A Retrospective Look At The Insanity Of Child Safety Guides
It's common to hear people, usually insufferable ones, complain that today's children are too coddled. Well, allow me to present the alternative. For decades, America's youth were introduced to the concept of mortality with the same tone that we now use to introduce them to the concept of Transformers. And if the following safety guides are any indication, Americans spent a good chunk of their history not giving a shit whether their children lived or died. Let's take a trip down a weird back alley on Memory Lane, where every memory is of murder. Oh, and if you think these are just a weird niche thing that happened once per decade, feel free to erase that thought by visiting this article that has even more nightmare fuel.
The 1930s Thought Kids Were Stabbing Their Eyes With Pencils
In the '30s, a dead child just meant one fewer mouth you'd have to scrape together a meal for with a few hours of work at the Dust Factory. It wasn't the greatest time in American history to be a kid, which is perhaps why this book uses such childlike drawings. It gives children an escape from the drudgery of reality, even as it takes every possible opportunity to remind them that reality is out to get them.
That's the Bath Room Nit-Wit, and his tale of woe is meant to warn children about the dangers of showering improperly. But that child isn't just being scalded by hot water -- his mouth is a portal to a dark realm, and he is terrified by what's contained within his own orifice. This is a drawing someone would find on the wall of the child's bedroom in the spooky old house they inherited, right before that child appears next to them with a knife.
Oh no, Downstairs Nit-Wit left his toy train on the stairs, then tripped on it! He looks mildly put off by the fact that his skull is about to be forced into the space that his noodle neck once occupied!
That's the Fire-Bug Nit-Wit, who just had a "surprise" from playing with electrical wires. Yes, children. That's what you'll get for playing with matches and electricity. A "surprise."
The Water Nit-Wit tried to swim too far, and "is going to be very much too full of water." Don't worry, kids, that's all that drowning is. You drink too much water, then fall into a peaceful sleep. That's all. The eternal embrace of the ocean is nothing to fear.
This is where the book strays from misguided cuteness and into proto-Silent Hill. First, the Sharp Edge Nit-Wit "stuck pens and pencils around its eyes so much that they had to put a screen on them." Then he played with knives until he chopped off his tie, shoe, and chunk of his ear, at which point "they" had to tie his hands up. Who's "they"? The doctors at the mental hospital who neither know nor care how to treat a patient obsessed with self-harm?
Explosion Nit-Wit just wants to end it all, and he doesn't much care which method gets the job done. He looks calm, even serene. You too can be peaceful if you swallow the barrel of a gun, kids. No one will ever call you a Nit-Wit again.
The 1940s Figured That Everyone On A Bicycle Was Doomed
With the '40s came World War II, and suddenly there was no sugarcoating the danger that lurked in every corner of American life. Even a guide to bike safety included enough fatalities and dismemberment to resemble a PG Final Destination, because if your dad took a Nazi bullet between the eyes in the Ardennes, the least you could do was face the risks of biking like a man.
This guide is full of callow children taking the same risks that most children do. For their transgressions, they are not scolded by their elders, taught a lesson by their wiser peers, or shaken by a close call that encourages them to change their ways. They fucking die.
George appears to have been rammed by a tailgating vehicle driven by someone who's unfamiliar with bicycles even as a general concept. To be fair, bikes have only existed since the early 1800s, so maybe Americans were still learning that their riders didn't need to be stalked like prey animals to encourage movement. Blaming George's Renaissance art death on his own actions is harsh, but at least he isn't alone in being slandered before his body is even cold.
I think the Police Safety Council, the creators of this literature, accidentally hired an illustrator who gets off to the sudden death of children. If this is a guide for cyclists, what lesson do they take from this? That the pavement itself can turn on you at any moment? That motorists will relish in your death? Let's zoom and enhance on that second panel.
That is a man who, at best, is mildly irate that he's going to be late in getting home to get drunk in front of the wife who hates him. "Screw it, the kid probably would have grown up to be a red," he thinks, as he flees the scene of the crime. And why would he stay? He lives in a land where you shouldn't get on a bike unless your will is in order.
We can learn a lot about the artist from those four panels. He thinks tragedy is a beautiful ballet, he doesn't know how to spell "tanker," he hates someone named George, and he cares so little about mortality that it's almost an afterthought. "Tom sustained a fractured skull. And oh yes, that killed him, if such is your concern. But what is death but an old friend we too must one day visit? Anyway, remember to look both ways."
That's right, bicyclists, you aren't just suicidal -- you're going to get babies killed. Why would you ever ride a bike? Is it because you hate America? Why don't you just go back to Bikeland?
Ah yes, the old "distracted by a new transport plane" tragedy that's claimed the lives of far too many bicycling aviation enthusiasts. I don't blame her for being distracted, considering that this large plane is buzzing the treetops and probably deafening everyone for no apparent reason. But in this world, every accident that's ever occurred is the fault of a teenager on a bicycle, and they deserve every moment of pain that's coming to them. Do you think that's fair, driver?
"I AM THE GRIM SPECTER OF DEATH. ALL CYCLISTS ARE EQUAL BEFORE ME."
The 1960s Just Went Insane
The 1960s are famous for the Summer of Love, the Summer of '69, and other fun, life-affirming events that the creator of this guide was absolutely not invited to.
At least two decades of social and technological advancement have allowed these guides to admit that sometimes the cyclist isn't at fault, and instead they might just get randomly murdered by the whimsy of fate.
They haven't progressed past the need to display mangled bodies, though. But wait a second, this style looks familiar...
I'm onto your games, Police Safety Council! You just took your guide from the '40s and updated the look of the cars! You didn't even bother changing the fashion, slang, typos, and inexplicably distracting planes, because you go the extra mile in not really caring if children live or die. Why would a teenager in the '60s even be distracted by an airplane? That's like expecting a modern teen to have their mind blown by a smartphone.
At least they're also acknowledging new threats now, like the fact that your basement could just fucking explode. And of course, because this is the '60s, this bicycling safety manual takes a detour to warn kids away from drugs. What common sense advice do they offer "goofballs" who are tempted to try meth, pot, or glue (three nearly identical drugs)?
Oh. Oh, shit. Just what is the Police Safety Council, and what exactly are they trying to tell us? I couldn't find any information about their existence aside from their manuals, and the more you look at them, the less their characters even look human.
They look like robots who are trying, and largely failing, to imitate human emotions. "One of our units has been deactivated. Initiate program SADN-355," speak the things in the second panel. What do you think of this theory, teenager whose eyes are a howling black void from which there is no escape?
Well, it's a miracle that any American teenagers survived long enough to produce modern Americans. But, to be fair, not everyone in the past actively celebrated the demise of the nation's youth. Mixed in with all of this horror was some smart, timeless advice that we can all agree on.
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