Back when I was a kid, a lot of PBS kid’s shows had magazines. One of those happened to be 3-2-1 Contact. If you remember watching it, you probably recall that the show featured The Bloodhound Gang, who solved mysteries or the fact that a sheep’s eye was dissected during one episode. The magazine was loosely based on the show, mostly featuring articles on science and the like. It was nondescript enough to the point where I all but ignored it.
Until I was in sixth grade. Then 3-2-1 Contact went from being just under the radar to being a full fledged rag mag. This was why:
I remember the shot of She-Ra; I was a fan of the show. The rest was rather blurry to me, as I didn’t watch wrestling and Bill Cosby was just Cliff Huxtable. The article in question dealt with television violence, and it had the usual tired statistics and disproven studies. Unfortunately, I had to read it, as my sixth grade teacher felt that everyone just had to read it, because it was so important and riveting and timely or whatever she came up with at the time. None of us were exempt, either; there was a blank sheet next to the issue where we had to sign our names. So eventually, I had to head to the front of the class, pick up the magazine, then walk back to my desk and read it.
I sat quietly, my eyes scanning the pages, skimming over the same words that I knew weren’t true. Bordering the pages were images of various television shows.
There were various scenes from many different television shows: there were shots from the A-Team, Airwolf, He-Man, and other things that were popular with kids at the time. I knew and recognized most of them. But one made me pause, then see a brilliant shade of crimson not a few moments later.
It was a scene from Transformers, from “The Golden Lagoon”, to be specific. The picture featured Beachcomber, one hand a bright shade of gold, aiming and firing during a Decepticon attack. Upon seeing this, I was livid.
I knew Beachcomber. He hated fighting and didn’t pick up a weapon unless it was absolutely necessary. Earlier in that very episode, he had slipped away from the battle, because he wanted no part of it. He wasn’t the type who enjoyed fighting. I knew that, but if you didn’t follow the show or know the character, you’d think otherwise.
I don’t remember the words on the page. I don’t remember any of the other pictures, either. I just remember wanting to pick up the magazine and throw it across the classroom.
Luckily, none of us had to write anything about the article; we just had to sign the paper saying we had read it. I did and had to fight the urge to throw the magazine in the trash.
3-2-1 Contact had just introduced me to the idea of propaganda and had used an Autobot to do it. I knew that what I was seeing didn’t match up with the facts at hand, I just didn’t know the term. But I became fairly skeptical of anything that 3-2-1 Contact decided to air on their program or publish in their magazine. If they had made a mistake of that magnitude, they could easily repeat it. So I quit reading the magazine–I had no subscription, so that was easy–and changed the channel whenever I spotted the show on PBS.
It wouldn’t be the first time I’d learn a lesson about propaganda and just how insidious it could be. The second lesson would come years later, when I was an adult and a few years after the worst terrorist attack the United States would ever see. But that’s a different story for another time.
As for 3-2-1 Contact? The magazine has disappeared; although they tried to recruit me for years, I refused to even entertain the idea of having a subscription. Most of the time, I scrawled “Burn in hell, liars!” on the envelope before ripping it apart. (For a twelve year old kid who wasn’t allowed to swear, writing something like that was fairly bold.) The show? I honestly don’t know nor do I care. They didn’t get along with fact-checking, so why should I pay attention to their program? But that lesson stayed with me; just because it’s in print, doesn’t mean it’s correct.
It was a harsh lesson for me when I was that young.