If you wonder why your Baby Boomer parents or grandparent might be just a bit on the anxious side, consider all the propaganda they put up with through their school years.
Let’s begin with this government-created paranoia-inducer shown in grade school classrooms across the country [we saw it in first grade], via Nuclear Vault:
Duck and Cover staring Bert the Turtle is a 1951 Civil Defense Film
Written by Raymond J. Mauer and directed by Anthony Rizzo of Archer Productions and made with the help of schoolchildren from New York City and Astoria, New York, it was shown in schools as the cornerstone of the government’s “duck and cover” public awareness campaign.
According to the United States Library of Congress (which declared the film “historically significant” and inducted it for preservation into the National Film Registry in 2004), it “was seen by millions of schoolchildren in the 1950s.”
Duck and Cover lyrics:
There was a turtle by the name of Bert
and Bert the turtle was very alert;
when danger threatened him he never got hurt
he knew just what to do…
And cover! (male) He did what we all must learn to do
(male) You (female) And you (male) And you (deeper male) And you!’
Duck, and cover!’
Duck and Cover (film) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Unexpected Return of ‘Duck and Cover’ – The Atlantic
Production History of Duck and Cover
We can remember crouching under our grade school desks during air raid drills, and at least one a month our Fridays were spine-chillingly interrupted by tests of air raid sirens, making an awareness of possibly imminent annihilation a constant subtext of daily life.
Adults received another form of nuclear war propaganda, devoted to preserving families during nuclear war. And for many, that would mean finding a place in one of the countless fallout shelters designated within public and some private buildings, usually basements stocked with enough preserved food and water to get survivors through the few very few post-apocalyptic weeks.
Here’s an offering from the Defense Department, directed for the Pentagon by James Hartzer. It’s probably unique among the many educational films of the age in having been submitted as an offering to the Cannes Film Festival .
More on the film from CONELRAD [a website named for the agency respobility for warning the public about nuclear attacks]:
The director worked on many other training films during his stint in the service and it wasn’t until his superiors were trying to get him to reenlist that he paused to think back to his first project. “Whatever happened to that film?” he asked of one of the people lobbying him to re-up. It was at this point that Hartzer discovered the surprising fate of Shelter 104. “Once these training films were completed,” Hartzer explained to CONELRAD, “they were sent down to Washington. Some colonel liked it and had it submitted at Cannes.”
Representatives of the Cannes Film Festival did not reply to CONELRAD’s request for additional details, but in the 1967-1968 edition of the Directors Guild of America Directory, the entry for James R. Hartzer states that the film was submitted to Cannes in 1964.
James R. Hartzer went on to work on numerous other film and video projects as a civilian, mainly in an executive capacity, but he still has a 16mm copy of Shelter 104 in his Connecticut home. He has not watched it since it was completed nearly a half century ago, but he told CONELRAD that it still occupies a special place in his heart.
And now for the film itself, via Tomorrow Always Comes:
Public Shelter Living: The Story of Public Shelter 104
Public Shelter Living begins with shelter manager Bob and his assistant, a chirpy blonde, counting people coming into a public Fallout Shelter to avoid the off-camera atomic attack. The thirty-minute black and white movie concerns the challenges of living in a shelter “for as long as we have to.” At one point Shelter Manager Bob tells everyone “That it won’t be any picnic in here. There’s going to be a certain amount of discomfort for all of us.” He then urges his captive audience to “sit down, remain calm and continue filling out those forms that were handed to you.”
Beatnik malcontent “Mr. McCann” is having none of it. The primary lesson of the film seems to be targeted at potential shelter managers: Don’t let stoned beatniks wander into your shelter after the big one drops. You might live to regret it! .
But who would be dropping those bombs [nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles, capable or reaching their destinations in minutes, were a thing of the future, and nuclear weapons in 1952 needed long-range aircraft for delivery]?
As every Baby Boomer knew, the answer was Moscow, seat of what Ronald Reagan later called the Evil Empire, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites.
The bad guys were [shudder] communists, and as such, were to be rooted out both at home and abroad.
But some of the anti-communist propaganda films are notoriously inaccurate, as in the following 1952 Coronet film. At about 3:30 into the film, the narrator asks, Ever hear of Nikolai Lenin? He was the first leader of Communist Russia.”
Uh, Nikolai Lenin? No, never heard of him. On the other hand, we’ve read several score books deal to a significant degree with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, a man who fits that description.
Bear in mind that every kid in most American schools knew the Coronet logo, with one or another of the company’s 16 mm films projected onto glass-beaded screens unfurled from over their classroom blackboards.
As an aside, today’s techie was the Boomer’s audio-visual guy, the fellow [almost invariably in out experience] who threaded projectors, spliced films when they brokers, set speakers, microphones, and amplifiers, and otherwise delighted in the media of the day [we did all of the above from junior high school on, adding radio in high school; later we would be the first reporter at the Sacramento Bee with a computer].
Communism (1952) Coronet Instructional Film
While the Central Intelligence was actively promoting European socialism as an alternative to communism, no such tolerance was expressed in the films flowing from the National Education Program of Harding College in Searcy, Arkansas, then run by a minister of the ultra-fundamentalist wing of the Church of Christ.
We now turn to one of the NEP’s films.
From Cold War Educational Propaganda and Instructional Films, 1945-1965 [PDF], a master’s thesis by Claire Llewellyn Williams Hope of Virginia Commonwealth University:
The interpretation of an American system under attack was reiterated by the National Education Program’s 1955 release, The Responsibilities of American Citizenship. In contrast to What It Means to Be an American, the film presented itself in an objective fashion and provided perhaps the most sophisticated interpretation of Americanism yet presented. However, it was because of this style that The Responsibilities of American Citizenship was particularly dangerous. A complex assessment of American systems of politics and economics were juxtaposed with an exceedingly simplified interpretation of communism. Displayed side-by-side, the film thereby fostered an exceptionally skewed understanding of these systems among students and fostered a disturbing interpretation of the communist threat.
The film opened with the Star Spangled Banner and a close-up of Dr. George S. Benson. Benson, the President of Harding College from 1936 to 1965 began his career as a missionary serving in China. Removed from the country in 1936 by the Communist Party of China, Benson took opposition to communism and socialism as his life’s mission. As President, he established the National Education Program to pursue those ends. The Responsibilities of American Citizenship was one of the fruits of that endeavor. As Benson appeared on screen he informed viewers of the topic of the film, stating, “When our founding fathers established this republic they created a political and economic system unique among nations; a system which has lead the United States to the very pinnacle in wealth and in world leadership. This series of programs is being
presented to help all of us understand better our advantages under our American way of life.”
And with that by way of preface, via Ziptrivia:
Responsibilities of American Citizenship
And maybe it wasn’t just bombs Moscow might hurtle our way. It was drugs too, as is suggested at the end of another example of Baby Boomer scare-anoia
Sid Davis specialized is caring the bejeezus out of kids. Bankrolled initially by macho film star John Wayne [for whom he had worked as a stand-in for his films], Davis made an endless stream of alarmist films.
When he died in 2006 at the age of 90, the New York Times noted:
Mr. Davis lost count of all the films he made, but there seem to have been at least 150, perhaps as many as 200. His best-known titles, familiar to legions of baby boomers, include “The Terrible Truth” (about marijuana); “Name Unknown” (juvenile delinquency); “Why Take Chances?” (flying kites in rainstorms and other heedless acts); “Girls Beware” (sex) and “Seduction of the Innocent” (marijuana, barbiturates and general depravity).
The movies are squarely in the tradition of cautionary literature for children, whose best-known example is probably “Struwwelpeter,” the German tale of the dreadful fate of a dreadful child, which has been traumatizing young miscreants since the mid-19th-century. Mr. Davis’s films, most live-action, some animated, are 16-millimeter equivalents. They are small mirrors of postwar anxiety in an age when juvenile delinquency was perceived as a looming threat.
Here, via Jeff Quitney, is a 1951 offering [more on the film here]:
The Terrible Truth
Davis’s promotional copy:
All over the United States, committees of parents and educators are meeting to determine what can be done to combat the greatest menace ever to peril the welfare of American youth: Narcotic addiction. All agree that something besides stricter enforcement of the drug laws is needed. That ‘something’ is Education. Teen-age boys and girls must be educated to the shocking consequences of ‘playing around’ with narcotics!
It has been proved over and over again that there is no more effective medium of education than the motion picture. The first step in an educational program to fight drug addiction is an effective educational film.
The Terrible Truth documents the tragic story of one teen-age girl, typical of youthful addicts. Starting with an occasional marijuana cigarette, she is induced to experiment with a ‘fix’ of heroin. In a few days, she is [a] hopeless ‘hype,’ ends up with a criminal record and a blighted future. Local and national government studies are cited to show that almost 100 per cent of youthful addicts eventually turn to crime to get money to satisfy their ‘habit.’
It is the responsibility of every community, large or small, to protect its youth against this tragic, appalling menace. Whether a city or town has already experienced the disaster of teen-age drug usage, or whether it has so far escaped being touched, the problem is the same: To educate boys and girls against narcotic usage before it is too late, before more lives and futures are forfeit. No community is safe, so long as the ‘fad’ is allowed to exist anywhere.
And it all this was making you tense, especially that junkie daughter thing, the Pfizer pharmaceuticals had a solution: more drugs. Consider this 1957 version of the infomercial, via Val73TV4:
The Relaxed Wife
1950’s film showing life wasn’t always stress free. If you’re unable to relax using traditional methods there’s now a solution, the Charles Pfizer & Co introduce “Atarax,” a tranquilizer that can help us all to achieve the relaxed state we long for!
Atarax (also known as Hydroxyzine and Vistaril) is a first-generation antihistamine of the diphenylmethane and piperazine classes. It was first synthesized by Union Chimique Belge in 1956 and was marketed by Pfizer in the United States later the same year, and is still in widespread use today. Further information about this drug can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydroxyzine