Not really, but close enough. It’s 7th grade meets The Dunwich Horror.
Giant leaf fell on a boy. Mayor ate too much and got sick. Kid bites dog. Grammar gets mangled.
The Write Channel chronicled the not-so-gonzo journalism career of insect reporter R.B. Bug, spitting out the facts on a 70s local newscast under the watchful eye of editor/anchor Red Green. No, not that Red Green.
R.B. covered surreal events around town in a basic, straight-laced manner, suitable for illiterates and the E.S.L. classroom. That’d be where I encountered this fine bit of educational programming. Though I was already sawing my way through Isaac Asimov, in 4th grade they sat our narrow asses down in rows to watch our weekly installment of a stop-motion bug talking with all the speed and juicy detail of a Midwesterner with a concussion. (Yeah I went there, Minneapolis.)
Still, credit is due for the end bit (the ominously named The Club) that goads viewers to fiction, finishing the epic tale of the Man Who Lost His Sack. Interactive fiction with 1978 broadcast technology.
After the cut, another clip where Red Green gets personal…
Produced by Mississippi ETV in 1986, Tomes & Talisman presented library and research concepts with a scifi drama. Ms. Bookhart, a librarian from the world of 2123 compiles with her compatriots a library of all human knowledge– which incidentally is in book form and about the size of an average high school library.
Humans were forced off Earth by a race called “The Wipers” who have drunken frat boy at a Midwestern tailgating party level technology: as in yell and throw things. So naturally faced up against the hooligans humans have to evacuate. Bookhart’s library is missing one book, so she sets out in the bookmobile hours before the last evacuation to find it.
Bookhart then meets a deus ex machina generic cloaked spirt guy with magic powers who puts her to sleep for 100 years called “The Universal Being.” Oh, then there are these Nordic Anglo Saxon looking aliens who love jumpsuits and headbands called “The Users” whom she takes back to the library.
Confused? I sure as hell was when I saw this in the early 1990′s in elementary school. A sincere attempt at educational television, but it seemed both worthless and frightening.
Already card catalogs were gone replaced by terminals. I was also confused why the hell we were watching this low budget postapocalyptic bizarro fest paleofuture where teleportation, space travel, and microfilm are real but computers are not.
As PBS educational television icon Lavar Burton said “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Here’s part 1 of 13.
A lot of useless things get shoveled into the brain of a young inmate of the public education system. Like factorials or peanut-based inventions numbers 4 – 2,000 of George Washington Carver. One thing I am grateful to my middle school math classes for is a careful study of logic. It helps me read the news and see little flashing bursts of color as brain cells seize, choke and blow up like a meth lab. (high school chemistry!)
Exhibit A, from the New York Post:
A Brooklyn grandma got more than she’d bargained for when she rented a copy of “Austin Powers” from her local library and found it spliced with long pornographic scenes.
Klein contacted her assemblyman, Dov Hikind — and he’s now demanding that local libraries ban all VHS tapes.
“This is unbelievable,” Hikind fumed. “The bottom line is that the local library can be unsafe for young children. It’s pretty sick stuff.”
Really, Dov? Ban all VHS tapes?
Exhibit B, via a Wired blog post on pending Congressional legislation to allow prisons to jam cellphones used illegally by prisoners:
But public interest groups, including Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation, and the Main Street Project, told the committee in a letter that cited a Wired magazine story that blocking technology is unproven and that blocking is not possible without causing collateral damage.
“Allowing the legal manufacture, importation and sale of jamming equipment will create a loophole that history shows the FCC will find impossible to close,” the groups wrote.
“Jamming prison cellphones would jeopardize public safety because there is no way to jam only phones used by prisoners,” said Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge. “All wireless communications could be shut down within a prison.”
“Once such a jamming device is built, it will inevitably become available on a wider basis. Who knows what chaos that will cause?” Feld said.
So what do these two stories have in common? A similar psuedo-logical leap that I like to call If X =>Then the Owls Will Surely Rape Our Faces as We Sleep.* This is a favored tactic of those we pay to freak out about things on our behalf (politicians, lawyers, PR, lobbyists) wherein the master logician in question takes scant evidence, an anecdotal isolated incident or something they hope the listener is ignorant about and label it the surest route to a doomsday of owl-on-face-sexual-assault proportions.
This is how Assemblyman Dov “Hey can we get some more racial profiling over here?” Hikind goes from a random porno dub on an Austin Powers tape to populist rage against an entire A/V format to protect the children from sexual relations. (Of which there is no mention in Austin Powers, mind you)
And he even manages to get in a WTF-worthy dig at the wretched hive of scum and villiany, oh, and child seduction, that is the library. Dammit, Dov, that’s the Queens Public Library System, get it straight.
Then we’ve got Harold Feld hearing the desperate hooting and mad sex-crazed flapping of some dystopic future where owls rule and cell phones are jammed everywhere, all because we tried to stop a few measly contract killings. While it should be said that I support a lot of what Public Knowledge says they’re for, Feld is either banking on our ignorance and sitting in a warm puddle of his own.
Anyone with access to another dangerous technology, The Googles, can find plans and providers for exactly the sort of cell phone jammers (DIY here, commercial there) that he fears will lead to some kind of ambiguous large bad thing.
That’s another piece of this tactic: keep the threat ambiguously defined but big. The human brain automatically fills that void with, you guessed it, feathers everywhere and a taste no amount of mouth wash will cleanse.
*Feel free to replace face rape by owls with the worst case scenario of your choice. I spent a lot of my upbringing in a sleeping bag in the woods so y’know.