The faggy nineties: environmentalist propaganda directed at kids
Although I wish I could have been 15 to 24 during the 1980s to experience the coolness of roughly 1983 to 1987, I'm very glad that I wasn't -- being born in 1980, I was spared the generalized hysteria that peaked in 1991 - 1992. (It had begun around 1989, and lasted into 1994). The next generalized hysteria will happen sometime in the middle of the next decade -- there are roughly 22 - 23-year stretches between hysterias -- and by then, I'll be in my early-mid-30s, and my social radar won't give a shit about whatever foolishness the college sophomores and grad students will be up to.
It may seem obvious that below a certain age, you aren't affected by the epidemic of craziness, but I thought I'd provide four examples of attempted environmentalist brainwashing directed not at teenagers or 20-somethings, but at kids my age, during the height of the early '90s hysteria.
1) The well received cartoon Captain Planet and the Planeteers, which ran from 1990 to 1992. Read the Wikipedia entry -- it really was as propagandistic as it sounds. The heroes are from all races, while the villains are all white, although some are part-swine or part-rat. Seriously. The heroes are balanced for sex, while all but one of the villains is male -- and even the female was made to be the scientific genius, just to sneak in some feminist nutjobbery for good measure. And of course all the heroes are young (although under the guidance of a hippie elder), while the villains are mean old grown-ups.
No one gave a shit about recycling who watched the program -- it was just cool to see good guys fight bad guys. The just-maturing boys were more interested in banging Gaia than saving the planet.
2) The Jesse Spano character in the immensely popular sit-com Saved by the Bell. In the earlier episodes, filmed in the late 1980s, there wasn't so much emphasis on feminism, environmentalism, political correctness, etc. But during the 1990 and 1991 episodes, Jesse was written into a much more loud-mouthed activist shrew. Every other one-liner in every episode was about women's rights, the environment, bla bla bla. There was even an entire episode where the writers, haunted by the ghosts of muckrackers past, decided that oil would be found at the high school, everyone would be ecstatic except for environmentalist Jesse, but that in the end there would be an oil spill that killed the cute little animals in the school's pond -- complete with a visual of a duck covered in oil.
All I remember about this crap was, "Why doesn't Jesse shut up and move out of the way of Kelly Kapowski?" The show was syndicated well into my adolescence, and still is, and that never changed. By the time I was susceptible to freaking out about what ideas I should have to fit in, I knew that the looniness of the show wasn't au courant -- just as I wouldn't have suspected flaming racial tensions by watching All in the Family.
I recently bought the DVDs of the show, and it's fascinating how abruptly the focus shifted from the things teenagers really care about -- romantic rivalries, outfoxing the authority figures, etc. -- to all that preachy Generation X bullshit, within only two years (1989 vs. 1991).
3) The 1991 line of toys, not terribly successful, called The Trash Bag Bunch. It's more or less like Captain Planet -- there's a host of polluting villains who must be stopped by a holy army of trash-picker-uppers. Read the toy company's incredibly gay press release here.
Too bad none of the kids knew that back story -- again, to an 11 year-old boy, all that matters is that there are good guys and bad guys, and that each has a badass weapon to kill the others. This had zero impact on our development. In fact, what boys born in my cohort thought was the supreme pinnacle of radicalness was Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, which glorified filth and degradation -- something that will always appeal to boys more than cleaning up and being conscientious stewards of Mother Earth. Not surprisingly, Garbage Pail Kids ran from 1985 to 1988 in the U.S., before the hysteria hit.
4) The video game Zen: the Intergalactic Ninja released for the Nintendo and Game Boy in 1993. The plot is the same as Captain Planet again: you're a ninja who must stop the polluting villain Lord Contaminous.
I don't remember it being popular, and I never played it, but it was common enough for me to remember the title 16 years later. If you played it at all, it was probably something you rented from Blockbuster for the weekend and didn't touch again.
In sum, none of these propaganda campaigns managed to influence us at all, even though we were glued to the TV when Captain Planet and Saved by the Bell came on. Pre-pubescent kids just don't have to obsess over all the details of fitting in with their peers the way that adolescents do, so these efforts were doomed to fail. Now, if I were 15 or 16 when Saved by the Bell was on, I would've taken careful mental notes of what was verboten and been sure to avoid doing that in real life. Thankfully, I came of age after most of that insanity had died down.
Looking back, what really would have been a good way to get kids more into preserving the environment is playing into kids' love of outdoor play. Some of the things I most looked forward to then -- and which supply some of my fondest memories now -- are going to the beach, playing mini golf in a mock-highlands setting like the Magic Mountain courses in Ohio, climbing through the network of branches in a group of trees, playing hide-and-seek in garden mazes, and having enough field space and wooded area to fly kites, toss the football around, and play capture the flag. (Not to knock to fun of pavement-based games like four square and butt's up.)
The PR wizards and genius executives who hatched the above list of eco-friendly balderdash should have realized that kids don't care about one-upping each other in some dopey moralistic status competition -- I have no memories of my friends saying to me:
Oh, your Nerf Turbo isn't made from organic biodegradable foam? Oh no, nothing wrong with that... I guess I just thought that you didn't want to turn our community into a landfill before we finish fifth grade.
Kids like playing in primitive, unspoiled outdoor settings. Play to that, and they'll be much more likely as adults to oppose razing a mini golf course in order to put up a townhouse complex for yuppies and welfare addicts.