I used to think this short film from SNL was a dream I had once. But no, it’s real.
It is a poker-faced mockumentary about the dangers of the growing obsession of video games by youngsters of 1982. It is also a pitch-perfect indictment of the hysteria swirling around the pastime, drummed up by the news media to create a new boogeyman to scare adults. It’s 11:00 o’clock. Do you know where your children are? On the street corner, apparently, turning tricks for quarters to put into Dig Dug.
Made by Claude Kerven, the short aired on the premiere episode of the 8th season of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, September 25, 1982. They sure don’t make them like this anymore. Not only is it a reminder of video games past, it is also a monument to how SNL used to be edgy and hilarious:
Reverberating throughout the 80’s landscape of bleeping arcades and flashing colours of home video game consoles is Nancy Reagan’s simplistic anti-drug slogan “Just Say No”. Every First Lady needs a bugaboo to pursue while the President rules in office, and Reagan’s was youth drug use. I’m not saying that trying to reduce drug abuse among youth is akin to merely chasing a boogeyman, but if you reduce your anti-drug campaign down to a catch-phrase, well then that’s how the public is going to perceive it. It no doubt went in one ear and out the other of kids impatiently waiting to drop a quarter into Dragon’s Lair and Afterburner.
On the evening of Sept 4th, 1986 Americans turned on their TVs and were visited by President Reagan and his wife Nancy, sitting on a couch in the West Hall of the White House, espousing the dangers of drugs to the nation’s youth. Known as the “Just Say No” speech, it reverberated particularly fiercely a couple of years later inside the head of a man named Cliff Roth.
At the time Roth was teaching audio engineering at the Millennium Film Workshop in New York City, and gave his students an assignment to re-edit the audio track of the speech to reverse the message and have the Reagans espouse the benefits of drug use. Subsequently getting ahold of a film reel of the speech, Cliff then took two years to painstakingly edit the visuals to the joke audio track. Released in 1988 to film festivals and public television stations, the video Roth named The Reagans Speak Out On Drugs slowly became an underground, viral sensation; a meme before easy access to editing technology and the global distributing power of the Internet made such creations commonplace.
Roth’s video is both amazing and hilarious to watch. Naturally, it has circulated on YouTube for quite awhile, although Roth has now uploaded a high-quality version of it to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its creation. It is a pinpoint example of culture jamming in a fun, important and creative way, one every lolcat mememaker should take note of: