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Multimedia CD-ROM Products

Jaye A. H. Lapachet
LIS 296A


I looked at the following CD-ROM products: Ephemeral Films 1931-45 and Ephemeral Films 1946-1960. These showed clips of advertising, educational and industrial films made since 1927. After watching these products, I thought that the nostalgia that people seem to feel now for other decades (good old days), especially the 1950's is sadly misplaced. I think that Prelinger has done a good job in incorporating the propaganda that was being distributed and, as a result, these CD-ROM products dispel the myths of the "good old days."

Some things, in the layout of the product, could have been better. The Quicktime movie boxes were much too small and very difficult to see, although I understand that Quicktime movies have recently gone to a larger format. Also, the sound was difficult to hear and may have been slightly garbled. Also, the machine the SLIS is running these products on is too slow and thus the experience is diminished.

The movies that these products portray seem to be propaganda, because they do not necessarily promote a specific product. Often they are promoting broader and vaguer concepts such as "freedom of choice" and "progress." These movies could have been "priming the pump" for later futuristic products the companies were planning to sell. These types of messages (propaganda) resemble the commercials (or infomercials) that telecommunications companies are creating and showing now, such as the AT&T faxing from the beach advertisement, and the little girl dancing around the fire for MCI. The commercials really don't mean anything or sell anything specific, like the Ephemeral Films, they are also just "priming the pump" for future products. The commercials are also a way of projecting futurism onto the image of the companies now. This is especially important since these companies have a product to sell - YET. As Howard Besser points out, advertising, and the Ephemeral films are selling a lifestyle, part of which is their particular product.

As in the AT&T and MCI advertisements, there is no mention of the distasteful side of life, such as hunger, homelessness, unemployment, labor disputes or war. This is also true for the clips on the CD-ROMs. The images are all sanitized for the viewing public.

In "A Date with your Family" (1950), the clearly stated point is to achieve harmonious family relations. This clip bills itself as a how-to recipe for immediate success. An example is when the film preaches "...pleasant, harmonious conversation helps the digestion." The portrayal of gender roles was very traditional, and strictly divided between the sexes. Son went upstairs after school to work on homework, while Daughter helped Mother with dinner. The women were urged to change clothes (they made the entire meal in dresses and aprons), because it makes "women feel, and consequently look, more charming." The meal and family seemed to revolve around Father, even though he did nothing to aid in the development of family relations except to show up and eat. The film also says to save the unpleasantries until a later time, but never specifies what is a good time.

"Sniffles & Sneezes," 1955, it is easy to find the roots of public attitudes toward AIDS, cancer and other diseases that are frightening and prevalent in our society today. This clips tends to argue for the quarantine of the sick and extreme sanitary precautions. As a result, it engenders paranoic attitudes.

It is very interesting to look at these CD-ROMs now and to think about how these were probably not meant to be preserved, which seems to me Rick Prelinger mentioned last semester. They seem to be the beginnings of corporation presenting the world as it should be and not as it really is, which resulted in the television, magazines and movies advertisements that have fostered the neuroses that people get treated for by psychiatrists today. They should be used as illustrations in the study of societal changes, and in the study of corporate mind control tactics that started with films like these and spread to television and consumerism.

Prelinger does have a good product in that he is using film clips, that nobody else wants, to send a message. Hopefully, the message is something like "learn from these narrow minded ideas and move on."

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