‘We have come to be destroyed’: The ‘extraordinary’ child in science fiction cinema in early Cold War Britain

AHP readers may be interested in a new piece in History of the Human Sciences, “‘We have come to be destroyed’: The ‘extraordinary’ child in science fiction cinema in early Cold War Britain” by Laura Tisdall. Abstract:

Depictions of children in British science fiction and horror films in the early 1960s introduced a new but dominant trope: the ‘extraordinary’ child. Extraordinary children, I suggest, are disturbing because they violate expected developmental norms, drawing on discourses from both the ‘psy’ sciences and early neuroscience. This post-war trope has been considered by film and literature scholars in the past five years, but this existing work tends to present the extraordinary child as an American phenomenon, and links these depictions to adults’ psychoanalytical anxieties about parenthood and the family. This article, considering Village of the Damned (1960), Children of the Damned (1963), The Damned (1963), and Lord of the Flies (1963), will contend that the extraordinary child was British before it was American, and tapped as much into nuclear anxieties generated by the early Cold War as fears about the ‘permissive society’, especially given that many of these films preceded the peak of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and were based on British science fiction of the 1950s. The ‘psy science’ that was dominant in these films was developmental psychology, not psychoanalysis. Moreover, adolescents as well as adults were key audiences for these films. Drawing on self-narrative essays written by English adolescents aged 14 to 16 between 1962 and 1966, I will demonstrate that this age group employed their own fears of nuclear war and their knowledge of psychological language to challenge adult authority, presenting a counter-narrative to adult conceptions of the abnormal and irresponsible ‘rising generation’.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.