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10 Hilariously Outdated Instructional FIlms

by Debra Kelly
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The 1950s and 1960s—it was a simpler time in America, when the men brought home the bacon and the women knew their place. That doesn’t mean there were no dangers lurking . . . dangers like not knowing how to properly stir a cake, how to help your hardworking husband relax, or how to deal with those pesky women who thought they belonged out in the workplace. Fortunately, these informational short films were made to teach young people everything they needed to know in order to navigate the high-demand world of the ’50s and ’60s.

10The Relaxed Wife

The Relaxed Wife (1957)

If this doesn’t illustrate the difference between the hardworking, stressed man with the weight of the world on his shoulders and the relaxed housewife with not a care in the world, nothing does. He’s just trying to unwind after a long day at work, but he still has all sorts of headaches to deal with: like screaming, arguing kids. Then his wife has the gall to bring him inappropriately hot tea. How’s a man to relax? Thankfully, she’s there to share some of her secrets on how to live with a little stress. She gives him a book on how to relax and walks him through some mental and physical exercises to help him stay as calm and laid-back as she is.

She has all sorts of stressful things to deal with, too, like children and doing laundry, but she knows how to let the world’s problems take care of themselves. But if that doesn’t work, there’s still no need to worry. Today, there’s medication that can replace anxiety with peace and get even the most stressed husband to a place of bliss and relaxation, all leading to happy catharsis at the end of the day.

9Boys Beware

Boys Beware! (1961)

Boys Beware is a mind-numbing short film produced as a joint effort between the school district and the police force of Inglewood, California. The danger here? Homosexuals. The film tells the story of Jimmy, an unsuspecting young man who’s in the habit of hitchhiking home after playing baseball with his friends. Normally, it’s a harmless enough practice. But Jimmy made the mistake of getting a ride from Ralph and striking up a friendship with the older man. He seemed a friendly sort, and before long he was always at the park when Jimmy was getting ready to go home. After that, it was only a short step to fishing trips, pornography, and visits to the local motel.

By then, it was almost too late for Jimmy. He was trapped in a vicious downward spiral that was started by his association with someone who had a disturbing sickness of the mind. Fortunately, Jimmy realized that something was wrong and told his parents what was happening, and they were able to get Ralph arrested. According to the film, Jimmy was actually one of the lucky ones, because not all homosexuals are so “passive.” Also according to the film, other homosexuals will just outright kidnap boys off the basketball court and murder them. Others will resort to ruses to get a young boy in the car with them, and boys should always be wary of men in public restrooms, as that’s another haunt for the devious homosexual.

8Cooking: Terms And What They Mean

Cooking. Terms and What They Mean 1949

It’s 1949, and now that Margie’s married, she needs to make sure that she’s ready to welcome her hardworking husband home from work with a delicious, hot meal. Only she doesn’t know how to cook, or even what the most basic of cooking terms actually mean. She tries her best to make his favorite meals just like his mom always did, but it’s tough to follow a recipe when it uses big words like “stir” and “cream.”

Fortunately, this informational film, made in conjunction with the Department of Home Economics at the University of Kansas, is there to save the day. Margie will learn all the important terms she needs to know in order to be a successful housewife. She’ll learn how to stir things, fold things, how to boil things (and recognize the bubbles), and what “kneading dough” means. Every good wife needs to know how to stew and simmer meats; it gets complicated, though, when terms start referring to multiple actions. There’s a moral lesson in here, too—use the glossary, and you’d better get that cake right before he gets home for lunch if you want him to love you.

7The Trouble With Women

1950s Education “Women In The Workplace”

Produced for plant supervisors, The Trouble With Women looks at all the trials and tribulations that a supervisor faces now that women have decided to join the workforce. It starts in the middle of a training session, where one of these women is trying to learn how to use a machine. There are two knobs that need to be turned, and she just can’t get it right. Not about to take this insult sitting down, the supervisor heads up to the personnel manager to demand an end to the joke—and a male employee.

He then airs his grievances about his other female employees: They keep running off to get married, they’re high maintenance and don’t adjust to change, and they leave their beauty products all over the place. In spite of the personnel manager’s reassurances that women are actually detail oriented and can make excellent workers, the supervisor still isn’t convinced. After all, the trained ones just don’t bother showing up for work, and going through the trouble of training someone else is a nightmare because they just can’t understand things as well as a man.

6Snap Out Of It!

Snap Out Of It (1951)

Howard, your average high school student, has worked hard all year to improve his grades. But when the report cards come out, his grades have only improved to a B rather than the A he thinks he deserves. He starts a downward spiral of self-loathing, refusing to take his shameful report card home to his parents. When he doesn’t return it to his teacher, he gets sent to the principal to explain why he hasn’t bothered to bring it back. He explains his plight to the principal, who has some excellent advice for him: Other people can’t be expected to value him or his work the same way he does, and you can’t blame them for that. Things don’t always go as we want, either, and that’s just life. High goals are admirable, but don’t be upset or angry when you miss—because life isn’t fair, and that’s all there is to it.

He sees other classmates languishing because of their own emotional problems, all stemming from aiming too high only to fall flat on their faces. The moral of this little gem is that you should expect mediocrity so as not to be disappointed when you fail.

5Easy Does It

Easy Does It (1940)

How much work does the little woman really do? That’s the idea behind this short, which keeps its very obscure point hidden until the end. The modern woman is lauded in a series of fairly backhanded compliments that spotlight just how much typing she does in a day, while still managing to go home and stay on her aching feet long enough to prepare a meal. Women climb stairs 20 times a day, they carry household cleaning products, they do laundry, sew and repair clothes, and they lift that iron many, many times when they’re ironing their husband’s work shirts.

It’s up to men to design the clever things—like sewing machines—that make their lives easier. Fortunately, men are also around to make starting and driving a car easier, so women can start driving themselves instead of just being chauffeured around all the time. Old-fashioned cars were way too much work for the little woman, but men have—thankfully—found a way to make it easy enough that even they can handle it. Now, she has all kinds of extra energy that can be spent putting on makeup—until men find a way to make that easier, too.

4Why Study Home Economics?

Why Study Home Economics? (1955)

This short makes an effort to remind young women why it’s important to study home economics in school. After all, they’re going to be housewives for the rest of their lives, and it’s important to get a good foundation of appropriate knowledge so they can keep their houses running smoothly and make their men happy. After all, they certainly can’t count on their own mothers to find the time to teach them everything. The school’s guidance counselor tries to explain to her prospective students that it’s not just a matter of learning how to clean their future home, but how to properly prepare a nutritious meal, how to buy or make the right kinds of clothes for their future families, and how to decorate a home—whether it’s a trailer or a mansion.

And home economics isn’t just for girls, either. Boys are encouraged to take different home economics courses to help them learn how to manage money and build houses. The troubled student wants to know what happens if she doesn’t get married . . . and she might not, says the counselor. Even if she goes off to college, home economics is necessary to understand complicated things, like chemistry. And once you’re out of college, you might end up getting a job before you get a husband. Clearly, home economics is a valuable thing to take throughout school, as there are always going to be people depending on your skills as a homemaker.

3A Word To The Wives

A Word to the Wives (1955)

Jane goes to visit her friend Dawn one fine morning and gets her first look at Dawn’s state-of-the-art kitchen and laundry room. Rather than being excited for her friend, she laments her own outdated house. But fortunately for Jane, her mother is ill and she needs to go visit her for a few days, giving her husband the perfect opportunity to get a look at just how hard her life is in that old house.

At her friend’s suggestion, she makes it a point not to set her husband up for an easy time of it, and he is, of course, useless at the most basic of homemaking tasks. He can’t take the garbage out without spilling it all over the kitchen floor, and on top of that the cabinets stick, pots boil over when they’re not watched, and there’s never any ice in the ice cube tray. Little Jimmy takes a bath, and there’s no hot water. Life is a nightmare. After his weekend-long ordeal, and once he gets a look at their friends’ new kitchen and sees all the wonderful appliances that will make his hardworking wife’s job so much easier, he doesn’t even care that he’s been tricked into buying her a newly remodeled kitchen.

2Alcohol Is Dynamite

Alcohol Is Dynamite (1958)

Two high school boys approach reporter Tom, asking him if he’ll buy them beer for a party. Not only does he decline, but he goes on to tell them just why they should be glad that they can’t buy it. Alcohol is a powerful, powerful narcotic, Tom tells them, and a single drop goes right for the part of the brain that gives man his ability to reason. To illustrate his point, he shares with them the story of three other high school boys—a musician, a basketball player, and a boy whose identifying trait is having a rich father.

Paul, the musician, talks them into drinking, and even though they don’t like it at first, it doesn’t take long before they’re hooked. But it’s risky business—with a few drops of alcohol per 1,000 drops of blood coursing through your veins, you’re incapable of standing. A few more drops and you’re dead. It’s not long before the boys are getting drunk every day and getting caught driving drunk; the sports star is kicked off the basketball team, and the rich kid is bailed out of jail by his father.

But alcohol was there to get them through life, and they were there to encourage everyone else, because if there’s one thing drinkers hate, it’s seeing people who aren’t drinking. Soon, the three kids are hammered and driving an unconscious friend to the hospital while leaving victims in their drunken wake. Some get better, and some end up destitute and poor, but the good ones help break the vicious cycle of imbibing the drug of alcohol.

1Social Class In America

Social Class in America (1957)

As its name suggests, this short film is a look at the different social classes in America. Starting from the moment you’re born, you’re assigned to a social class. There are those like Gilford Ames III who are already in society’s upper crust, living in a mansion and destined for success. The middle class is not nearly as well off: Just look at little newborn Ted Eastwood, unfortunate enough to have a father with a comfortable job but no prospects for anything more. And then there’s poor, poor Dave Benton, born into a lower-class family whose only dreams are a house rental and a meager education.

The film follows their lives and how they deal with their ascribed classes. Upper-class Gil is sent on to college, where he’ll meet others like him, while Ted is discouraged from following his dreams to get an office job. And Dave gets kudos for finding a job right away—at a gas station. Ted follows his dream, working hard to get out of his dead end job and eventually taking advantage of opportunities in New York City. But back in his hometown, he’ll always be part of the middle class—and there’s absolutely no way around it. The moral of the story? Achieved status is no match for the status you’re born into, so welcome to the American dream.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Debra Kelly

After having a number of odd jobs from shed-painter to grave-digger, Debra loves writing about the things no history class will teach. She spends much of her time distracted by her two cattle dogs.

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