Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Please bring back Schoolhouse Rock.

Nostalgia.  If you break down the word to its Greek origin it's from nostos ‘homecoming’ and algos ‘pain, or grief ', so it literally means a sickness or pain relating to home or homesickness. (I didn't study Greek, but I can't tell you how many times the 2 years of Latin with Mr. Lynch at Canandaigua Academy has come in handy).  In modern times, we've corrupted the word to mean a longing for things past, but it's not really that far off from the original.  Personally I get nostalgic when I hear stories of how upside down our values have become; for instance how we've become a country based on spending all of our available money and even money we don't have, or the economy falters.  How in God's name did saving some money become a bad thing?  Crazy,  right?  So I get nostalgic for my simple childhood, and for the things I liked then.  One of these things was Schoolhouse Rock. 

     Schoolhouse Rock was a series of animated cartoons that played in between my favorite Saturday morning shows.  They were PSAs that were really well crafted and catchy but that always taught you something about grammar, math or even our government. I have to say, we had the best cartoons
back then, which is probably why they trot some of them back
The Gang
out.  In between Scooby Doo and Fat Albert (I don't think that one is coming back), we'd watch Conjunction  Junction, I'm Just a Bill, Lolly Lolly Lolly Get Your Adverbs Here and a host of others.  They were so well done, you got involved in these characters lives and wanted more. So for me, it's nostalgic when I think of them. It's a funny thing about nostalgia though, you always want the things to be exactly as they were when you remembered them, but they never are in reality. Case in point, go visit the playground of your youth and see what remains.  Everything we played on is gone. Slides are so short now, they should be called slids, because they are over so quickly. They are plastic and have side rails on them, versus the burning hot sheet metal of my youth.  Monkey bars (you probably can't even call them that any more because it's offensive to simian primates), are barely off the ground, while the ones I played on were easily 15 feet high.  Tether-ball is too violent, it's gone.  Even the merry go rounds are hard to find, and if you do, they are weighted to slow them down so much it's hard to get dizzy on them.  Things that used to spin freely like steering wheels on wooden ships, are now bolted down.  We wonder why kids have abandoned them and taken to playing indoors. They are safer now, but at what cost?   Back on point, I am about to fast forward the Schoolhouse Rock pieces to 2010, so beware, you'll never look at the characters in the same way after reading the next few paragraphs.

How a Bill becomes a Law -  We meet the protagonist, Bill, as he sits on the steps of Capitol Hill waiting to become a law.  He's a sad, thin, bleached white, folded piece of paper and he explains how the process of becoming a law works.  He's a bill requiring school buses to stop at railroad crossings.  He goes through the process and in the end is carried victoriously on the shoulders of his sponsor as a newly created law.

2010 Version - We meet Bill under the same circumstances but he barely fits on the steps of Capitol Hill.  He is the morbidly obese, 2400 page PPACA federal statute (Health Care Reform Act) passed by the current administration.  He looks dirtier that a Chilean coal miner, having had to coerce so many politicians to support him with back room deals and exemptions promised to come later (111 and counting).  He's no longer sad, he's full blown depressed and on medication to try and combat it. No one read him prior to passing, he is amended within 7 days of passage, he is totally partisan, and he is projected to cost 940 billion dollars over the next ten years.  People chant "socialist" every time he leaves his government subsidized housing.  Support of him has slipped to 37% of Americans.  His lofty ambitions have been abandoned long ago, and he now despises what he sees in the mirror each morning.  All the stress puts him in the hospital and the closing scene shows a government "death panel" deciding his fate. (I hate O'Henry type endings, so I'll give you a clue...  Bill sadly never gets to ride his newly bought Rascal scooter to do his grocery shopping)

Conjunction Junction -  The bespectacled,  engineer protagonist runs a train depot and teaches us about conjunctions like AND, BUT and OR.  He is helped by a couple of boxcar hobo's that ride the rails for free.

2010 Version - Ooh, not good at all.  Bad enough that the government stopped subsidizing his railroad, but it also now insists that the TSA do all the security screenings for the passenger conjunctions.  AND opts out and cannot board.  OR is singled out for additional screening as he seems tentative and indecisive, just like all terrorists.  He is put on the "Do not Board" list and cannot access the rails anymore.  Don't even get me started on BUT and her successful sexual harassment lawsuit of the TSA.  She no longer has to ride trains, she owns a Lear jet now.  Our hapless engineer, already financially strapped and now unable to connect his train cars, tries to declare bankruptcy but due to newly passed legislation is unable to. He goes on the lam with his hobo pals and is never seen again. 

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here - We encounter the quaint 3 generation store called Lolly's selling a wide variety of adverbs.  All three generations are well versed in their products and equally engaged in servicing their customers. The musical romp starts with "Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here..."
The Lolly Family in better times

2010 Version - The weakening US dollar has caused rampant inflation in their product costs. Who would have thunk that the long term business model of giving their product away for free would prove to be unsuccessful ?(The lesson here kids is, don't base your business on a crack dealer's short term methods).  Lolly junior takes a job with a big box store and is quickly ostracized from his family.  He eventually quits that too, and launches a successful singing and skating career, but changes his name to "The grocer formerly known as Lolly", just to spite his family.  They never reconcile, and Pops dies shortly thereafter forever splintering the once great Lolly family.  Lolly, Lolly, the grocer formerly known as Lolly,  get your sadness here. 

Figure Eight - We open in a one room, snow covered, schoolhouse where a young blond girls sits dreaming about skating as she learns her multiplication tables, in particular,  those of the number 8.  A piano tune in a minor key is her accompanist while she daydreams in class.

2010 Version - The one room school house has long since closed and after multiple consolidations of dwindling school districts (due to weather and high taxes in the northeast, many people have chosen to move south), she attends a sprawling urban school. She walks by the graffiti-ed walls and trash littered hallways each day.  There is no piano accompaniment, the music program had to be scrapped due to budget constraints.   The good news is, that she no longer has the pressure of academic performance hanging over her head, as the school has dramatically lowered the standards for graduation.  This is a good thing, as years of effort based praise, instead of performance based rewards, have left her with an inability to remember her multiplication tables.  She has no math skills but she does have a closet full of ribbons.  She gets pregnant in the 9th grade (rumor is, it is the artist's formerly known as Lolly, whom she met at a singing and skating exhibition). She drops out and goes on welfare.  She tries to supplement her income as a prostitute, but her poor math skills ensure that she is perpetually kept in a state of poverty. 

Wow, those sure are different than the ones I remember as a kid.  In retrospect, I had asked that they bring back Schoolhouse Rock, but I think I've changed my position.  I think I'll just keep my nostalgia. 
If this blog really bummed you out, you can get a good dose of  old fashioned Schoolhouse Rock at this link.....

Schoolhouse Rock Videos


Joel T Johnson said...

Great blog Bill. Very amusing and great points about the social-economical state of things. I have forgotten many things from school but I can sing back nearly every School House Rock song verbatim.
BTW, I happened to see Jim Lynch at Wegmans last week when I was in town.

Bill said...

Joel, well it's no rice krispies and gin, but it will do. I really liked your last blog about your friend, it drew a lot of emotion from me. I used to watch Jim Lynch bring his Mom to church each week, and now some weeks I play that part myself. These times they are a changing.

Daphne Mays said...

How did I miss this one!?!?! LOVE it! I actually found a Schoolhouse Rocks video (VHS) at Walmart when my kids were young enough to need some of that stuff drilled into their thick skulls. They too got to learn a lot of grammar, history and all that other fun stuff by way of Schoolhouse Rocks. It was a lot more fun than just plain old boring memorization. Thanks for the trip back in time! Oh, and I've already mentally blocked out all of the 2010 version.