Radical Reality Turned me into a Comedian: My Experiences with Jr. High and Middle School Issues Presentations

When I was in Junior High we got a lot of performance artists in the schools giving presentations on heavy topics like drugs, sex, abstinence, alcohol, AIDS, cultural tolerance, or self-esteem. They’d start with a live performance, often music or a dance routine, and then the main presenter would tell us about their personal experiences; how their life had gone horribly wrong, how they and were struggling with the consequences in the present. If it was a drugs or alcohol presentation they’d make a big deal about how they put their life back on track. These presentations had a huge impact on me…

…I would have nowhere near the same level of cynicism or the sense of the absurd that I do today were it not for these ridiculous programs! These things exist to be the fodder for comedy!

Okay… maybe I’m terribly cynical. Maybe I’m a horrible person with a callous-covered soul, but there seems to be something ridiculous about having someone give me a song and tap-dance to work me up, then talk to me about how horrible they managed to make their life. It’s cruel and insane and innately perverse all at the same time.

Not that this doesn’t fit in with the whole Junior High School experience, mind you. Putting a pack of thirteen and fourteen year-olds together in a fenced in compound is insane. Asking them to sit still and think about anything other than sex for hours on end is asking for a goddamned miracle. I sometimes suspect that the whole thing was a brutal mind control laboratory with adolescents for guinea pigs. If you go with that explanation it makes perfect sense:

“Hey kid, check this shit out! Way better than more algebra problems, right? Rock on! Feel good? Feeling happy now? Right on! Now let me talk to you about how rectally taken heroin rendered me permanently impotent! Yeah! Rock on!”

It’s almost better than electroshock therapy: Yes, you are actually starting to see something entertaining! You are starting to actually enjoy yourself! Bzzap! Now let’s preach on endlessly about a topic that will both bore you and make you squirm; you know, the same one we have been terrorizing you with since you were old enough to watch Saturday Morning cartoons!

By the end of the third presentation like this it was pretty apparent to me that they were conditioning me for life in a bizarre Kafkaesque society where you are free to do anything, but you were not legally allowed to enjoy it… actually, that may be the best thing a seventh-grader can be taught…

There was one group in particular that I had the displeasure of seeing several times. The eerily named Radical Reality was a trio of intensely-built guys who would do old-fashioned circus strongman tricks like bending iron bars with their teeth or blowing up a hot water bottle until it burst. After fifteen minutes of this set to popular music they would break it down so one of the strongmen could tell us about his life as coke addict, complete with his old nickname of “Captain Snorkel” and a wonderfully visceral discussion of the venereal diseases he caught and the malformed baby he fathered.

I had a hard time even believing the guy; I mean, “captain snorkel?” Come on! In any case, he then went on to somehow relate his drug addiction to a lack of that mythical substance “self-esteem,’ and tell us about how he got high on life and physical fitness and rebuilt his career as an athlete.

What the hell was I supposed to take out of that?! What has circus acts got to do with cocaine, and what has either got to do with being a successful athlete? I felt like I’d turned over two-pages at once. Most of the other students were either clapping their hands or smiling by the end of it, as if it had not only made sense, but somehow made them better for having seen it.

After the first few of these presentations I develop a neurotic fear that I was missing the blocks of time where people explained how the beginning of a story or presentation connected up to the end of it. Watching the movies that Hollywood was pumping out at the time like A.I. and Water World just reinforced the feeling.

Of course, after the tenth one, I finally figured out that they weren’t supposed to make sense. They were relying on the damage done to our adolescent glue-huffing brains to make a bunch of connections where there weren’t any. The fact that it seemed to be working gave me the neurotic worry that the human intellect had fallen entirely into the toilet.

What a huge relief! I wasn’t suffering from some kind of brain trauma; these presentations were just as surreal and nonsensical as I found them! They media for morons by morons and government approved. I could sit back and let them wash over me like an LSD fantasy after that.

Of course, this all applies to the genuine presentations. There were also the fakes: usually a pack of washed-up musicians or desperate college-age actors who worked as party clowns on the weekend. These guys would try and get you interested with a blend of hip-hop, lame jokes, and what they honestly though was hep talk delivered with all the passion and skill of Walter Cronkite. They were always either anti-smoking or they were about safe sex and abstinence.

These performances came off as so lame and idiotic, and the performers as so brain-dead, you couldn’t help but want to go out, fuck madly with total strangers, and smoke a pack or two afterward on principle.

In fact, these guys prepare me for my career as a humorist even better than the other group did! Thanks to the influence of these brilliant, grant-funded programs, I ended up a cynical, chain-smoking, porn-ogling, occult-obsessed binge-drinker by the time I was eighteen! I was aiming for promiscuous and possibly deadbeat, too, but sadly a pro-fitness presentation killed all love of sports for me in grade nine, so I got fat and lazy instead.

I thank god that Jesse Jackson and his ilk didn’t start going around with their abstinence and teen sobriety pledges until I was almost out of high-school. My poor parents had enough trouble without me writing that I pledge my soul and all my acts of evil in the name of Satan as an alternative pledge the bottom of the list. That sort of behaviour would have surprised no one, but I would have ended going to sensitivity presentations or self-esteem building presentations and I didn’t need to be an insensitive insecure prick, too.

As it is, it’s a wonder the guidance counsellor didn’t have my parents on speed dial.
Most of the teachers I know tell me that not only are these shows still going on, but that they are even more surreal than when I was going to school, and seem to irritate the students more than engage them. I’ll not give credit where it’s not due; kids are no smarter than they were when I was there age. The entertainment biz and the educational systems seem to be so out of touch with what kids like even the song and dance routines are failing to get them going. So it becomes “blah, blah, blah rectally taken heroin, blah, permanently impotent, blah!”

And let’s face it, the issues have become so flogged it’s hardly worth talking about them:

At least when I had sex ed., my teacher was allowed to talk about the art of the blowjob and to describe anal sex. Today not only are kids well aware that these are options, but with the abstinence only crowd breathing down teachers’ necks, they hesitate to talk about it. And like in real life, sex ed. gets boring without a little variety! The whole thing seems to be symptomatic of the progressive 14th century attitude we have come to expect from conservative politicians worldwide.

Multiculturalism has gotten to such a dreary, boring mindless level of apologetic droning that I doubt anyone really buys it anymore. Ten years of warfare against the same handful of countries with the same religion is starting to make it seem just a little empty and hypocritical. And in case you missed it, a lot of multicultural presentations are getting to feel like freak shows… just a little museum exhibits under glass. And nothing says “respect” like a ten-cent tour and gift shop, right? I wouldn’t buy it and I somehow doubt a twelve-year-old with a half a brain does either.

Don’t even get me started on what passes for anti drug, smoking, and alcohol presentations these days. Isn’t it high time we got over scare tactics and “just say no?” The Internet has enough honest reading out there, that kids can find out for themselves exactly what the drugs do. Hell, I can offer a few interesting insights myself. The more you lie about it the more interesting it has to be, right?

The way I figure it, the best possible way to actually get kids to make good decisions is to keep your credibility; sure an honest talk is boring, compared to a circus side-show act, but at least it makes some sense. For that matter, what’s wrong with talking about this shit at home instead of passing the buck on to the school board? Aside from the fact that it has become somehow unfashionable to actually parent one’s children I can’t find a downside to that idea. What have we got to lose? For that matter a little honesty when talking to kids about this heavy-duty stuff might actually keep their attention for a change of pace, keep teachers from losing their jobs to irate abstinence-only assholes, and keep it from getting stale. Most of this stuff could be handled in a short-and-sweet manner at home… unless you like juggling in your living room.

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~ by Brian Rideout on 22/04/2010.

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