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Monday, January 05, 2015

Watch it now: the legendary CNN "end of the world" video

One of the things I've always wanted to do with this blog is post interesting stuff.  Or at least those things that are intriguing to me.  Admittedly, that has slacked off a lot in the past several months.  Between writing my book (a project that devoured most of 2014) and then Dad's passing a month and a half ago, this hasn't  been the best of times to even look for neat/odd material, much less post about it.  Maybe I can do better about that in the coming year.

And fortunately good friend Scott Kelly has come to the rescue with something to kick it off with:

Cue James Earl Jones voiceover: "THIS... was CNN."

I first heard weird stories about "the CNN doomsday tape" around the time of the Gulf War in 1991.  Allegedly, CNN founder Ted Turner has made a video that would be the very last thing that his cable news network would broadcast before the end of the world engulfed all of mankind in hellfire, brimstone, plague or zombie apocalypse.  The plan was that when the very last CNN employee was left alive in the building, the "play" button would be hit and this would be the final thing that whatever viewers were left would witness on CNN.

Turns out it's not so much a legend.  And CNN employees have known about it for years.  However, this is the first time that the video itself has found its way into public purview.

Jalopnik has a great write-up about Ted Turner's end-times CNN tape, which is still within the network's video archive listed as "TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO" under strictest orders that it not be broadcast "till end of the world confirmed".  Included in the article is the video itself: of a military band playing "Nearer My God To Thee".

In a really odd way it reminds me of the night of 9/11.  My best friend was working in the CNN Building in Atlanta at the time, and all evening we were talking back and forth on AOL Instant Messenger.  It was really something to be hearing directly from the bowels of what was almost certainly the most-watched news network in the world at that moment.  I've still got the log of that IM session somewhere.

I once heard that Orson Welles had recorded a radio broadcast meant for the end of the world.  But I haven't been able to find anything about that.  Perhaps some reader of this blog will be able to enlighten me more about that.

Anyway, it's a good article.  Well worth reading if you're into matters of technological history.  Which is curious in this matter in that the video is still in 4:3 aspect ratio at standard definition, so if you don't have a high-def set you can still watch CNN cover Armageddon.

EDIT 6:47 p.m. EST:   I've watched this video a few more times and the more I think about it, the less funny it seems.

Consider: this tape was made in 1981.  Kids today don't realize how SCARY things were back then, at the height of the Cold War and the fear that any moment there would be nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviets.  1983 seems especially vivid: when the Russians shot down the South Korean airliner and then not long after when the TV movie The Day After aired.  The policy of mutually-assured destruction meant that both sides understood that an attack by one superpower would mean the destruction of each nation and with that it would almost certainly be the end of all civilization, everywhere.

We lived.  We laughed.  We had babies.  But above it all there was a lingering fear that somehow or another, The Button would be pressed by one side or the other and the biblical end times would be upon us just like that.  I was at a Christian school at the time and with few exceptions there was an air of paranoia among the faculty: as if it had to be drilled into our heads that Russia was the tool of Satan eagerly waiting to unleash an unholy salvo against America so we'd better "get right" with God before it was too late.

That was years before I came to understand that we enter into a relationship with God because we want to, not because we are forced into it by others.  But I digress...

So yeah: we went about our lives.  All the while knowing that nuclear war could erupt and that would be the end of everything.

Bearing that in mind, I could easily envision a scenario where before the bombs hit, a CNN employee might actually get confirmation that the nukes were inbound and that the network really was "signing off" for good.

So that said, this really is a fascinating and legitimate artifact of the 1980s.

EDIT 7:07 p.m. EST:  Maybe I should do something like that for this blog.  Like, have a YouTube video embedded in a post ready to be deployed for when the nukes fall or the undead overwhelm us all.  Or at least a "final post" that friends will unload upon my demise.  What do y'all think?


Anonymous said...

I would watch it!