Remembering the Reagan 'Bear in the Woods' Ad

As The Americans  digs deep in to U.S. cold war culture and the nuclear paranoia that plagued our daily lives, I was reminded of the Reagan Bear in the Woods  television ad for his 1984 U.S. presidential campaign.

The commercial shows a bear wandering through a forest, accompanied by a serious narration that suggests Americans must be prepared for the distinct possibility of unexpected danger.  The bear, of course, symbolized the Soviet Union and the ad suggested that no other presidential candidate was prepared to recognize and deal with threats from the soviets. The tagline at the end: “President Reagan: Prepared for Peace.”

America’s cold war culture was so edgy during this time that before the “bear” ad aired,  the public seemed more comfortable with Walter Mondale’s description of how he would negotiate with the Soviet Union. People just weren’t buying Reagan’s peace through strength platform… at least not until they saw “the bear”.

Text of the ad is as follows:

“There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear.”

While the cold war is long over, television shows like The Americans will no doubt make people nostalgic for a time when political advertising hit people over the head. We hear, “There is a bear in the woods” even today. Political leaders invoke it whenever a potential problem looms on the horizon. The ad was even copied in the 2004 presidential campaign of Republican George W. Bush in an ad called “Wolves,” which sought to draw parallels between terrorists and timber wolves.  Terrorism was the tone of that Bush ad, not nuclear war.

I’m almost certain that the “Bear in the Woods” ad will appear in an episode of The Americans. Mark my words.


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