As a boy at Our Lady of Jasna Gora Elementary School I always thrilled to the words teachers meeting, because it meant no classes for the last two periods of the day. Teachers meetings were held seemingly at random, every other year or so, perhaps in response to some crisis. Their very infrequency made them what every schoolchild longs for, a break in the routine. Teachers meeting rang of freedom, freshness and guilt-free indolence.
Reality always fell short of my expectations, because in practice it meant watching a video. How else were the teachers to have a meeting during school hours? The first through third grade would be squeezed into one classroom, the fourth through sixth graders into another, each under the charge of a lesser school authority such as the gym teacher or art instructor who would wheel out a 16″ TV and plug a video into the VCR, while the teachers got down to their grownup crisis management over coffee and cigarettes in the breakroom.
The rule for choosing videos seems to have been “as age appropriate and gender neutral as you can get out of the bin of old VHS tapes on short notice.” It is a hard thing to do for two reasons: 1) because a film that is “age appropriate” for a first grader is not for a third grader, and 2) “gender neutral” really means “for girls.”
As a six year old movie buff I was excited to hear that because of the teachers meeting we would be watching a movie. It had never happened in my time at the school. But for some reason the second and third graders, Jasna Gora veterans all, looked weary and jaded.
Despite a flicker of unease I was still hopeful: nothing could be better than a movie in school, right? Maybe it would be Back to the Future or Raiders of the Lost Ark! An animated movie would be fine too, I had loved Watership Down since before kindergarten.
This is what we got:
“What the f—” I would have said, had I known the f-word.
“This is stupid” I confided to a small boy sitting next to me.
“Shut up, I’m trying to listen!” said he.
“You are an idiot” said I.
Disappointed but not disillusioned, I still felt all-a-tingle when in second grade it was announced that (yes!) the teachers had a meeting and we would watch a movie. The gym teacher again shepherded us into a single classroom. She announced that we would see a Jim Henson movie.
Perchance The Muppets? Muppets were cool: silly, but with a sly sense of humor that I could imagine a grown-up appreciating even if I did not quite yet understand all of it. I had enjoyed Jim Henson’s work in the Star Wars trilogy and I often watched Fraggle Rock after school.
Instead, we got this:
Like the rest of America, I tried hard to like Dark Crystal, and then fell asleep.
A boy can only resist systematic oppression for so long. You start as an innocent six-year-old movie fan; eyes glistening with hope, you trust in the benevolence and good taste of the adults in whose hands you have placed your tender little soul. In three short years they wore me down. This is the movie that broke me:
By fourth grade I was a hard-bitten veteran of Jasna Gora teachers’ meetings. If there is a comfort in cynicism, if there is a hope in despair, it is this: the bastards have done their worst. My emotions are dead, I thought; they can hurt me no more.
I was wrong.
The ’80s were a time of many wonderful things. Jim Henson was wonderful, wonderful too was David Bowie. But Jim Henson and the King of Polyester Soul together in one movie means years of nightmares about coke-snorting trolls in M. C. Escher landscapes.