They Lost It at the Movies

Classroom films have come a long way from those cheesy old duck-and-cover flicks. Or have they?

"A lot of guidance young people receive nowadays is through television," Smith says. "It's commercials, it's music videos. That's where kids learn how to dress, the lingo, what's cool. That's what Barney's all about, Sesame Street, after-school specials. It's all been privatized. Think about Nike commercials, or Gatorade commercials. They've got a social message: 'Act this way.'" The way Smith sees it, product placement has essentially entered educational video through the back door via Channel One programming, part of a program that offers free multimedia equipment to schools in exchange for broadcasting its advertisement-heavy content.

In an odd way, Smith feels nostalgic for mental hygiene videos. He recognizes that they were didactic and awkward, of course, even excruciatingly so. But he'll take Don and Betty over the consumerist media hailstorm that kids are bombarded with today. "It's kind of frightening, when you think about it. A lot of it is about consumption, buying things. At least the mental hygiene films weren't about trying to get you buy McDonald's."

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