Image Analysis Report
This image is of a poster made in 1980. The poster is created to recruit members for the activism group it is made by, REMEMBER T.M.I. COALITION. The poster was most likely mass-produced and distributed to points of high population-density. It was then exposed to ordinary people. For maximum effect, these people were most likely those who were personally affected by Three Mile Island, the people who had to evacuate the TMI proximity. This image sums up the paradigm shift that the incident at Three Mile Island contributed to: grass-roots activism and distrust of authority.
This is a dark image. Everything is black and white except one line: “THE ACCIDENT IS NOT OVER”. The upper-case letters and the deep scarlet text catches the eye. The red implies immediate danger. In today’s colloquial vocabulary, we would call the line a click-bait. It is meant to grab attention of the unsuspecting passerby. It implies there is something secret and dangerous about TMI that they haven’t been told.
We next move on to the image of the twin reactors. The reactors are completely black against a white background. The designers of this poster could have included more texture, more color, more details. They could have made the reactor less ambiguous, but they didn’t. This serves a purpose: the air of mystery is maintained. It hammers in the other-worldliness of the contents of the poster. They are not something that concern ordinary people. They are special and therefore something worth responding to.
I also see something very interesting. In other similar images, the nuclear reactors are always showed with thick, black smoke billowing out of the chimney. Here we see nothing. Just the dark outline of the reactors against a clear background. The smoke implies pollution, but this empty bleakness implies something much more dangerous; secrecy. The conspicuous lack of any sign of human activity suggests secrecy. Something that has been covered up. This might be bit of a stretch, but it is eerily reminiscent of the “secret government sites” that had captured public fascination in the era of the cold war. We have seen images and outlines like this poster in popular entertainment like the Twilight Zone.
Below the outline we see two cows. A lot of information is presented in thought bubbles that originate in the cows, but before we get to that let’s take a closer look at the two cows.
When US nuclear testing first began in the southwest, one of the major concerns of local people was cow poisoning. The fallout from the tests was believed to effect cows negatively. Their milk would be radioactive and their meat inedible. As such, these cows became symbols of resistance to the nuclear bomb. It is interesting to see them here because it contributes to a recurring theme in this image; that nuclear generators like Three Mile Island are essentially atom bombs.
Moving on to the content of the though bubbles, we see the title of the first bubble is large and upper-case. The text is striking as well: “ONE YEAR LATER, THE CONTINIUING THREAT”. All of this implies urgency. Beneath the title, we see three bullet points that sum up the objectives of this activist group. The group wants TMI and Oyster Creek plants closed and the construction of Forked River plant stopped. The poster doesn’t refer to these plants as “plants”. It refers to them as “nukes”. This obviously implies that the plants are not nuclear powered plants designed to produce electricity, but rather atom bombs. By changing the vocabulary, the poster accomplishes a narrative victory. The plants are not really accidents, but rather lethal atom bombs. This accident was not really an accident, but something approaching nuclear detonation. The third bullet point states the cost of accident and cost of decontamination should be paid by the stockholders rather than the public. GPU Corporation, owner of TMI at the time of the incident, had successfully sued the government and shifted the cost of cleanup to the consumer via price hikes.
The second thought bubble advertise a sit-in. It gives the date, time, address, etc. The words SIT-IN are upper-case and large, so as to capture the essence of the bubble. Once the observer has read SIT-IN, their attention glides over the rest of the info. Phone numbers are provided for more info.
At the very bottom, the name of the group is provided along with a small caption, “Labor Donated.” This caption also implies the authenticity of this poster. The creators are not paid to do this. They are community organizers, which makes them more trustworthy in the eyes of most people.
This poster was created one year after Three Mile Island, and it is a relic of the dynamism of its era. People were organizing on the local level to bring about the change they wanted to see in the world. They were not bothering with the democratic and legal processes. The belief that the government existed to serve the people was gone. People believed the government was bought and controlled by rich elites who didn’t care about them. So they turned to community organizing and split within interest groups. This process of activism has been the most vocal and influential conduit of communal change for the last few decades.