Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Let me take a walk down memory lane.

More years ago than I'd like to remember I had a good friend named Willie Franson.  Willie was a great guy, but not too interested in studying.  He had a great sense of humor, a warm heart, and a fondness for alcohol, cards, and bad television.  It was the bad television we bonded over.  We used to guess how many weeks The Lawrence Welk Show would reuse the same sets (I think the record was five weeks).  Because I actually studied a little bit, Willie got to watch far more television than I did but he would gladly keep me up date on the shows he had watched.  (Understand that the only television station available in those pre-cable days was one small station from a very small Nebraska town.)

One day, Willie told me about a show he had watched that he called "Susie and Her Toothbrush."  It was an old documentary from the Fifties, he said, and it was probably twenty minutes long.  It went like this:

Susie was a very pretty high school girl who lived with her grandmother.  Susie, however, was not popular and she could not figure out why, so one day she brought her problem to her grandmother.  Granny began asking Susie some questions.

"Susie, when you're getting ready to go to school, how much time do you spend in the shower?"

Susie had to think on this one.  "Gee, Grandma, about fifteen minutes, I guess."

"And Susie, how much time do you spend fixing your hair?"

"About the same amount of time I guess.  About fifteen minutes."

"And how much time do you spend picking out your outfit for the day?"

"About fifteen minutes again, Grandma."

"And how much time do you spend on your makeup each morning?"

"Fifteen minutes."

"And," said Granny, going in for the closer, "how much time do you spend brushing your teeth?"

"About five minutes, Grandma."

"Aha!" Granny shouted, pointing a finger at Susie.  "Equal time for equal tasks!"

Both Granny and Susie nod knowingly.

Fade to black.

Whether this show actually existed or whether it was an alcohol-induced dream of Willie's, I don't know.  If it did exist I'm sure it was produced for some dental organization or some company selling toothpaste.  The story has stuck with me for five decades and -- to me -- it represents the epitome of documentaries produced in the Forties and Fifties designed to "enlighten" school children.

Which brings us to today's comic book, a 16-page one-shot produced by the Genral Electric Company as one of their "Adventures in Science" series.  Want to bet there's a pro-electric message here?

The comic begins with the words "The two powerful forces that have given shape and form to America's greatness were born almost two centuries ago...but the "chain reaction" they set off is building a better world today...and promises an even greater future for us all!"

Our story starts with two teenagers escaping from behind the Iron Curtain, avoiding armed guards and crawling through barbed wire to freedom.  By the next page they -- siblings Karl and Marya -- are in America and are being introduced to their new high school class.  (The teacher is drawn as a Fifties-style Stepford wife, an omen that propaganda is about to be unloaded.)  America students Johnny and Jane think their new schoolmates are swell and they befriend them.

We quickly flash by Karl and Marya learning and adapting to American ways.(Marya at an ice cream fountain drink something called an "Idiot's Delight" with extra chopped nuts, Karl tackling Johnny in a game of football, Johnny teaching Marya how to roller skate.)  Soon the kids are disagreeing why Americans are so different from other people.  Karl thinks it's the location.  Jane thinks it's our natural resources.  And Johnny thinks -- who the hell cares what Johnny thinks?  Certainly not whoever wrote this script because he leaves Johnny hanging.  Somebody's big brother Ed (Johnny's?  Jane's?  Who knows?) drives up and because he's older, smarter, and cooler, they pose the question to him.  Ed dodges the question and sets the foursome off to find the answers for themselves and to report back to him in a few days.

Karl and Marya see people happy at their work because (in the examples we see) of power.  Their father gets promoted to foreman because of his hard work.  Their Uncle Vanya runs a successful foreign language newspaper that he started when he came to America because success comes to those who earn it.  Karl and Marya are amazed at the selection available at the stores here;  It makes Marya feel like a queen.  And in America one can speak one's opinions openly.  Marya and Karl decide America is different because of freedom.

Meanwhile Johnny and Jane realize how much easier thing are today than they were fifty years ago.  Power helps make homes brighter and housework easier.  It increases the efficiency of the American worker.  It provides us better health, better education, better communication, better transportation, better income, shorter working hours, more leisure time.

Big brother Ed tells the kids they are both right.  America is different from the rest of the world because of both freedom and power.  Because "If we preserve those freedoms of ours...and strengthen our power...who knows what wonders the future might bring?!?"

The entire cast then proclaims, "That's for us...MORE POWER TO AMERICA!"

(And, with an electric toothbrush, little Susie may now need only five minutes to brush her teeth.)


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