Mental Hygiene Friday: “Booby Traps”

YouTube user shaggylocks has an enviable array of social engineering films posted on their channel. I imagine shaggylocks and I to be quite the kindred spirits in this regard. He/she and I probably have a lot in common, but selflessness and work effort are obviously not shared qualities, since I can’t even manage to embed code on a weekly basis. But a big thank you to shaggylocks and the hard work put into this staggering collection!

Today’s selection comes from the most unhygienic source of all… the United States GI!

From the description:
Private Snafu learns about the hazards of enemy booby traps the hard way.
This is one of 26 Private SNAFU (Situation Normal, All F***ed Up) cartoons made by the US Army Signal Corps to educate and boost the morale the troops. Originally created by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Phil Eastman, most of the cartoons were produced by Warner Brothers Animation Studios – employing their animators, voice actors (primarily Mel Blanc) and Carl Stalling’s music.

These old war films were the forerunners of the mid-century mind-blowers we mock today, like the ones directing suburban housewives how to navigate the perils of the produce section of the grocery store. Yet, it’s not a great leap to imagine how America went from warning our overseas airmen about the moist dangers of syphilis to questioning 50s teens on the topographically appropriate places for heavy petting (answer: none).

Mental Hygiene Friday

A Word to the Wives

1955.  What had more chrome and steel than the behemoths coming of the assembly lines in Detroit?  Kitchens.  These 1950s sales films about dream kitchens turn me green with envy.  Recently I became entranced by a film that featured a stove with a built in boiling pot (you lose a burner but gain a pasta pot!!) and a built-in periscope that allowed you to peer into the oven.  Never mind the logistics of bending over a piping hot electric range — or the fact that all you really needed was a transparent glass oven door — here’s a nuclear sub periscope in your own kitchen!

A Word to the Wives features Marsha Hunt as an alarmingly devious woman who helps her best friend trick her unsuspecting husband (Darren McGavin!) into not only buying the kitchen of her dreams, but an entire house along with it.

I once watched a film on a concept kitchen that featured irradiated food drawers to keep your groceries fresh.  Ponder this:

“The Army Quartermaster Corps concluded early on that wholesome, economical, shelf-stable field rations could be provided through irradiation. However, early sensory evaluation of sterilized (1) irradiated meats described it as having a “wet dog aroma.””

We still irradiate certain foods, albeit not with nuclear cancer rays, and alas, not in our own veggie crispers.

Last week I did my part to help UN-modernize a friend’s kitchen.  She collects Depression Glass so I bought her a lovely lime green glass juicer for her birthday.  Depression Glass can also be known as Vaseline Glass or… Uranium Glass.  Wonder if you’ve got some stored away in the attic?  Just bring out your trusty UV light.  It will glow in the dark.

Mental Hygiene Friday

The Terrible Truth

Sid Davis Productions, 1951.

Another film by the great Sid Davis.  This one’s big budget, with bona fides and technicolour:  a real life judge from the juvenile court system in Los Angeles, and b roll footage of actual drug paraphernalia.  I just love these docudramas… it’s like The Phenix City Story of mental hygiene films.


“It should be seen by every schoolchild in America!” – Thoughts on mental hygiene films

I few years ago, I requested – and got – Ken Smith’s book Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films 1945-1970 as a Christmas present. Needless to say, I spent a few hours on Christmas morning nose deep in a book, grinning widely in anticipation of searching out some of the harder to find films I hadn’t yet seen. Yes, that is my idea of a good time.

By the time I went through my formative school years, social guidance films were almost a thing of the past. I was sixteen before I first encountered one – Red Asphalt, still reigning as the king of the dangers of driving films, was already dated, but its reputation preceded it. Not every driver’s ed class still showed the film at that time. Like the victims of auto accidents it showed, you could already hear the cautionary film’s death rattle. And so, it became a sort of rite of passage to find a driver’s ed teacher who still showed it. Classes, by that time, weren’t even given at my school. I learned the rules of the road in a tiny office downtown and took actual road lessons in a Dodge Neon (shudder) after school.

Like a lot of things that happen in high school, Red Asphalt was ultimately a let down. The “gore” mental hygiene films had started decades before in the late 60s and early 70s. It may have been shocking then, but after the 80s slasher genre and movies like Faces of Death, the intended audience was probably a little harder to make an impression on. Honestly, at that point, the looming written DMV test scared me a lot more than the graphic representations of what would happen if I didn’t wear my seat belt.

The idea behind mental hygiene (social guidance, classroom films, social engineering films, etc.) is nothing new. But like a lot of things that happened mid-century, a few things had to happen for things to perfectly distill into the films we like to poke fun at today. First, the intended audience of most of the films was a new species of animal called the American Teenager, which was just starting to become closely studied during and after the Second World War. Ken Smith makes a good point in the introduction of his book – one I happen to agree with. In 1946 teenagers were coming off of years of upheaval: depression, the institution and revocation of Prohibition, and a world changing war. How to set things on the straight and narrow again and get the needle back in the groove of status quo? Manipulation through film. This was nothing new. Our soldiers, seamen and Marines had already been sent off abroad after film screenings to teach them the art of the bayonet and the horrors of syphilis. And who better to manipulate than the young, the bright future of America?

Of course that makes it seem so subversive and seamy, but it was done with the best intentions. And looking back at these films from afar, although they seem naive and silly, don’t they really make us yearn for a time when life was so uncomplicated that the worst we had to fear was bad posture and whether to kiss your date goodnight? Yes, these films are hilarious. Also, the acting is atrocious and the topics can be mundane. However they set the stage for years to come. By the time I was a teenager, we had the After-school Specials and the Lifetime movies still dealing with the same topics of unwed mothers and drinking and driving. They’ve gone out of vogue, which is sad, but could they come back? I’d like to think of future generations rolling their eyes and making fun of films about the dangers of drunk texting and naked iPhone pics.