Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mad About Angel Dust

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s you undoubtedly watched your share of ABC After School Specials, those hour-long mini movies produced to educate us young folks on the perils of growing up around the temptations of the world’s evils. One of my personal favorites was “Desperate Lives,” starring a young Helen Hunt. Her character, Sandy, hesitatingly agrees to try PCP after being pressured by her pushy boyfriend.

Seconds after snorting it she leaps out of a third story window, sending glass flying in slow-mo destruction from a mid-air craze-induced karate chop. Awesome!

Sandy survived her fall, but was confined to a lifetime of limping and pained facial expressions because of not sticking the landing.

Other issues addressed were eating disorders, alcohol, teen pregnancy, and runaways, but those specials really loved the drugs. I think there was a different special for every drug.

In our county, all 9th graders were required to take a class called Life Management, where we learned how to balance a checkbook, became certified in CPR, and watched every single After School Special ever made. Why bother having teachers actually teach when they can just show 37 different VHS tapes every semester? This class was when we were 14 years old and terribly impressionable. I’m sure the school board thought this was the perfect time to influence us in the most positive of ways, showing us the dire effects of making bad choices. But the truth is these videos ended up teaching us how to more cleverly handle (and hide) our burgeoning vices.

In one movie, sitcom cutie Scott Baio taught us how to make a homemade bong in Stoned, as well as the proper way to inhale so as not to burn our throats. Ganja loves Chachi!

Similarly, I didn’t even know what bulimia was until Life Management class. I would never have thought to throw up my food to lose weight and then hide it in jars in my closet to keep my dirty little secret concealed. These movies taught me how to be thin AND sneaky. Thanks, Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Best Little Girl in the World.

I know I’m not alone in this realization. Tracey Gold, the sister from Growing Pains, has been quoted as saying she learned how to be bulimic from watching this same movie. She went on to battle an eating disorder for years before, ironically, filming her own TV movie about a teenager with an eating disorder. I don’t know what she hoped to accomplish there. Seems like prolonging the cycle to me. In fact, the opening scene of Gold’s For the Love of Nancy is almost identical to Best Little Girl.

I personally know 2 girls who developed serious eating disorders in junior high, one of whom died from her complications before she reached age 30. They both watched these films the same year their disorders became problematic.

Sure, there were kids who already had a familiarity with the underbelly of life, or had older siblings who were bad influences. Some would have figured out self destructive behaviors on their own. But I have to believe that maybe a few kids would have had fewer downfalls if we hadn’t been shown so colorfully how to engage in such activities. Major backfire, ABC.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I learned about anorexia from 'Teen magazine. I do remember that episode with Helen Hunt. That's wild - the backfire theory. What a great post. How wild that you wrote about this back in May!!! There is just so little comment out there about these 28 episodes. We're so on the same wave length, and to prove generational theorists, we are, in fact, five years apart in age. Woohoo!