Saturday, January 19, 2008

School House Rock... Rocks!

NOTE: The Democratic Party is fragmenting along race, ethnic, class and gender lines. Check the results in NV and look ahead at what is likely to happen in SC. Given the shameful role Bill Clinton has taken on in Hillary's campaign as Slimer-in-Chief (Code Name: "Spiro Agnew"), the next week and beyond looks to get very ugly as the Clinton Machine tries to recapture black votes in the South. Even party stalwarts and Clinton friends, Ted Kennedy and Rahm Emmanuel, have warned Bill to stop smearing Obama or risk fracturing the party in the Fall (and, presumably, losing the White House). Nevertheless, expect more sleaze from the Clintons... after all, it has worked this long. It is all so depressing that for now I am continuing to avoid writing about it. So, here you go. Another diversion...

If you were a kid between 1973-1986, the School House Rock educational ads on ABC tv probably left a deep imprint. They put groovy tunes together with a seventies vibe and distinctive and playful drawings and the result, if you were a kid, was magic.

If you want to walk down Nostalgia Lane, or if you weren't around then but are curious, or if you have kids now, check 'em out:

• History Rock:

"No More Kings"

"The Shot Heard Around the World"

"How a Bill Becomes a Law"

"The Preamble"

"Three Ring Government"

"Great American Melting Pot"

"Elbow Room"


"Mother Necessity"

There is also an awesome School House Rock segment called, "Sufferin' Till Suffrage," about the women's suffrage movement. It is really great, but unfortunately, I can't seem to find it online to post here; you can listen to the song and read the lyrics, though: "Sufferin' Till Suffrage"

If you can find the video online somewhere, please post the link in the comments section...

• Science Rock:

"Victim of Gravity"


"The Body Machine"

"Energy Blues"

"Telegraph Line"

"Greatest Show on Earth: Weather"


"Interplanet Janet"

• Grammar Rock:

"A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing"

Pronoun: "Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla"


"Conjunction Junction"

"Verb: That's What's Happening"

"Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Adverbs Here"

"Unpack Our Adjectives"


"Grammar Tale of Mr. Morton"

• Multiplication Rock:

"Zero My Hero"

"Three Is the Magic Number"

"I Got Six"

"Figure Eight"

"Twelve - A Dozen"

• Satirical Versions: (These are a bit risqué and/or radical, at times, so proceed at your own risk...)

"Conspiracy Theory Rock"

"Great American Slaughter House"

"Pirates and Emperors"


"MADtv: Public School House Rock - Fatty, Fatty, Fatty, Get Your School Lunch Here"

"MADtv: Public School House Rock - Dysfunction Junction"

"MADtv: Public School House Rocks - Nouns"

• Alternative versions of "Three is the Magic Number":

De La Soul - "Three is the Magic Number"

Blind Melon's version of "Three is the Magic Number"

And, for the record, Scott Berkun wants you to know that School House Rock doesn't get it all correct:

* Newton did not get hit by an apple - at best he watched one fall in his grove decades before he completed his treatise on gravity (From the song Victim of Gravity).
* Robert Fulton didn’t invent the steamboat. He was, however, one of the first Americans to make a successful business of it, much like Edison and the light bulb. (From the song Mother Necessity)
* Galileo most likely did not perform the famous falling bodies experiment at Pisa (From the song Victim of Gravity).
* It’s disputed whether Franklin ever flew his famous kite, though he did have the idea (Electricity).
* Elias Howe did not build the first working sewing machine. He was the first American to do so, but that’s not the same thing. Same for Ford and the automobile. (From the song Mother Necessity).
* Betsy Ross may not have sewn the first U.S. flag, as most claims come from her relatives. (From the song Sufferage).

Feel better? I know, it seems a bit much to be so critical of these fun little ditties ("Scott, lighten up!" you say), but I do think it is interesting to consider, particularly in the History section, the kinds of narratives - and myths - School House Rock embraces, creates and perpetuates, about America. Remember, this is a post-60s, post-Watergate, right-around-the-bicentennial kids project and reflects those cross-currents. Remember, also, that it was ok'd and aired by a major - corporate - network...

How would you "read" these as historical artifacts? What do they communicate to us about the nation at that particular moment in time, from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s? Hhhhhhmmmm...

Anyway, most importantly, enjoy...

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