When I was a young boy in the early 1950s, our grade school class was subjected to movies explaining the importance of exercise, hygiene, and study habits. I guess they were intended to inspire us to a higher standard of something or other. We were shown how our dads got all the exercise they needed working at their factory jobs. Our moms got all the exercise they needed wiping down clotheslines, scrubbing floors, and cooking. I’m not sure what that had to do with third or fourth grade ideals of exercise, but it did open windows into ways of life different than ours. Most of our dads worked in offices, and most of our moms had discovered the joys of washers and dryers.
Hygiene was another matter. The films always showed boys, never girls. I guess girl hygiene was too sensitive for public display. Anyway, the boy in the film awoke bright and cheery at the first ding of an alarm clock. He systematically washed up with soap and water, brushed his teeth with vigor and delight, combed his hair, and became magically dressed. We were amazed that it could be done, even on film.
With a smile and respectful good morning to his mother, he sat down to a well laid out breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, and juice before happily leaving for school. It left us puzzled, having never personally witnessed anything like it in real life.
Early in the evening he sat down to homework. In fact, he sat up straight in a straight back wooden chair. A floor lamp placed at a prescribed forty-five degree angle over his left shoulder provided the right amount of light at the right angle. With two or three perfectly sharpened pencils at hand, he opened his books and got right to work. Who knew that was even possible?
The whole thing was a bit eerie. Rod Serling, I suspect, got the idea for The Twilight Zone from watching the same films. Moreover, I think it is memory of films such as these, rather than the real life we experienced, that has inspired many people to want to return to the good old days when things were simple and everyone took responsibility for their own well being. It was fiction then, and it’s fiction now, but fiction often has more staying power than reality.