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A METRIC AMERICA – (1978) – Category: A classically campy educational and/or safety short In the late 1970’s the notion that the United States was going to convert to the metric system by 1980 was being pushed. This thought was causing a panic of almost Y2K proportions as government bodies and the educational system frantically hastened to prepare citizens and students for the massive change in systems of measurement.
High school and middle school students were being made to feel that they risked being left behind in the “futuristic, all-metric” world of the 1980’s if they didn’t adequately master their metric conversion tables. Metric system educational shorts were distributed and they are gems of cultural kitsch. I don’t understand why these shorts are not as well known and laughed at as the old “duck and cover” style educational shorts from the Cold War era. A Metric America was, in my opinion, the campy masterpiece of this short-lived genre.
The film began with the requisite Man In A Suit addressing the camera and reciting this priceless dialogue to the camera:
“By 1980 many of you will be old enough to drive, and you’ll be purchasing gasoline measured in liters, not gallons, and observing speed limit signs instructing you how many kilometers per hour you should be driving.”
He continued in the usual vein for these films, pushing the panicky notion that students would be unemployable and as helpless as children if they failed to comprehend the metric system. After that “light-hearted” intro, the film proper began.
The hero of this live-action story was Chip, a Rip Van Winkle- like character who fell asleep in the 70’s and, after waking up in the 1980’s found himself completely bewildered by the “Metric America” that greeted him. The film became a study in one-note, heavy-handed didactics as our hero came face to face with uncomfortable situations that would have been easily handled, the film incessantly reminded us, if only he had properly studied the metric system.
As it is this moron just doesn’t get it and is baffled and confused by everything around him – a road sign reflecting how many kilometers back to town, a grocer selling meat by the kilogram, a counter-man at a pizzeria asking him how many milliliters of soda he’s buying, etc. And needless to say temperature conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit practically causes his head to explode (“If it’s only 30 degrees then how come I ain’t cold!?”). By the end of the short Chip is headed for some serious re-education courtesy of what must be America’s Metric Commissars of the 1980’s.
These metric system short flicks are hilarious cultural relics that deserve to have the same huge following as all the other wonderfully outdated educational films of the past. When you consider the fact that in America the only lasting cultural impact the metric system had was the 2-liter bottle of soda I get a huuuuuuge kick out of the ideas and situations presented in A Metric America and all the other films of its kind.
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