“War…is Home Improvement!”

Modern Books and Manuscripts 2014-06-30

In Bruce the Psychic Guy Magazine (Vol. V, No.1, 1994) editor Bruce Lewis includes a satire by Ed Hill on how the scientific wonders of the atomic age will transform the average homeowner’s future. The piece is called “War …is Home Improvement!” and it focuses on two war-time developments: computers and atomic energy.

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A number of zines listed thus far from Harvard College Library’s collection deal with the origin and design of consumer products. The zine Beer Frame looks at inconspicuous consumption or the consumption of products so familiar to us that we no longer “see” them, while the magazine Boycott Quarterly aims to guide ethical consumer choices. Bruce the Psychic Guy Magazine, in its spring 1994 issue, uses satire.

In terms of computers, the author – who signs the piece as Dr. Edward Hill, director of civilian applications at Sandia National Laboratory – traces the development of smaller, faster models of the computer for civilian applications after World War II. He then goes on to advertise them to homeowners.

Connected to various home appliances, computers will be able to automatically run them while homeowners are away. They will take care of the family’s finances, do their taxes, plan parties of up to 45,000 guests, and resolve thorny family problems, like dealing with troubled teenagers. All they need is for the “specifics” to be input, such as the aforementioned teenagers’ hidden diaries.

The second war-time development tackled is atomic energy; the author imagines a lightweight, small and powerful power plant fit for every home. These can be placed in basements, replacing old gas- or oil-burners, or situated in the family living room, like space-age fireplaces. The reactor can be disposed of in the back yard, saving the family money on hot water plumbing and boosting the size of home-grown vegetables to gigantic proportions.

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The satire on atomic energy resonates with much more serious pieces in the magazine such as a testimony by a U.S marine of an atomic explosion, and an article by Bruce Lewis on the history of “atomic art” or graphics, writings and other materials related to nuclear war, especially from 1945-1972. The whole issue is dedicated to the Northridge Earthquake of 1994 and those who did not survive it.

Thanks to Alina Lazar for contributing this post. Alina is a second-year PhD candidate in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures at Harvard.  She is one of the initial cohort of Harvard Library  Pforzheimer Fellows, working with curator Leslie Morris at Houghton Library to compile a title listing of Harvard College Library’s Printernet Collection of approximately 20,000 zines. The Printernet Collection was assembled by an anonymous collector, and was purchased by Widener Library in 2012.  The current project to create a title list is the first step in the process to decide where the collection, or portions of it, might best be housed at Harvard, and how it will be made available for research.