the prelinger archive


okay – i admit it – even though i am supposed to be working on a paper for one of my classes, i spent a great deal of time today perusing the prelinger collection at archive.org. this collection, i’m sure, is what the internet was made for and i’m very happy to have discovered it.

if you are my age, you likely remember being corralled into the gym in grade school and made to watch reel-to-reel films narrated by jiminey cricket about personal hygiene and being nice to others. it was a special treat to get to watch films instead of being in class, no matter how horrid they really were. one in particular about vandalism has stuck with me all my life – the main message being how cruel it is to ruin other people’s personal possessions for no reason. i have a vivid memory of the contents of that movie over and above anything else i ever learned between grades one and five (it really bothered me at the time).

anyhow – these types of “moral lesson” films and cartoons have a long history, as do those promoting corporations and industry – and lucky for us, the prelinger collection not only brings thousands of them into once place, but close to 1500 of them are now archived on the internet under dozens of subjects. from the 30s until the 70s, many companies specialized in moralistic and instructional tales like “gossip“, “more dangerous than dynamite” (without which i would have never known that women used gasoline to dry-clean clothes in the thirties) and “are you popular?“.


of particular amusement to me included “perversion for profit” which is a 30-minute rant about the perils of pornography serving as an interesting guide to the type of smut available in the 1950s (beware, however, one of the perils discussed is homosexuality – no doubt, homophobia runs through this film). apparently pornography was dangerous because it weakened the moral fiber of american youth, making them more susceptible to communism – uh huh…. in “helping johnny remember” a maldapated child is urged to stuff his real feelings down inside and put on a smile so that the other kids will accept him – nowhere is it ever suggested that we might find out why johnny is so discontent in the first place. if corporate films are your thing then you have to check out “a case of spring fever” in which a rather annoying and demonic talking spring named coily comes to life to tell us about the importance of springs in making things run. even better than the talking spring is the protaganist’s evangelical desire to spread the gospel of springs after his encounter with coily. in an animated short called “destination: earth” we learn that what makes america great is the combination of oil with the free market – of course this message is brought to us by the american petroleum institute.

i love this sort of campy, overt propaganda – where the main messages seem to be: 1) it’s important to fit in and be popular 2) if you have to fake a smile and stuff your true feelings down to be popular then do it 3) no one will like you if you put out for boys 4) danger lurks around every corner, especially that menace of communism (but cleaning with gasoline is pretty dangerous too). i could go on and on here but i won’t, because it’s worth checking out on your own – the prelinger collection is a good rainy day activity – but it’s also a time suck so watch out.

%d bloggers like this: