Monday, January 22, 2018

Flying kitten picture!

Imagine the horror: Civil Defense puppets

I don't know where these eerie civil defense short films were shown: probably on TV, though they're specifically geared towards a rural audience. I don't know why a rural audience would be particularly susceptible to nuclear holocaust warnings dramatized by the most hideous marionettes ever created. Perhaps the marionette cow would make more sense to them than this dead-faced, thread-trailing farmer from hell. These spots would no doubt be extremely cheap to make, as the set and main character (nameless, almost faceless) are laughably primitive. And yet. The message was being sent out daily, and I remember it. These were supposedly from 1965, which seems late for such a ludicrous production. I was eleven years old.

Did you ever have a crumb of memory - a corona, just the edge - a whisper, some fragment of a whole - and find that it led all the way back to your early childhood? My childhood was full of terror, for some reason, although the big reason was the Iron Curtain and Walter Cronkite and Civil Defense announcements ("This is only a test") and that godawful BOOOOOOOOOOP that seemed to go on forever. 

I've been thinking lately about the Emergency Broadcasting System. IS there such a thing, and if there ever were an emergency, an earthquake or a - God, we won't say it! - would it really kick in? How COULD it kick in, if there was no electricity and everyone were buried under rubble? Is it one of those things created just to give us the illusion of security?

And how would we find it? What frequency on the radio, what channel on the TV, what app (for surely the Emergency Broadcasting System has an app)? Maybe, as in a dream I had once, it would just start playing on ALL the channels, ALL the time, all over the world.

Hi, folks. It's the end of the world. Nice knowing you.

I must have been really small when I became terrified of certain ads. I didn't understand them. One of them seemed to be about poison ivy and how you could die from it. It was one of those smudgy, dreamlike, black-and-white animated things, the characters made up of sticks and circles, and it had a child (who had already been sternly warned!)getting mixed up with poison ivy - or was it something else? Radioactive material? - then growing sick, and sicker, then lying in bed, then lying in a grave with a mound and a cross on top. And x's for eyes.

I was terrified of this thing.

Another one - I may have been all of three years old, certainly no older than four - showed a man behind prison bars, clasping the bars in his hands and sort of slowly sliding down them with a horrible sagging expression, as if he was melting. Terrified me. I now put some pieces together and realize it may have been about drunk driving. But that is the adult me, jumping in with an interpretation. I really don't know.

This one really scared me, and I had no idea what it meant: a TV announcer was reading the news in a crisp, authoritative voice. Suddenly from the right-hand side of the screen, a man with his face obscured jumped out and clapped his hand over the announcer's mouth. He tried frantically to keep talking but couldn't make a sound. I had no idea  what had happened, why it had happened, and I had no power to ask.

Again, my adult mind jumps in now and fills in the pieces. This was likely another Cold War drama depicting the gagging and muzzling of freedom of speech by the insidious forces of Communism. Of course! It's creepy, a creepy way of illustrating it, but I am fairly certain now that's what it was. 

Now that I see it, though, the man in jail may also have lost his precious freedom due to the forces of Communism. This was the McCarthy era. Drunk driving was standard, along with smoking. So it's a safe bet that ALL these ads or dramas or announcements, or whatever they were, were actually about Cold War terrors and the threat of ideological suffocation, loss of freedom and ultimate annihilation.

So THAT'S all it was?