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Official Article

Retro Culture of Fear

Growing up there were certain childhood fears that seem to be shared by everyone. Being scared of the dark was understandable, monsters under the bed were a given and the possibility of being eaten by a shark at the public pool was totally justified. But as children of the 80's and 90's there were also things we were taught to fear by the world around us. 

This is stuff we never would have come up with on our own, but thanks to elementary school assemblies, children's books and very special episodes of our favorite TV shows we had a little extra anxiety as we sipped on our juice boxes. So here are a few of the most terrifying things I learned about growing up in a culture of fear.

Elementary School Drug Pushers

My parents provided me with a large supply of what I would call, "Audio Value Programming Systems" as a child. These were book and tape sets meant to teach values like honesty, cleanliness and dependability through colorful characters and songs. The series had names like Standin' Tall, Creating Your Own World and a Peanuts style group called The Safety Kids created by a company called Brite. It was through the Safety Kids adventure titled Play It Safe: Stay Safe From Drugs at age 5 that I first learned some misguided concepts about drugs and peer pressure in the most alarming way possible. 

In the story, a kid named Gregor finds himself in the middle of a group of drug addicted 4th graders who surround him, grab the poor guy and literally try to push drugs into his mouth saying, "Come on, Gregor, open your mouth!" "Swallow this, then we'll let go!" Luckily Gregor got away with a swift kick to the shin of his attackers, but would I be so lucky? I wasn't even in Kindergarten yet, but I was convinced that every day after school, a gang of "bad kids" was going to force drugs into my mouth somehow. 

Of course the intended message was to make me scared of drugs, but instead I was just scared of everybody. Thanks, Safety Kids. You can listen to the insanity here starting at the 2:10 minute mark.

Ghetto Fashion Critics

Starting around 1992 and beyond, my elementary and middle school administrations had one clear message, "Gangs are deadly fashion critics". We attended annual assemblies where it was made very clear that gang members are everywhere, just waiting to shoot you for wearing the wrong clothes. Never mind that my Orange County hometown was voted Safest City In America during this time and the biggest crime by far seemed to be jaywalking. Still, every year we were reminded that violent gangs were just a few miles away and ex-gangbangers came to speak to us about their former Thug Life.

Specifically we were told that British Knights brand sneakers were the preferred footwear of a gang called the "Bloody Killers" and would lead to instant death. Also, the Crypts gang wore blue and Bloods wore red, so those were out. Also, if you wore Air Jordans, you would get jumped, beaten and end up walking home barefoot. You wanna know the truth? The only time I was ever threatened with gang related violence was in a southern Utah video arcade and it was by a bunch of punk, middle class bullies. Guess they should have told me to watch out for Lunk-Heads wearing Levi's 501 jeans instead of bandanas.

New York City

Yes, I feared an entire metropolitan area. But can you blame me? Do you remember the cinematic depictions of New York City in the 80's? As far as the movies were concerned, that place was a war zone! For example, Crocodile Dundee II found Mick trading the dangers of the outback for NYC. This version of the city was filled with mohawked punkers, drug dealing subway muggers and the most menacing stationary salesman you've ever seen. 

In another sequel, Short Circuit 2, the childlike Johnny 5 gets recruited by a street gang and eventually bashed to pieces by crowbar wielding thugs. If even friendly robots weren't safe, what chance did a 7 year old like me have on those mean streets? The Ghostbusters franchise wasn't helping either, making the Big Apple out to be a ghoul infested land of lunatics with literal rivers of slime just below the surface. 

Even unkillable horror icon Jason Voorhees was walking the streets of Manhattan by the end of the decade (if only for about 5 minutes), so I was very content to be living at the farthest point possible from those deadly boroughs. Of course when I finally did make my first visit to New York City about 7 years ago, the only thing I really had to fear was wall to wall traffic and weirdos in Elmo costumes on every corner. 

Luckily I grew up to be a less fearful adult after life experience taught me that sometimes authority figures are a little too cautious. But if I'm ever in a major city at night, I still keep an eye out for roving gangs of 10 years with hands full of pills. Robocop 2 taught me to watch my back.

So what were some of the fears instilled in you by parents, teachers and media in the days before you could just fact-check it all on the internet?

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Caps 2.0 Posted on Apr 24, 2017 at 07:50 PM

My fear of New York City came into effect after my Dad died. He worked in the city for what was called Nynex at the time, and he would occasionally take me or my brother into the city with him to spend a day at work, after which we might do something like visit a museum or cross the Hudson River into New Jersey and attend a Giants game.

My dad was a Vietnam veteran and one of the toughest, yet gentlest people I knew. He died when I was 12, and I no longer felt safe visiting the city. It didn't help that my mom, with whom I had a fractured and bitter relationship, didn't understand why I was afraid of the city. She was born and raised in the Bronx, so she strode through with no problem. Me? I was scared and still am.

echidna64 Posted on Apr 24, 2017 at 03:00 PM

My favorite depiction of NY in the 80's is from the Ninja Turtles movies lol
Things were pretty bad back then, nowadays you simply can't afford to live there if you make less than 100K

Hoju Koolander Posted on Apr 24, 2017 at 06:05 AM

@Vaporman87 See in my case the warnings were all nonsense, but you guys apparently had access to the stuff. That's crazy!

@mickyarber It's like I've always said, Virginia is the California of the East! OK, maybe I've never actually said that, but VA and CA share a letter!

mickyarber Posted on Apr 24, 2017 at 12:46 AM

I'm always amazed at how mine and your childhoods mirrored each other's. Most of this is the same fears that were drilled into us in school here in Virginia. Except maybe the street gangs.

I always felt the same about NYC. Through depictions on television and in movies, it always seemed dirty and violent. Then I went there for the first time and thought, "this ain't bad, hell, it's pretty cool!"

Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 23, 2017 at 05:21 AM

Here's something you can fact check on the internet; the county I live in (Meigs) is notorious for "Meigs County Gold (or Green)"... or marijuana for those a bit confused. Even people in other states had heard of Meigs County's abundance of Mary Jane (why that is I don't want to know). So naturally we were routinely shovel fed a steady dose of anti-drug seminars in school. Typically this was a group of former dopeheads putting the fear of the almighty in you.

Now look at this nation. We're legalizing the stuff. Go figure.

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