"The School of Tomorrow," Miss Teenage America vs. hippies, and other wisdom from Boys' Life circa 1968
Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets.
Boys' Life, September, 1968
Publisher: Boy Scouts of America
The Cover Promises: In the future, ghostly kids will don aluminum-foil PJs to attend school in that stupid hatch from Lost.
"A generation or so from now a truly modern school will have a room, or perhaps several rooms, filled with equipment of the type shown on the cover of this issue." (page 24)
"Whether you pick one aftershave that becomes your trademark or whether you collect lotions and colognes for every mood and occasion, the men's toiletries industry is ready with the variety to add spice to your life." (page 20)
Like a really boring period, Boys' Life sneaks unwanted each month into the lives of American boys to remind them of all the expectations placed upon them by the accident of gender.
Or maybe I'm projecting. See, your Crap Archivist quit Scouting just after Webelos because a change in den-meeting nights would have meant missing Moonlighting.
For a good three years afterwards, though, Boys' Life kept showing up, unpaid for, a once-a-month demonstration of all the classic boyish skills that I would never master. Skills like rifle-shooting, lifeguarding, snake-bite de-poisoning, and cartoon bible-story appreciating, all of which could have helped me fit in a little better in my small-town Kansas school.
Anyway, this '68 Boys' Life has kick the 80's issues lacked. It's oversized, with impressive art and impressive freelancers -- there's short fiction by Isaac Asmiov and Poul Anderson, and a chess column by Bobby Fischer.
There's awesome ads like this:
Please note that I only use "awesome" in the most literal sense: to describe a thing that inspires a feeling of awe.
Best of all, there's that late sixties feeling of a cultural institution trying to guide itself and its adherents through unsettled times.
Trying to keep kids clean-cut and upbeat in the year of the Tet Offensive and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Boys' Life just comes right out and asks, "Should you be different?"
The answer, from Martin Cohen's article "Should You be Different?": "Being different can be dangerous."
"A reasonable amount of amount of rebelliousness in the teen years is healthy. However, if a boy goes on forever saying that everything in the adult world is wrong, that's another matter."
And, finally, encouragingly:
"If being different means thinking for yourself pursuing interests that develop your talents, and weighing problems carefully before making a judgement, than by being different you will find yourself respected in your community and perhaps honored eventually by history."
But for God's sake, Scouts, when you buck for that merit badge in responsible differentness, don't you dare try being gay different!
Boys being "different" was also a concern of Stephanie Crane, Miss Teenage America 1968:
From her gently scolding advice column:
"The hippies, to many people, are supposed to stand for individuality, doing just what they want to do and ignoring society and its rules. But here's another obvious conflict. These people have set up their own group, too . . . and they copy each other's dress, attitude, and way of life. They're no more individualistic than any high-school group -- just less productive!"
In her monthly dispatches, Miss Teenage America sent her Boy Scout audience maddeningly mixed signals:
"I just don't think it is individualistic to follow fads, although fads are acceptable in moderation."
"I don't like really long hair on boys, and I don't want to date a boy with hair that's too long. I do like it long -- if it's worn so you can still see their eyes and necks."
So, be long-haired in a short-haired, slightly faddish, totally unique way.
A fashion spread later in the issue shows just how to do this:
Sadly, the article on the future of education is something of a bust. The magazine's double-exposed, IBMs-in-a-microwave cover notwithstanding, the actual predictions inside are dully, dead-on accurate in that careful, no-fun Boys' Life way: expensive computers will handle tests, grading, and give students access to entire libraries worth of information.
And then, wearing the skin of the schoolhouse itself, computers will distract human meatbags with feelings of patriotism while sucking up souls through their whirling, reel-to-reel eyes.
More confused wisdom from Stephanie Crane, the fad-hating, fad-approving Miss Teenage Disdainer of All Things Anti-Indivualistic:
"When I date a boy, of course I like him to fit in with the crowd, to dress acceptably and join in on school extracurricular activities."
Hungry for an update on Miss Crane, your Crap Archivist turned up two tantalizing leads : a woman purporting to be her daughter asking for more information about a stint Miss Crane might have served as a bunny at the St. Louis Playboy Club, and some anonymous soul asking whoever reads Answers.com, "Did Stephanie Crane get pregnant during her reign as Miss Teenage America?"
True or not, that rumor's a fine reminder: be prepared, boys!
As square as the editorial content might have been, some advertisers sensed where even boy-culture was heading:
The mighty Studies in Crap e-mail list updates you whenever a new SiC post hits. Sign up at email@example.com.
Join the dozens with the good taste to follow @studiesincrap on Twitter!
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.