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US Post-War Culture as told by Social Guidance Films


  1. Who doesn't love movies?

    As a species that creates meaning from patterns (Rose, 2011), it is no wonder that movies and television shows comprise two of the most prolific platforms for telling stories today. For most of us, movies and television offer stories that are synonymous with entertainment - which consequently exists similarly to the stories presented to us in education (McDonald, 2009).

    Perhaps this is why some of my most exciting school memories included a TV/VCR cart to watch things like Bill Nye: The Science Guy and School House Rock.
  2. However, when it comes to educational films, some are more telling of cultural narratives than others.
  3. From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, the United States produced nearly 3,000 educational short videos known as "social guidance films" (Smith, 1999). What once started as a government tool for "attitude-building," eventually made its way into public school classrooms and work places across the country (Cripps, 1993). Unlike the highly persuasive nature of advertisements or the blatant bias of political campaigns, social guidance films used storytelling for both informational and instructional purposes.
  4. While some of these films may seem comedic (or sometimes even offensive) to us viewing them today, social guidance films present narratives that are rich with the culture of their time. What sets them apart from other educational films is the subject matter. As the name implies, social guidance films covered a broad range of social issues. Popular themes included:
  5. Health & Hygiene

  6. Care of the Hair and Nails (1951)
  7. Personal Appearance

  8. How to Be Well Groomed (1949)
  9. Etiquette

  10. Everyday Courtesy (1948)
  11. Dating & Relationships

  12. How Much Affection? (1957)
  13. Marriage

  14. Are You Ready For Marriage? (1950)
  15. Family Living

  16. Sharing Work at Home (1949)
  17. Citizenship

  18. Esquire Inc. - Coronet Magazine - Service and Citizenship - Educational Film - 1951
  19. Occasional corniness aside, each of these short films tell a recognizable, stand-alone story driven by the characters, situations, and often a narrator. Although the "entertainment factor" of these educational videos isn't really comparable to, say, Bill Nye: The Science Guy, social guidance films are notable for leaving the audience with a takeaway: a demonstration, a "how-to," or even a simply answering the question "so what?" But what happens if we take a step back to view these 3000+ films as a whole?
  20. To view social guidance films as one large narrative is to tell the story of social norms. That is, what it meant to be an ideal citizen in Post-War America: polite, educated, healthy, obedient to authority, godly, and patriotic (read: not a Communist). Although, broadly speaking, many of these subjects are still applicable to American ideals today, there is no arguing that social guidance films allude greatly to several cultural references and biases of the era they were made.
  21. "Emerging from World War II as a victorious superpower, America's future appeared bright, even as complex geopolitical concerns spilled over into everyday life, affecting society at its most basic levels. Prosperity and social conservatism came to define the early postwar era, amid Cold War-related anxiety" (Sullivan, n.d.).
  22. In watching and curating many social guidance films, three things stood out to me:
  23. Gender Roles

  24. With men overseas fighting in World War II, women were called upon to help fill jobs traditionally held by men - including things like professional baseball! Judging from several job training films, it seems as though some people were not thrilled with this idea. Hence this incredibly sexist training video from 1944: