He Watched It Sober.

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Don't Be Afraid

ATOMIC Wedgies Part I:

Mental Hygiene




Gonzoid Cinema




"And you'll stay down there, young man, until all those pickles are gone."

Sights &
Don't Be
 Britannica Films
Same Stink.
Smaller Package.

When young Billy doesn't want to go to sleep, is it because he's simply not tired, or is there another, more sinister reason for not wanting to go to bed? (And is that a Calcinator death-ray you're constructing with your erector-set there, young man?) Despite all protests Mom puts Billy to bed, turns out the lights, and closes the door, leaving our boy alone in the darkened bedroom. And as the shadows start to resemble dark and evil things, Billy's imagination quickly gets the better of him as those shadowy phantasms solidify and begin to creep closer to the bed...

Before the advent of the VCR, when a teacher wanted to show their class a film, students had to be herded into a film room, where a large screen and a film projector awaited. That's the way it was for me, anyways, back at old Holstein Public. On film day, we were marched into the auditorium, single file, and as we took our seats in the uniform rows of hard plastic chairs, Mrs. Whoever fired up the old projector -- the brittle film popping from the heat of the projector light as the synch-sound warbled and hissed over the mono-speaker -- and then the scratchy feature spooled up with the prerequisite countdown, that beeped and blooped along as we all gleefully counted off the giant, upside down numbers until the film proper began.

And on one particular day, we watched a film concerned with the Parkers: a happy family of four; Dad, Mom, Johnny and young Sally (-- or something like that). The Parkers were a happy clan, and apparently had a good life ... Dad made the money, Mom kept the house, and Johnny and Sally did what kids do (-- whatever that may be). Watching a day in the life of this family, they lovingly interact, laugh, and play, but then the narrator turned ominous when night fell. And after the family tucked itself in for the night, the narrator says despite everything we've seen, Dad had made one fatal mistake: their house wasn't equipped with smoke detectors. And to illustrate the gravity of that mistake, as the family slept peacefully, a fire breaks out. Luckily, the neighbors saw the flames and called the fire department.

Why didn't the Parkers call the fire department?




Accented by a loud, dissonant stings on the soundtrack with each grisly discovery, I recall the camera moved slowly, from room to room, showing each family member splayed out, dead, from smoke inhalation ... And as we all watched horrified, the narrator pounded it into our impressionable young skulls that all of this could have been prevented with a simple smoke detector. Which is why, after school, a dozen first-graders -- shell-shocked, and probably scarred for life, went home to beg and plead with their own Mom and Dads to equip their homes with these all important doohickeys BEFORE IT WAS TOO LATE!

This abomination was my introduction to the world of educational shorts, and I'm sure we've all got a similar story with a similar film. Looking back, I assume that this safety procedural was probably sponsored or made by a company that sold smoke detectors. Over the years since, I've run the full gambit of these type of educational shorts: from hygiene to the horrors of drugs, and road safety to sex education -- you know, the ones where the girls had to go see a film in the library, while the boys went and saw one in the gym. And though the intentions of the makers of these little morality plays, no matter the subject, might have been noble or pragmatic, their execution usually needled into insidious and even sadistic as they tried to pound knowledge into our heads or scare us straight. With all that in mind, we all should be a little worried about what's in store for poor young Billy, lying there, trapped in the dark.

Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Billy refuses to go down without a fight. Springing from his bed, he calls for his mom, who comes running, as our friendly narrator (James Brill) chimes in and laughs at young Billy's irrational behavior, but then reminds us that fear is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Once she gets him calmed down, Billy begs his mother to leave the lights on, just this once (-- to help keep the spectral narrator at bay), but Mom backs up the narrator, saying being scared is nothing to be ashamed of. (Nothing to be ashamed of, yes, but will get you laughed at in most circles.) Dear old Mom then comforts the boy by relating a near disastrous day in the kitchen, where a grease-fire almost killed them all if not for the quick actions of Pop (-- who put down the bourbon long enough to dowse the flames). Explaining further, Mom says fear is a warning sign: it's nature's way of telling you to avoid danger.

This leads to another flashback of Billy playing catch with friends at school, when he air-mailed a throw that landed on top of the roof. As the other kids triple-dog dare him to get it down, Billy is ultimately too scared to climb up that high. In that case, Mom says Billy's fear to avoid unnecessary danger was, in truth, just good common sense. She's also proud of him for not caving in to peer pressure and looking foolish in front of his friends. And after two incidents that could have led to death, disfigurement, or dismemberment end peacefully, a viewer has to worry if they're saving something special for the end.

The lesson continues when Mom says there's another kind of fear: being chicken when there's nothing really to be chicken about. Asking Billy if he can think of an example of this, he relates the tale of Kathy Lewis, who has an irrational fear of dogs. Apparently, he was playing with a friendly dog and asked her to join him, but she panicked and ran away (-- the sissy!). Mom then relates another story, about Keith Hogan, who was scared to swim but there was nothing to really fear (-- except for a little thing called drowning, and the possibility of being eaten by sharks). And then there was the little matter of Frank Campbell, who hid out in his basement because his report card stunk so bad, he was afraid to confront his parents, fearing they wouldn't love him anymore since he's not very bright.

Eventually, Kathy got over her fear of dogs because her father bought her a puppy (-- at least he didn't buy her a pitbull), and Keith eventually learned how to swim (-- after being constantly thrown in the water and ordered to sink or swim), and Frank's parents didn't shun him but worked with him to get his grades back up. (YOU FORGOT TO CARRY THE TWO! DO YOU THINK THEY LET YOU USE REMAINDERS IN THE REAL WORLD, MISTER! WELL GUESS AGAIN!!!)

To wrap things up, Mom reminds Billy that the best way to get over your fears is to talk about them with someone you trust (-- and not to someone who'll spread it around and ruin the rest of you're natural life). When she asks Billy if there is anything he'd like to talk about, he admits that it isn't really the dark he's afraid of but being left alone (-- and those nights when all those bed-springy noises come from his parent's bedroom. What's that all about?). Promised that his parents would never leave him, and will always be there when he needs them (-- great, now he'll never move out), with that assurance, Billy climbs back in to bed. After tucking him in, when Mom offers to leave the light on, Billy says to just leave the door open a crack instead. With that, she shuts the lights off and leaves. Billy, meanwhile, shuts his eyes and goes to sleep, dreaming of his Calcinator death-ray -- and do we hear something wet and slithery gain footing under the bed. Was that a tentacle? Sadly, no, but as the narrator chimes back in and asks the viewer if Billy will be better off after his talk with Mom by checking off five questions for us, the answer to each is a disappointing probably not.

The End

Hooray! Nobody died! 

As we touched on before, these type of educational shorts were usually pretty draconian in nature, but this kind of heavy-handedness typically achieved the exact opposite reaction the filmmakers had intended, often resulting in fits of high hilarity. And throughout this month of August, we'll be viewing and poking fun at all kinds of educational/exploitational shorts. Who made them. Where they came from. And why they went so horribly, horribly wrong.

So sit back, reminisce, and try to find out, like me, where we went wrong and boggle why we aren't dead. 


Don't Be Afraid (1952) Encyclopedia Britannica Films / P: Hal Kopel / W: Rose H. Alschuler / D: Hal Kopel
More ATOMIC Wedgies
(And other Soiled Shorts)

Originally Posted: 08/04/03 :: Rehashed: 11/25/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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