Look Around You

We have previously discussed the use and misuse of the documentary and the museum aesthetic paradigm.  Of course, there are other styles that can be taken advantage of.

In 2002, the BBC produced a series of shorts based on the stylistic tropes of 1980’s educational films. Linked below is the episode on water. There are 9 episodes in all. I recommend watching them all.

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Look Around You borrows as many tropes as can be fit into a ten minute episode and bombards the viewer with refined miseducational information. It recalls all of the videos that you mocked in elementary school and refines them into comedy gold. The parody is near perfect and improves with the rewatching as there are subtleties riddled throughout the production.

The educational film is an interesting art form. We all recognize and understand it and there is something remarkable about the way we feel when interacting with it: cynically disinterested.

There is something universal about the narrative structure, cinematography and production values of video produced for school that can be immediately recognized and then obstinately ignored. The patronizing tone and vanilla facts are complimented by an offensively outdated sense of style. All attempts at being entertaining or fun come off as either unforgivably lame or insulting to the intelligence of the viewer. The barely musical opening themes cause a reflex action of either dozing off or passing notes.

However, despite the fact that they largely lack any instructional or entertainment value, we all remember them with sort of a horrified fondness. The recounting of our experiences with them years later is remarkably similar to tales of excessive drinking or violent injuries.

Unlike documentaries or museums, though, it is difficult for anyone to use educational videos to forward their own agenda. The audience will typically refuse be be informed by an educational video on moral grounds of low quality and insulting delivery. If somehow the production quality was adequately increased, the audience would become suspicious of the film and immediately classify it as either advertizing or propaganda.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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