisphere today/ Ivan go fly your MIG, cause the Yankee imperialists have come to play.” Sting sought to remind listeners that our so-called enemies, “The Russians,” were in truth no different than us, singing, “We share the same biology/ Regardless of ideology.” The Smiths hoped to spin the end as the ultimate form of peace in “Ask,” simply stating, “The bomb will bring us together.”
But one group, Made for TV, chose instead to encourage the global disquietude with their song “So Afraid of the Russians,” reminding us of our Soviet counterparts that “They’ve got ships at sea/ Planes in the air/ Tanks on the border of Europe/ And spies everywhere.” Now, some people may point out that the song was actually addressing the culture of fear rather than emphasizing the fear itself. Others may state that, in fact, practically every nation in the world tends to locate their ships in the water, their planes above ground and their spies in countries other than their own. And a few may even state that the song “So Afraid of the Russians” doesn’t even qualify for one-hit status, that it’s almost impossible to even find the lyrics for the song online and it would have been far better to have used this space to talk about the far more memorably nuclear-themed “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” by Ultravox instead. But I fear that was never meant to be.
And so the unease forever persists…