Sunday, November 15, 2009

Do schools still show Mulligan Stew?

Last night, for about the 198th time, I watched part of Can't Buy Me Love.

Best-known as the movie that kicked off the career of Patrick Dempsey, henceforth known as McDreamy, the film also starred Amanda Peterson as the hot girl geeky Ronald seduces - buys - with one thousand dollars. Peterson shines in the movie, bringing the right blend of snobbiness, empathy and '80s hair. She seemed destined for stardom, or at least a career in late-night Cinemax movies. Instead, she stopped making movies in 1995 and she's so unknown in Hollywood these days that her Wikipedia page doesn't even have a picture.

Remarkably, the first time I saw this movie was in high school. Not in social studies class as a case study in how nerds and jocks can eventually all come together, and not in any art class as an example of 1980s filmwork. No, it was in science class. It served no real educational purpose, other than to entertain. It succeeded and also inspired a love of the movie in me, so in that way it was an extremely effective teaching ploy.

Many school movies left an impression, some for good reasons, others for, well, other reasons.

Mulligan Stew. We watched this in third grade. Sponsored by the 4-H Council, Mulligan Stew featured five kids who were in a band called, appropriately, The Stews. The kids went on adventures and taught people the benefits of a balanced diet and good digestion. These kids must have been big hits at parties.

Mind-altering substances might have played a prominent role in the creation of the show. Whoever directed the episodes seems to have been tripping out during production, or intended for the nutritional information to be absorbed only by those who are high. The song I remember the Fab Five singing was "Goulash, Garbanzo Beans and Guacamole," a catchy tune that subliminally planted the idea in my head that I would forever dislike those foods, probably not what the lyricists were after.

The Wave. A teacher attempts to show his class what it was like to live under the Nazis. He eventually creates a movement called The Wave. Soon enough the students display their inner SS by creating their own salute and roughing up students who don't go along with the program. A few students speak up about the dangers of this new organization, which is creating chaos not seen in a school since members of the Future Farmers of America wore their manure-caked boots to class. Finally, the teacher plays his trump card. He tells his acne-ridden minions that the national Wave leader will speak to them. The Brownshirt-wannabes gather in the auditorium, eager to meet their leader. Eventually the leader appears on the screen...and it's Adolf Hitler. The shocked students finally realize their cute little project had grown completely out of control. And, like in all after-school specials, they learn their lesson, strip off their Wave gear and go back to being unhappy - but less dangerous - teenagers. We watched this in Social Studies class, and of all the movies teachers showed us back in the '80s and 1990s, this is one that I hope is still shown.

I remember the shock when Hitler's image appeared on that screen. A charismatic teacher today could probably replicate this experiment without much trouble, as teens - despite being more advanced in many ways - are still probably as pliable as ever. The movement might need a new name, as today the Wave sparks memories of large groups of bored fans rising as one section by section in stadiums across the country. Not a very intimidating name.

Que Pasa USA. This was a bilingual comedy from the late 1970s that our Spanish teacher played for us in Spanish 3. On the show, the characters spoke Spanish and English, which mimicked our classroom as the teacher often insisted we had to speak Spanish in normal conversation. A sometimes frustrating experience, it forced us to actually learn Spanish, a radical concept. The show carries that '70s, One-Day-At-A-Time/Jeffersons/Good Times look and vibe. Seventeen years later, I remember very little Spanish, a sad fact that reflects on my laziness and not on the lessons of Que Pasa USA, which did the best it could to influence Americans who are hostile to learning any other language.

Cipher in the Snow
. Based on a story written by a teacher, Brigham Young University produced this movie in the 1970s, we watched it in the 1980s and it haunts those who saw it into the first decade of the 21st Century. The cipher in the story is Cliff Evans, a young boy who loves frogs but is disliked by all. Actually, it's even worse. Instead of being disliked, he's unknown. Young Cliff walks off the bus, collapses into the snow and dies. A teacher - Cliff's favorite, even though the teacher barely remembers him - sets out to learn about the boy's life and discovers the kid had a hellacious life that included a horrible stepfather. The teacher finds that no one even knew the youngster, or took the time to get to know him. Basically, the kid died of loneliness. Sad and depressing, the movie pounds viewers over the head with its message that we need to protect the most vulnerable kids, work against bullying, and take an interest in all students, especially those few care about.

Youtube didn't have any clips for the movie, except for this one, which is "the classic LDS film Cipher in the Snow as a murder mystery."

Even in the Internet age, young Cliff gets no love.

EDIT: I forgot one of the classic school movies, perhaps because of trauma. My sister Lisa mentioned Faces of Death, which several Death Ed classes watched at Janesville(Waldorf-Pemberton) High School. Yes, Death Ed, which wasn't a how-to but did let us write the obituaries of friends. In addition, one of the highlights was the screening of Faces of Death. Banned in 40 countries! And that wasn't just a marketing ploy, though that was part of it. The kind of movie you'd carry out of a video store in a brown paper bag, Faces of Death features fake and real death scenes of humans and animals, just the kind of programming 17-year-olds deserve to see. We only watched the original in class. If you believe the critics, that was for the best, as, according to Wikipedia, each sequel "had a lower production quality than the last."


Lisa said...

I never watched any of those movies in school. I don't think at least - it's been awhile. I do remember watching The Grapes of Wrath. Very boring to a teenager. The ones you watched sound much more interesting. Oh we did watch Faces of Death in Death Ed class. Ms Smith had to put a piece of paper over the window of the door so no one would see what we were watching. I know Brock and Brady watched some good ones in history class.

Anonymous said...

I watched Cipher in the Snow at church--I think a youth event. Church kids can be pretty mean. Our youth leader must have thought we needed a good lesson. Must have worked because I still think of the movie fairly often.


John Brewer said...

I remember watching "Cipher" and being happy I wasn't that poor sap dead in the snow. What a loser.

Also, I watched the speech scene of "Can't Buy Me Love" Friday, Nov. 13 in a motel in Webster City, Iowa. It made me cry. Freakin' jocks and preppies.

Shawn Fury said...

I just watched Patrick Dempsey die of dreaded Motaba in "Outbreak." Hard to believe he went from being the geeky lawnmower boy to the guy infected by his pet monkey to the main hunk on TV.

Someone needs to find Cipher and put it on youtube. It's like people are afraid of putting the message of tolerance on the Internet. I still also haven't found evidence if it's a true story or not that the teacher originally wrote. If a kid really did die as a Cipher in the snow, it raises the depression level about 88 percent.