Two Classic Social Guidance FilmsBeau Albrecht
If you’re old enough to remember your teacher threading film from a small reel into a projector about the size of a sewing machine, chances are that you’ve seen a few social guidance films. You might remember the deep and authoritative voice-overs which often narrated these flicks. Often they ran for 20-30 minutes, a workable length to fit into a classroom lecture. The Prelinger Archives have preserved a large number of videos like these which may be viewed online. Some have become perennial classics, bringing back memories of times gone by.
To name one example, a particularly iconic one is the youth-oriented nuclear war preparedness film Duck and Cover. Although it tends to get ridiculed a lot, its advice is better than nothing. There are different ways in which a nuke can ruin your day. Some can be mitigated at least partially, given favorable circumstances and correct action taken very promptly. Still, if you’re caught above ground in the fireball, it’s unfortunately inescapable that you’ll emerge from the experience extra crispy. Your only last-moment hope is to find a lead-lined fridge.
A window into America’s past
These educational movies often provide a view into a bygone era that today often seems like stepping into a dream. They were produced from the 1940s through the 1980s, with the 1950s and ‘60s as this genre’s golden age. They usually exemplified the traditionalism which became regarded as “square.” It’s quite refreshing to see how normal things were back in the day, when educational material taught healthy values rather than how many genders can dance on the head of a pin.
These retro films about dating and morals are quite popular nowadays, since some consider them as unintentionally funny — good for a chuckle about how corny they are in light of contemporary values. (Given the utter wreckage of today’s social environment, it turns out that the “squares” had a point!) Other than those, the old “birds and the bees” instructional videos remain oddly popular, though I can’t imagine they’d be all that exciting to watch. Perhaps they are to those homeschooling parents who want to deliver a biology lecture without deep-frying their children’s brains in radical gender theory like public schools do.
Another notable sign of the times was Boys Beware, a warning about groomers which isn’t about to win any awards from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). My own horribly problematic commentary includes the following:
So Jimmy gets busted too, for being seduced by a chickenlover? Harsh! Then again, he gave up the ass for a burger combo and a few bucks; that rates a class A misdemeanor at least.
The lesser-known companion piece is Girls Beware, which is considerably grimmer. After seeing both, I miss the good old days when murdering sickos in California got their attitudes adjusted with Zyklon B. Things were so much saner before the “criminals are the real victims” crapola became hip.
All told, one could find an ideological balance suitable for classroom presentation. There were some videos that featured one-world globaloney or liberal mush. They also didn’t always age so well, but weren’t too terrible other than in their sneaky rhetoric. Sure, they were contrived, but that’s hardly unusual for the genre. In other instances, sociopolitical content included positive and virtuous messages: patriotism, honesty, industriousness, morality, and so on. It’s hard to imagine that much of it would fly in classrooms today.
There isn’t been much ideological balance left today, given the kind of slop pumped into students’ soft heads. There’s no shortage of wokester teachers who believe God ordained them to use their young, captive audience as raw materials to manufacture Leftist Pod People. Even by the mid-1960s, the tide was beginning to turn, and it was “hip” to be against your own society. I can imagine that in classrooms at that time, plenty of adolescent sophisticates, juvenile delinquents, and hippie wannabes were already chuckling about the corny social guidance films.
Two of them were produced in 1972 which were apparently geared toward reaching out to these junior-league peace creeps, comsymps, pinklets, and teenage burnouts. Their object was to talk them off the ledge, steer them away from the Pied Pipers trying to recruit them into the counterculture, and get the ungrateful punks to see the light. Such a film was Brink of Disaster!, followed by its sequel, Tragedy or Hope. (The latter has nothing to do with the Carroll Quigley book of a similar title.)
This one begins with a brief montage showing street upheaval. Then it cuts to John, a college kid carrying a baseball bat. He sneaks into the inner chamber of a university library after hours through a window that was left unlocked, surely purposefully. He closes and locks it, so apparently he’s staying.
He’s pretty clean-cut — hardly a dirty hippie. He’s wearing jeans, a letter jacket, and a button-down shirt. His hair is short for the time; about what a well-bred college student back then might’ve looked like. My vague recollections of those days were that students typically dressed quite casually. As is eventually revealed, he’s a football player and an honor student in the pre-med program.
He first thumbs listlessly through a book. Then he is startled when he hears a noise, and grabs the baseball bat. He finds a book that had fallen off of a shelf: A Rebel in Arms. Surely this is symbolism; this may be a low-budget feature, but even so, somebody’s been to film school, baby! Then a figure in the shadows calls him by name. This turns out to be a distant ancestor, another Jonathan Smith. (They’re played by the same actor, appearing together via a bit of blue-screen magic.) He was killed in the Revolutionary War.
Smith the Elder discusses a mob assembling on the campus commons, comparing the aimless peace creeps to Shawnees on the warpath. He says he’d heard they had plans to burn down the library. Smith the Younger claims to be neither for nor against them. His ancestor tells him that being a fence-sitter doesn’t work. He explains:
If I had my druthers, I’d rather live for something than die for something. But what would make me sorriest of all would be to find out I’d died for nothing.
Ouch! It must be pretty harsh to get called out by one’s ashamed ancestor! After that, he speaks of his Revolutionary War comrades in the spirit world who’ve come to visit the present day. “We just don’t stomach a bunch of hooligans trying to tear down what we gave our lives to build,” he says. That gets a disgusted look from John the Younger.
They talk further. We find out a bit more about the elder’s backstory, which I’ll go into later. The discussion again turns to politics in general, and specifically to the mob planning to burn down the library. John the Younger defends them as kids just being kids, while still claiming to be neither for nor against them.
Someone unlocks the library’s front door. It is Dr. Harden, an older man. John knows him and puts down the bat; when questioned, he claims he found it in the yard. Dr. Harden is a conservative professor, which was already becoming a rare breed even then. He had seen that the light was on in the room and had heard voices, so he figured that the SDSers — “Students for a Dirtier Society,” as he puts it — were up to something. According to rumor, they are planning to attack the library. John now claims that he’s planning to defend a section of rare medical books.
Jonathan the Elder reappears and begins chatting with Dr. Harden. John the Younger, while still claiming to maintain his neutrality, defends the SDSers, claiming he supports freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. (The odd thing is that in those days, normative liberalism backed the First Amendment wholeheartedly! Who knew, right? Nowadays, they believe in freedom of speech — for themselves.) The other two aren’t going to let that one go. Dr. Harden remarks:
There it is. You see, that’s the irony. They always piously invoke the very Constitution that they want to destroy.
Then they debate the morality of property destruction in the name of making a statement:
Sure, but the single all-out deadly purpose is the destruction of this country. See, our enemies, headed and masterminded by worldwide Communists, they found out that they can’t destroy us from without until first they weaken us from within. And John, they think they can do it. They have every reason to think so.
That’s basically ideological subversion 101. Young John — one of many in the target audience of his generation — had swallowed all that hook, line, and sinker. Other subjects include morality and marijuana as a gateway drug. Then the kid rebuts and gets his licks in. Part of it includes the following:
You’re not blaming young people for all of it. Have you ever heard of unemployment? Most young people can’t even buy jobs. For years, we’ve been told get a college education; to get good jobs, you need an academic degree. Well, academic degrees are lucky to be sweeping floors, and that’s not our fault. You said it this world’s in bad shape. Well, it’s a world we never made.
Okay, boomer. Just wait and see how things will be for graduates in 50 years. Everything will be peachy once you and your radicalinski buddies get your chance to do something about these problems, right? He accuses Dr. Harden of leaving economic problems for his generation to fix, and continues:
You flee about this country being in serious trouble. Wake up, doc; this country is already over the brink. It’s down the drain. You talk about an America that no longer exists.
If only they could see us now! The SDSers bust into the library and try to enter the room. Then Comrade John shows his true colors at last — no more hokey excuses — and turns out to be a Leftist rotter. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s worth a watch when the actual rebel confronts the rebel without a clue. It draws to a close with the words: “Will you let this be the end?”
This one begins by briefly recapping last film’s ending. Then a montage shows us several big-name professional Leftists of the 1960s leading the youth astray. These were Pied Pipers like Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg (already aging none too gracefully), and others I don’t recognize. One of the beardos looks a bit like Jerry Rubin, but I’m not certain. The voiceover explains what has been happening to young people like John:
For one thing, our youth of today are the object of the most extensive, intensive, diabolical campaign ever conceived. Organized and directed by our and their worst enemies, on many of our nation’s platforms, radical speakers make a well-paid living going around, many of them subsidized by the Communists, telling our young men what’s wrong North America. On such a platform, we have seen many self-proclaimed Communists and revolutionaries, radical spokesmen for various groups and professions, and sometimes even prominent political figures all joining in a movement with which the subversive Communists plan to destroy America.
Then it shows scenes of shaggy, underdressed hippies toking up while enjoying their overextended adolescence, indefinitely on leave from responsibility.
Life doesn’t give do-overs in reality, but John the Younger gets one after enrolling in a crash course at STFU. He reluctantly agrees that if a country’s bad points can be held against it, then it should also get credit for its good points. There are a number of subjects, but economics is foremost. Fairly early on, the professor discusses how America’s prosperity is the envy of the world. Automation is creating easy working conditions. The professor points to a globe:
Look, here we are. We make up 6% of the world’s population, and yet we produce more than 50% of its manufactured goods. Our little 6% right here produces as much as the rest of the world combined. Now isn’t that remarkable? The average American citizen’s living standard measured in wealth and purchasing power is twice that of the average citizens of other countries, three times better than most countries, and four times better than Russia. Now doesn’t that tell you something?
That one floored me. Five decades ago, the United States was a manufacturing powerhouse, an engine of productivity providing half the world’s needs. The common people were prospering like nowhere else. Never forget, this is what the globalists took from us, just to begin. How many tens of millions of jobs were lost here when countless factories had their equipment boxed up and shipped to the Chinese Communists? Those responsible need to be held accountable for what they’ve done.
Moreover, the purpose of automation used to be about amplifying worker productivity while easing their toil. That’s much different from when, a few years ago, some talking head gloated that automation would make everyone earning a salary under $200,000 unemployable. “Let them eat cake,” is it? Well, I say that the Space Lizards, the bugmen, and the rest of the bipedal toads who think that’s such a hot idea can go take their Fourth Industrial Revolution and cram it.
Back to the film. John the Younger, ever the cynic, retorts, “Sure, if you want to measure greatness by purely selfish materialism.” Comrade Smith, bite your tongue! Of course that’s how greatness is measured. Did you forget the very opening line of the Communist Manifesto? Now get a clue about dialectical materialism, or the political officer will call you in for a struggle session!
Two other of John’s ancestors arrive and discuss America’s contributions to transportation, which has been a benefit to the entire world. I was glad to hear their kind words for the Great Man of our auto industry, such as “I always thought Henry Ford was about as American as you could get.” Damn right! Apart than that, it was quite refreshing to see how America’s big businesses worked back in the day when they were headed by creative captains of industry. It’s certainly a contrast to the present Woke Capital dumpster fire, run for the benefit of money-grubbing oligarchs squeezing out every last drop of surplus profit for themselves.
The ending, of course, is quite different. John the Younger gets the bananas out of his ears just in time. Finished with being a deluded Leftist rotter, he’s ready to show some goddamned appreciation for America the Beautiful. I’m not sure that his idea to confront the SDS hooligans with the truth would’ve been entirely practical in that situation — those types seems rather impervious to reason, especially when assembled as a mob — but it works on a symbolic level.
What went wrong in John’s life?
Granted, this is low-budget counterpropaganda, but someone put some effort into the concept. John appears at first like a pretty straight-up guy, and in other ways he hardly fits the profile of a Leftist rotter. Still, despite his fairly transparent evasions, it seems from early in the film that he probably has some radicalinski sympathies — at least. What gives with that? There’s an evocative backstory, partially explored in the film.
While John was in high school, his father abandoned the family and his mother got remarried to a no-goodnik. This prompted John to leave home as soon as he graduated. Although screwed-up families are the “new normal” nowadays, this upbringing would have been considered a hardship at the time. All told, his experiences give him a cynical take on family life. “Why keep a cow when milk’s so cheap?”
He also mentions serving in Vietnam. It’s likely that he enlisted to get away from his toxic situation, preferring to dodge AK-47 bullets than to put up with a stepfather who treats him like dirt. (There went I but for the grace of God.) There could be even more underneath the surface than that. Did wartime experiences cause disillusionment? Did his college enrollment under the GI Bill include getting indoctrinated by Professor Dorkheimer? Those might be contributing factors, which aren’t explored, but it’s clear that the decisive factor was getting pulled into the counterculture’s ideological undertow.
When the storm breaks, which way will you go?
One major theme in the films was that of turning points. What was John going to do in the end? What would the SDSers have done if they’d broken into the room? How would everyone be affected by that day’s events? Most importantly, what was happening to America, and could it be halted? As the second film puts it:
All of us come to crossroads in life choosing which road to take. From that day long after, we wonder what life would have been had we taken the other way.
At a distance of 50 years, we can see that those were indeed some turbulent times. In hindsight, the era is generally remembered in the popular imagination as one of peace and love, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and all that. Even so, the US really had been coming apart at the seams with repeated mass violence the likes of which didn’t recur until 2020. The worst of it was 1967-8, but things were still quite dicey in 1972. With the globe turning red, one country after another, it’s hardly too much to say that the fate of the world hung in the balance.
Besides that, there were other destructive trends afoot such as skyrocketing crime (which would keep increasing until the early 1990s), family breakdown, and drug abuse, among other fine messes. The role of dysfunctional Leftist ideology in its many forms was a common thread behind much of that era’s chaos. Which part of it was engineered ideological sabotage versus sophomoric shortsightedness is a matter open to interpretation. What we do know, as this double feature depicts quite fittingly, is that campuses became hotbeds of Communism and other radical currents. In fact, sometimes pinko professors like Herbert Marcuse took on leadership roles.
Luckily for us, somehow the US managed to squeak through the 1970s fairly intact, despite the fallout from Watergate and, later, the Carter administration’s monumental incompetence. The 1980s turned out to be an improvement, culminating in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the globalists have been the ones running subversion scripts, picking right up after their Soviet buddies went down the tubes, and also inheriting their useful idiots.
1972 marked another turning point for the country. I remember fuel prices going up around then. As an ankle-biter, my very first lesson in economics was noticing the price dial on the gas pump moving faster. What I didn’t know at the time was that rising fuel prices make nearly everything else more expensive, too. (We’re seeing the same thing today under the incompetent Resident Bidet’s junta.) This is but one sign that the economy was starting to hit the skids back then. After that, things would never quite be the same again.
More significantly, corporate profits had been rising steadily, and real wages closely followed. Since 1972, corporate profits have continued to soar, but inflation-adjusted wages have been stagnant ever since, while the CEOs and upper management have been swimming in gravy. What happened? There were several factors, but globalism creeping in was among the foremost. Executives slowly began exporting jobs to dirt-cheap labor markets abroad, one factory at a time. When the fictional Leftist rotter John bitterly complains about the economy, he doesn’t know how good they had it! It’s been more or less downhill since then for the common man.
Although this wasn’t mentioned in the films, for the sake of completeness I should also mention that population replacement migration had barely gotten off the ground floor at that point. Then, whites had fallen just below 90% of the total population; this was the beginning of the long game of boiling the frog slowly. Even then I could see what was happening. Other populations were moving in from abroad, but they weren’t like us and they didn’t seem in any hurry to go back where they came from. Even if they learn our language and adopt our ways, they still aren’t like us.
Although I was raised as a liberal, it never made sense to me that we should give away our territory. A time traveler from 50 years ago would be very surprised and would find the country barely recognizable today — perhaps at wondering who the hell took over America and caused this to happen.
And finally . . .
These films were an interesting blast from the past. The double feature was jointly produced by Jerry Fairbanks Productions, which specialized in short films, and the National Education Program, its cinematic efforts limited to a brief run of generally anti-Communist features. There were only two actors. Ed Nelson, with a large number of B movies and TV appearances over the years, played the professor. Gary Crabbe plays John and his ancestors. He had only a handful of bit parts during his cinematic career. He does show considerable versatility here, and knows how to act, but I suppose that Hollyweird’s talent scouts weren’t looking at very many public service announcements about campus radicalism.
It also shows what can be done on a shoestring budget. If what I’ve read is accurate, these were made for merely a thousand dollars, which even back then was a microscopic outlay for cinema. It’s quite surprising how few efforts like these were made toward countering the typhoon of demoralization propaganda targeting our youth since the 1960s. It’s hard to imagine these two obscure social guidance films even having a thousandth of the influence as, for example, merely one Leftist anthem by counterculture bards like John Lennon. Any one of them got regular airplay for months on countless radio stations, each signal-boosting the message into the sky by several kilowatts.
I haven’t seen any distribution statistics, and I have no idea how many times these films were shown in classrooms. It’s therefore anyone’s guess as to how many youths were deterred from being pipelined into the counterculture by this little two-part drama. I’m guessing not very many. This is especially so given the transcendental cynicism and ennui of most teenagers, especially toward boring stuff like saving their society from ruin. If the elemental force of adolescent apathy could be harnessed to run a generator, then disinterested punks could power Manhattan simply by not giving a hoot.
What would be the effect of watching The Brink of Disaster! and Tragedy or Hope on the kids who needed the message the most? I can imagine that the young burnouts, juvenile delinquents, and pinklets were giggling throughout, rubbing eyes that were reddened from toking up in the bathroom. Still, it was at least worth a try to talk them off the ledge.
* * *
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 He seems similar to a younger version of Charles Gray, who played the criminologist — better known as the man with no neck — narrating The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Interestingly, both characters have a strong “square” vibe, which is played rather unsympathetically in the case of Rocky Horror, but they end up being right, anyway — notwithstanding their notable un-hipness.
This is fantastic! I’m enjoying, immensely, the imbedded movies. Oh, yes, I certainly do remember “film day” in elementary school and junior high. For a social outcast like myself, it was a blissful oasis in an interminable sea of forced socialization with unpredictable “classmates”. I could discern by the size of the reel the teacher was inserting into the projector if I was in for a ten-minute escape or — jackpot! — a stack of 30-minute reels that would take up the entire day or class.
An addendum to my earlier comment: I’ve read again the concluding commentary by Beau Albrecht, who has composed an excellent summary that ties together the messaging in the films to the trajectory of Exactly How We Got Here. The central Indiana town I grew up in was a bustling automobile manufacturing hub in the 1960’s. By the late 1970’s, “good” jobs were rapidly dwindling as the one-track economy started grinding to a halt. The area entered an economic and social depression in the early 1980’s (about the time I graduated from high school) from which it has never recovered. Those of us with any ability to do so, got out. What remains now is a rotting corpse of a town, occupied by high-crime opioid zombies and mixed-race (as in White mother, Black sperm donor) children and elderly White people, like my parents, who themselves had migrated there from the south to escape poverty and make a decent life for themselves. Their children, not so much in the decent life category. Their grandchildren? Not at all. Globalism, and now woke capitalism, have decimated the decent, ordinary good White people of America. Our politicians have maliciously sold us out.
Excellent post from start to finish by Beau Albrecht!
Hey, glad you got something out of the writeup. It’s quite unfortunate what happened to your hometown, though.
“When the storm breaks, which way will you go”
Ah, a man who appreciates the classics.
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