Written by Fumo Verde
During the mid ‘70s when I was only knee-high to a grasshopper, fireworks were still legal, there were two lids in a joint, and our government was taught on TV along with the Saturday morning cartoons. Like mini musical commercials, Schoolhouse Rock! taught a whole generation about how our country came to be, the way it was governed, and why we think it works so well. Some call it inspiring, others call it brainwashing, but either way the songs and little animated characters can still be sung and remembered by both sides.
“Hey, do you know about the U.S.A.? Do you know about the government? Can you tell me about the Constitution? Hey, learn about the U.S.A.”
Lynn Ahrens, whose voice sounds like a young Joni Mitchell sang that lead-in and right from that moment you knew it was time for some history. That’s what this DVD is all about; the Election Collection brings us three groups of animated vignettes that include: “How Government Works,” “Our History,” and “The Campaign.”
In “Our History” we get “No More Kings,” and this is where we learned that taxation without representation is not fair, also the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” where we learn how the first shot was the start of the Revolution. Both of these glossed over the struggles, which our founding fathers had to deal with during the eight years of war with England, but it does lay the groundwork. Putting it into a cartoon gave kids a chance to see it over and over, and the catchy songs helped them remember. Tom Yohe who produced the series understood this and exploited it to its utmost. Other stories in “Our History” include the “Great American Melting Pot,” “Fireworks,” and “Mother Necessity,” which told about famous inventors but kind of strayed away from how the nation became. “Elbow Room” would have been a better choice.
The following segment called “How Government Works” contains the “Three-Ring Government” that teaches us about a circus, or a “dog and pony show” as my grandfather used to call it. Here we learn how the Congress, the President, and the Judicial branch work in balance with each other, or at least are supposed to. It also has “Sufferin’ Till Suffrage,” which has the most rock in the Schoolhouse music bag.
Of course, the most famous SHR vignette is the one with the sad scrap of paper telling us all, “I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill and I’m sitting here on Capital Hill…” Here we learn how laws come into play, again very glossed over but you get the basics. The “Preamble” is also a part of this group and I have to say it still has to be my favorite of the SHR Election Collection series. “We the People in order to form a more perfect Union establish justice and insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity do ordain and establish this constitution for the united states of America.”
The ones I didn’t care for were in the category of “The Campaign.” These included “Walkin’ on Wall Street,” which now seems like a load of bullshit as they lose our investments, walk away with golden retirement checks, and we as taxpayers get the bill. Others are “Tyrannosaurus Debt” which not only glosses over what the national debt means to Americans, it makes it look a house pet which we should not ignore but just accept and not worry about. They talk about trying to tame the debt, but not about how to get rid of it.
One of the next three is “I’m Gonna Send Your Vote to College” which is complete garbage as we have found out in some recent elections. It tells us how the popular vote gives way to the Electoral College and the college follows what the popular vote is, but that’s a laugh and a half. There is another one even worse that. It’s called “Tax Man Max” and guess who’s our friend?
The only one I liked in “The Campaign” group was “Energy Blues” which was written by George Newall and preformed by Jack Sheldon. Earth is telling us it’s running out of energy and we must start to look elsewhere. Pretty prophetic coming from a cartoon back in 1978 considering the price of oil now; it brings to mind the phrase about history repeating itself.
Back when this stuff came out, it helped kids learn while they were in front of the boob tubes, and some of it stuck. To this day when I start singing one these little tunes I find people of my age and a little younger joining in or saying “Hey, Schoolhouse Rock! I remember….” Should this be used as an educational tool? To lay some groundwork, okay, but not to get them ready for reality.
Cute and fun is the best way to describe this DVD, which also comes with a map of the States so you too can join along on Election night and see who wins what. This is one of those DVDs that if I saw it and it was in the dollar bin at CVS, then yeah I would pick it up for giggles, but only for a buck.
This is Fumo saying, “Yes, two joints to a lid. I roll big joints.”