Doing It for the Kids: Rebels and Prom Queens in the Cold War Classroom Film
journal contributionposted on 22.05.2017, 04:29 by Anika Ervin-Ward
This vision of the post-World War II American adolescent is a familiar one within discussions of teen culture and identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. It evokes the ever-familiar popular culture representations of the tormented teenagers Jim and Judy (James Dean and Natalie Wood) of Nicholas Ray's 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, or the provocative hip-swinging Elvis Presley and his hysterical fans. The body of the teenager as a site of resistance and control is also at the heart of the seemingly conservative representation of the 1950s adolescent found in short educational films of the period. These oft-derided and ignored screen images of youth also need to be considered when reflecting on our conceptions of American adolescence of the mid-twentieth century. Aimed largely at the increasingly visible American adolescent of the postwar period, these short educational films range from droll instructional pieces providing advice on appropriate personal hygiene and dating etiquette to more graphic traffic safety films featuring documentary footage of accident scenes. What links this seemingly disparate group of films is their intention of instructing American adolescents on how to become successful members of American society. On face value these films encourage conformity to the social conventions of the adult world, but in doing so they inadvertently acknowledge a life less ordinary. Therefore these films are ambivalent visions of life in postwar America dependant on a tension between the banal and the threatening.