I like to keep a list of all the things I’ll eventually forget to buy for my survival kit. With hurricane season fast approaching, I checked out Ready.gov, the government website launched in 2003 “to educate Americans to prepare for (and respond to) emergency situations.” As usual, I soon found myself in the kid’s section because there’s nothing more interesting than the way a government tries to talk about scary issues to kids.
Ever since I saw how Walt Disney went to work for the U.S. government during World War II (making kids’ books to promote war bonds or having Daffy Duck destroy a Japanese air base in a movie short), I’ve been fascinated by how we communicate fear to our children. Sometimes it’s the benign Smokey the Bear warning kids about forest fires, while at others it’s an animated Bert the Duck — they must have seen Daffy’s success in Japan during the war — telling kids how to survive a nuclear war in 1951. (Spoiler Alert: You duck and cover. Evidently, hiding under a desk fools the radiation into thinking you’re invisible.)