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The sub-title of Dr. Strangelove is "or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb" and it's used as a very common snowclone in other contexts.

But what does the sub-title actually mean? What does it imply?

I've seen the excellent film a few times - but I don't see how the audience could have take-away impression that leaves them less worried about the risks of accidental or unintentional nuclear war - and why would it lead someone to develop an appreciation - or love of nuclear weapons?

What confuses me is that in many cases where it's used - especially the original film - such as prose articles, the author's conclusion doesn't match the title which leads me to believe it's used sarcastically or ironically - but given so many people just don't grasp irony (or use the correct definition) I'm not inclined to believe that.

(I'm Asking in English.StackExchange instead of Movies.StackExchange because I'm asking about the language being used rather than how it relates to the film specifically, especially given its use in other contexts, but if you feel this question is posted in the wrong forum please let me know and I'll close this and repost it there instead)

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    This question would indeed be better asked elsewhere. The phrase in the subtitle is meant literally, so there's not much to discuss from an English language standpoint. The film and the title are meant to be absurd.
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:22
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    To me it's something along the lines of "If rape is inevitable, lie down and enjoy it".
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:24
  • +1 for mentioning an interesting subtitle that has been inculturated, but see my answer as to the interpretation of the subtitle as part of the work of art itself. what the phrase might mean in broader usage does seem a more legitimate question, but then it is applied differently by different people, so who knows? sarcasm, irony, literal? use it as you wish. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:30
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about interpretation of a whole (sub-)title at subtext level. The language is, at surface level, transparent, and no individual construction or word is asked about. The 'meaning' tag at 'Movies' is relevant. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 19:51
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    It's all explained here.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 1:44

7 Answers 7

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The subtitle is probably a sarcastic allusion to Dale Carnegie's self-help book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (1948). A recent edition of the book asserts on the front cover, "OVER SIX MILLION COPIES SOLD!" Carnegie's other, even more famous contribution to the self-help genre was How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), of which at least 30 million copies have been sold.

The irony of the movie's subtitle, of course, is that, at the end of the movie, no one is left to worry because everyone is dead. The serious undercurrent beneath the irony is that perhaps people should be worried about the possibility of nuclear war and do more to ensure that it not occur.

Dr. Strangelove was filmed in 1963 and released in January 1964. The Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Herman Kahn's book On Thermonuclear War (1960), and the military maximalism of such contemporaneous figures as Air Force General Curtis LeMay provide a clear and sobering counterpoint to the subtitle's breezy "don't worry, be happy" insouciance. The Wikipedia article on Dr. Strangelove does an excellent job of detailing the historical context for the film.

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The film's title may be an ironic comment of its time, since one of the main characters (the one, arguably, most responsible for its being used) sits astride the bomb as it falls downwards to a populated area.

In common with the Doctor ('Strange' 'Love') he also learned to love the bomb and, in his zeal to effect the nuclear holocaust, he (enthusiastically) becomes part of it : and is destroyed. Herein, perhaps, is the lesson of the film.

Thus, I assume the social comment of the film is to say that persons who give up their anxious misgivings and embrace the bomb (as a means of world peace) are in a strange kind of love, which brings the very real risk of personal destruction.

[This is my observation, not necessarily my opinion, as the whole subject has become a perplexing part of human existence.]

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People are afraid of the unknown.

Worry and fear are a direct result of not knowing what is going to happen.

Normally, many things are beyond our control, but we can plan for each contingency. As the number of possibilities increases, the situation becomes more complex and we start to feel anxious. And when the number of unknowns that we have to be prepared for becomes too large for us to handle, we experience worry and fear.

Many people fear death for instance. But as one ages, a near future death becomes more and more inevitable. The uncertainty becomes less and less. People that know they are dying and know reasonably accurately when, don't need to worry about it and don't experience significant fear.

During the Cold War, people worried about a lot of things. They practised "duck and cover" in schools. They dug bomb shelters in their back yards. They did many useless things because they didn't know how else to prepare for what might happen.

The film shows that we don't need to worry that it might happen. It informs us that it will happen. And there's nothing we can do to prevent it. And there's nothing we the common people can even do to prepare for it.

It's inevitable, so stop worrying about it, and enjoy the other aspects of your life.

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It needs to be understood that the statement was intentionally ironic/sarcastic, though it did capture the sentiment of a small (I hope) segment of the population that was (and, alas, still is) "OK" with the Bomb and the horrifying destruction it would bring with it if used.

I believe it was an attempt to bring this division into focus.

(And it needs to be understood that the movie was presented as a comedy of sorts.)

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There is nothing unusual in this title so far as its grammatical structure and the meanings of the words that appear in it are concerned. If an explanation of it is needed, that explanation has to be an explanation of the content of the film, not a matter of English language and usage.

In order to understand the title, one has to take note of the exchange close to the end of the film, in which Dr. Strangelove explains how arrangements can be made for several hundreds of thousands of people to survive the annihilation of the rest of the humanity, and how these survivors would be expected to then 'breed prodigiously'. In order to ensure fast population growth, Dr. Strangelove suggests that among those selected for survival there would be 'a ratio of, say, ten females to each male'. The men would include 'top government and military men', while the women would be 'selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature'.

The words of the film's title reflect the perspective of a heterosexual male who, upon hearing about this plan, expects to be selected for survival (perhaps because he is among the 'top government and military men'), and who looks forward to the sexual indulgences that it may provide for him, to the point of ignoring its horrors.

One can, of course, find in the title various additional layers of significance, some of which have been suggested in other answers on this page, but all these additional layers supervene on this literal meaning.

(I originally posted this explanation as a comment, because I regarded the matter as outside the scope of this site. Given, however, that the question remains active, and that none of the other answers includes this explanation, I thought that, for the benefit of future visitors to the page, it now needs to be posted as an answer.)

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It has taken a while, but I finally realized that the full title of Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964) is a reference to the last line of Orwell's "1984". ie: "He loved Big Brother." Patriotism is just the Stockholm Syndrome.

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  • Coupled with the Carnegie title, this could be the answer. It makes sense. But somewhat speculative. Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 18:48
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The titles of movies and books (was it a book?) are a part of the work of art that comprises the whole book/movie itself, and in art of this type no part of it is obliged to be comprehensible to anyone, including the author(s) himself/herself/themself(ves). relatedly, the words do not have to include every possible meaning. in this case, as in all cases, the author/publisher accepted the title and thar she blows. any irony or sarcasm is up to you to fathom. or ask the author what they meant, but this of course is not the be-all end-all of literary criticism, the film (and possible book) being the text at hand in this case.

in short, the title means whatever you think it means, which may be different to/from/than what anyone else might think it means, including the author(s)/publisher(s). Which is why lit crit (literary criticism) is off topic here, and I write an answer to asseverate that this indeed applies to the titles and subtitles of movies.

ETA: as far as what the OP mentions as "snowclones"..., well, since the subtitle as subtitle can be interpreted differently, I dont think we can nail down its application in other areas to some one meaning or usage. as some people say, YMMV. your mileage may vary. what people make of it and how they use it is not a matter for which English Language and Usage has as answer, other than to say just that. irony, sarcasm, literal? yes

to all three

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    Snowclone: A snowclone is a customizable formulaic phrase that consists of a framework that can be adapted for different situations by changing some of the words. It's typically expressed in terms of the invariable part of the phrase with blanks represented by X, Y, and Z, for example, X is the new Y.
    – Řídící
    Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:39
  • snowclone, not snowcone.... got it @Mike and We oath, et al. Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:43
  • Mike, it's be-all end-all, with dashes Commented Jan 2, 2020 at 17:51

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