90s

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Today I’m focusing on Ephemeral safety films featuring that all-knowing, all-judging voice of reason, The Narrator. This Paternalistic Condescender is the bridge between You, The Viewer and You, the Doofus on Screen. Unlike the overtly idiotic and risky Goofuses from the ‘Goofus and Gallant’-style videos, people in Paternalistic Condescender videos are relatable, identifiable, and make terrible choices. You, The Viewer are in the unique position of sharing the Narrator’s godlike omniscience and wisdom, while still capable of all the foibles of your onscreen counterparts. The idea is to see yourself in the mistakes onscreen, and listen to the literal Voice of Reason (almost always male) to avoid them yourself.

 

Before we start, remember how I mentioned the one time that guy caught everything on fire in ‘Hospital Safety’?

Hospital Safety no smoking

DUN DUN…

 

Hospital Safety see this is why no smoking

DUNNNNNNNN!

The narrator remains calm and impassive even as the ward burns to the ground.

  I’ve written a lot about ‘Live and Learn’ (and made several GIFs of children falling off cliffs), so I’ll let these additional images speak for themselves.

Live and Learn head bandage

Live and Learn scissors

 

What I didn’t know until recently is ‘Live and Learn’ had a sequel filmed 2 years later in color called  ‘Why Take Chances?’ It features the same Narrator remarking calmly on childrens’ foolish impulses and casually noting their grim injuries. ‘Why Take Chances’ goes a step further and features intertitled cartoon versions of the kids’ injuries. Somehow that seems like it would impress kids with the idea they’d only get ‘cartoon’ killed if they dropped a piano on a pal’s head.

Why Take Chances  kid slam

Why Take Chances  slam

Why Take Chances snapped foot

Why Take Chances oh snap

 

‘Time Out For Trouble’ is BANANAS. It features a rare female narrator, but since the entire premise of the film is how accidents are caused by EMOTIONS (instead of, you know, boiling water falling on you), of course they have a female narrator. When the narrator isn’t tsk-tsking couples in broken relationships for their psychological pain, the voiceover is provided by (I am not making this up) a psychotic clock bent on killing the leading lady through emotions for calling the clock an eyesore.

Time Out for Safety spooky clock

 

(Just one of the many ways the clock uses household items and rage to kill)

Time Out for Safety trip

 

1990′s ‘Range Safety’ is the ‘Don’t Do What Donny Don’t Does’ of gun safety. The narrator has all the outrage and breathless pace of a Hard Copy story intro at the many, many ways people incorrectly use guns.

Range Safety  locked loaded

Range Safety breaker breaker

Range Safety all in a row

 

Range Safety gunsight

 

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This October, I’m proud to present the latest entry in the EPHEMERA screenings: SAFETY FIRST!   Featuring safety and instructional videos from the 1930s to the early 2000s, SAFETY FIRST is what happens when a pile of vitally important and boring information has to be shown to an audience who doesn’t want to hear it. There’s a few general approaches, including The Paternal Condescender, The Shock and Awe (aka The GoreFest or ‘You’ll Poke Your Eye Out’), and The America’s Funniest Home Videos, but today I’ll focus on The Goofus And Gallant.

(Oh, and if you’d like to see more stills from all the films, I’ve also created a Pinterest board where you can see all the shining weirdness of these ephemeral films for yourself.)

Goofus and Gallant films feature a ‘Gallant’ – a Johnny Do-Right who follows all the rules to a T and is rewarded with health and prosperity. He’s often accompanied by a Goofus, some slacker who heightens Gallant’s proper example with his oafish slacking and blatant disregard for the rules. If he gets injured (usually he just comes perilously close), the violence is cartoonish and silly. Sometimes the relationship is supernatural, with Gallant being a guardian angel-type who must continually rescue the dimwitted Goofus from certain harm.

 

First we have ‘Domestic Disturbance’, a training film for officers responding to domestic disturbance calls. In this case, the Gallants are in active danger from the Goofuses, and following the rules becomes doubly important as everyone’s safety is in the hands of the Gallants. The film acknowledges officers’ reluctance to respond to such calls – as one office says ‘at least with a standoff you know the situation…domestic disturbances are unpredictable’. ‘Domestic Disturbances’ was filmed in 1970s Minnesota, making for an unfortunate overlay of awkward clothing and accent distracting from the serious matter at hand.

personal space

Domestic Disturbance  calm direct

 

‘Safety: In Danger, Out of Doors’  was also obviously filmed in the 70s and features Guardiana, a crossing-guard-turned-superhero. Guardiana must rescue the stupid children around her from danger, but not before lengthy voiceovers pointing out every stupid step they’re taking towards getting themselves killed.

guardiana

guardiana 1

 

‘Christmas Tree Harvest Safety’ (2002) seems to be made for a multilingual audience. Voices are dimly heard and mostly hidden behind loud ‘ding ding ding!’ noises when something’s done right, or a car-alarm when something’s done wrong. The Goofus of this film is a lanky white guy who takes every possible opportunity to chop his leg off with a chainsaw, and the Gallant, a middle-aged Hispanic man, is the one pointing and gesturing the proper steps to take. I’m going to say the film’s continuous use of The Mexican Hat Dance whenever the Gallant points out correct action is probably racist.

Christmas tree safety

 

‘Hazards In Motion’ (2001) features an actual guardian angel, helping the film’s Goofus avoid certain death at the hands of mining equipment and his own blind confidence.

Hazards In Motion white overalls

 

‘Hospital Safety’ is mostly neutral, showing people repeating actions done wrong immediately (except for the one time that guy caught everything on fire).

Hospital Safety lift

Hospital Safety  body lift

 

‘Hands In Motion’ is 90% a Shock-And-Awe film, avoiding gore by using an adorable abstract hand cutout to show the many, many, many ways you can mangle your fingers. Here we see a Gallant of a glamour shot – proper glove-wearing for handling molten metals.

On Every Hand power glove

 

From ‘Days of Our Years’, the most depressing and moralizing of the films (available as an MST3K short which helps it go down a bit easier), we see the RIGHT way to approach someone wielding a giant torch: using ‘gentle touch’. Of course the protagonist was too excited to do that and got blinded before he ever saw his first child, but that’s just the way this movie rolls.

RR sparks

RR gentle touch

 

‘Stairwell Safety’ takes a look inside the mind of the modern secretary pool. Featuring a bee woman instructing fellow ‘drones’ on how to not get killed on the stairs, the inspiration for this likely came from a whimsical Hallmark calendar sitting on someone’s desk.

Stairwell Safety attention

Stairwell Safety seriously

 

I just included this image because office dress code is ok with ‘Big Dog’ t-shirts.

Stairwell Safety bee lady

Oh, ‘Will You Be Here Tomorrow’. You are the violentest, most over-the-top safety film I have ever seen. Here is one of the brief moments in this short film where someone is not actively losing a fake limb and spattering blood everywhere.

Will You Be Here voice of experience

 

The protagonist of ‘A Safe Day’ achieves a full 1000 days of safety, because he makes it his business to be safe. He’s the ultimate Gallant example, carefully thinking through every action and stopping potential injuries before they happen. Goofuses and their horrible manglings are bloodlessly shown through double exposure.

A Safe Day smiley

A Safe Day common sense

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Of the last few crops of Youth it’s been lamented their plundering of the increasingly immediate past for inspiration paints a grim future where we simply run out of ideas. The 80s took from the 50s. The 90s looked to the 70s. The 00s referenced the 80s. And now in the Teens, kids born after 9/11 wear Nevermind shirts and ‘The Mind’s Eye’ is cutting edge design. Remember ‘The Mind’s Eye’? You might have seen it playing behind Rihanna’s SNL performance recently:


(kidding, but man, this and MYST – is your bran reeling with dissonance remembering this as ULTRA CUTTING EDGE! and seeing it now? If so, congratulations- you’re over 30.)

There is a corresponding positive view that once the snake finally eats itself into nothingness, once we completely mine our immediate past, we’ll be left with nothing but the present and from there, off to a bright and shiny future. Well, perhaps not so bright and shiny; if Disney’s current ‘House of Tomorrow’ teaches anything, it’s that past optimism about the amazing potential of the future has been replaced by a desperate vision of ‘the present plus unasked-for electronics’. From plastic houses on Mars to talking picture frames and presetting music to blast on whenever you enter a room.

The current crop seems to take only optimism from the early 90s, which seems strange only in hindsight. Grunge may have just hit the public consciousness, but the music was the product of late 80s job stagnation and political frustration brewing in a scene for years, then finally breaking through. Bright colors, goofiness, naïvete – the early 90s saw the beginning of the dotcom boom and innovation in every artistic field, especially television and music. What better icon to epitomize the era than Bart Simpson,a mix of irreverence, bravado and hidden insecurity?

Current young designers like ALL Knitwear and Dusen Dusen fully embrace this eye-bright style- late 80s garish excessiveness transmuted by genuine energy and talent into something at once more playful and subversive. Think ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’, ‘The Simpsons’, ‘Sam and Max’, and ‘ToeJam & Earl’.

I’ve written about ‘Toejam & Earl’ before, and realize it’s a bit out of its league in terms of changing the visual landscape for future generations like the other examples, but still- here is a game with little violence, lots of goofiness, and very low stakes. Perhaps a generation’s desire to return to the false idyll of childhood, where stakes felt lower, motivates the current interest in these visuals.

And so, once again taking the extremely scenic route, here sampled are some of those bright and happy images calling up the hopeful future the original generation is currently living (in all its mixed results), and the younger generation still reaching for.

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A while back I wrote about finding a Bill Nye The Science Guy video called ‘The Faster You Push Me’, a spoof of Morrissey’s ‘The More You Ignore Me’. Though the weirdness of it struck me, I explored no further. Now I realize I should have dug deeper because that’s not even the most obscure nor the strangest song Bill Nye parodied. A full list of episodes and songs can be found here, but below are the highlights:


spoofing: Suicidal Tendancies, Institutionalized
I did a double take on this one. If you weren’t familiar with the original song you’d just think this was a strange rambling Valley Girl, but the guitar and sped-up lyrics at the end are unmistakeably ‘Institutionalized’.

Bill Nye The Science Guy!

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Firstly, I am not a philosophy major. I did take a rather enjoyable philosophy class led by a man who hated the institution of marriage and gave his office hours as “the bar around the corner from after class to 1:00 a.m.”, but this does not make me an expert.
Though I’m sure my definitions are debatable, I’ve always thought of Existentialism and Nihilism as two sides of the same coin- both are predicated on the idea of living in an absurd, uncaring universe with no purpose or meaning to life; both are reactions to man’s realization of this.
Existentialism strikes me as the stoic positive to Nihilism’s angry negative-where Nihilism’s followers believe in nothing(which sort of negates the whole concept of there beingNihilists, really), Existentialists believe the individual has to forge their own meaning by living life honestly, without conforming to anyone else’s ideas of what living life means. One reacts to the void of purpose by giving in completely, the other by fighting tooth and nail against it. All this, of course, can be expounded upon and debated over for hours and hours on end, preferably over too much coffee in the wee hours of the morning, when philosophical arguments seem to make the most sense.
To simplify, I offer a brief table:

Existentialism

The French
Albert Camus’ “L’Etranger”
Hamlet
The Cure’s “Faith” album
”Hell is other people.”-Sartre

Nihilism

Germans
Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games”
Macbeth
The Cure’s “Pornography” album
“The life of mortals is so mean a thing as to be virtually un-life.”- Empedocles

One of my favorite games of all times is the original ‘Toejam and Earl’ for Sega Genesis. Unlike many games today, with epic, sprawling storylines, ‘Toejam & Earl’s is simple to the point of irrelevancy: two aliens crash-land on earth, and have to find the pieces to rebuild the ship and get home to Planet Funkotron.

The rest of the game they wander around a demented, cartoon version of Earth that I wish everyday would become reality. The music is the best MIDI funk I’ve ever heard, and all the sweet early-90’s backgrounds are straight from the FunPants of my dreams.

I bring this game up because I feel it embodies the Existential life. You, as Toejam &/or Earl, choose to make your own meaning as you wander about the Earthly (literal)planes. You could look for the ship pieces, and this would give you purpose and meaning. One could argue that choosing to do so would fulfill the role the game designers had planned for your character, and therefore free you from forging your own reason(ie-the opposite of being existential), but that’s being quibbly.

Or you could just wander about. And that’s fine, too.

This game is everything those pretentious Godard movies should be. Instead of some stupid couple wandering around Paris not really doing much of anything, maybe running away from the police or some bullshit, sitting in a room for 4 hours staring at the quality of light while making vague references to American cinema from the 1940’s, Toejam and Earl kick it around these strange interconnected island levels, cracking wise and dealing with the local Earthlings. Just as in life, some are good, some evil, and most are unaware they’re even causing damage. You can even sneak up on Santa Claus! Does Godard have Santa Claus? Does he?

Fuck no. I bet he doesn’t even believe in Santa.

The point is not the goal. Yes, if you put the ship together, you get to head on back to the perma-party that is Funkotron. But this game is all about the journey. As they wander around a strange and alien land in what is most assuredly an absurd universe that cares not one whit about their plight, TJ & E learn how to interact with their fellow travelers.

(A point-The existential life, as a result of creating one’s own identity, is by default a lonely one. However, as their goals and actions are one(both TJ & E have to be on the elevator for it to move, for example), I consider them symbiant and therefore one being in two bodies). There is no hope of empathy or true interaction; the Screaming Mother with a shopping cart would just as soon run you down as not, and the Giant Hamster’s isolation is literally translated into the ball it’s trapped in. The most that can be hoped for is a pleasant surface exchange, such as paying the Carrot Man(a wandering scholar in a carrot suit) to tell you what your presents are. There is also the enigmatic and benevolent Santa, but it is nigh impossible to reach him; as you near, he startles, and quickly zips away on his jetpack.

Nihilism takes the form of a roving pack of tomato-shooting chickens(I believe they are wearing German WWI helmets, in a further connection). These chickens are acting against being chickens, but instead of forging a new identity, they choose to maintain a pack mentality and wreak destruction on all who wander near. Alright, that argument is totally shaky and unconvincing, but whatever, I’m arguing philosophy in relation to evil chickens. Alright! Three hours wasted!

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