Disaster was a definite theme of movies of the 1970s – but real disasters that were going to affect us became mainstays of the news cycle. One of the main ongoing stories was the possibility of killer bees.
News reports on the spread of killer bees dominated the media in the early 1970s. The bees, better known as Africanized honey bees, were coming from South America and could hurt, attack and possibly kill us when they swarmed.
The actual history of the bee was that it was brought from Africa to Brazil in the 1950s to create a hybrid bee, as the Africanized honey bees produced more honey. Unfortunately an accident during the breeding process allowed the bees to escape and fuel the hyper fuss of killer bees.
Although the bees weren’t anymore dangerous than a normal bee – just a bit more easily provoked – the hysteria of killer bees was a grand phenomenon, entering into the pop culture as an impending threat. I remember asking my Dad if a lazy bee sitting on a flower in our backyard was a killer bee and wondering when the bees would arrive.
Of course, the reality is that there wasn’t a swarm heading for North America nor could the bees withstand the cold if they could migrate north. But the thought of a foreign animal trying to invade – well that was too much to resist. Hollywood got on the bandwagon with Killer Bees, a horror film made in 1974 starring Gloria Swanson and Kate Jackson. Swanson was the aging matriarch who ran the family’s wine business and had supernatural powers over a swarm of killer bees found in her vineyard.
Saturday Night Live also got into the act with a recurring sketch – The Killer Bees – depised by NBC but loved by creator Lorne Michaels, who regularly had the sketch performed with guest hosts and featuring John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.
Eventually like many overdone and ridiculous stories, the killer bees faded out of popular culture. The reality of the Africanized honey bees is that they did eventually migrate north to the southern US, but the possibility of death, destruction and widespread panic – not about to happen.