November
8th 2009
Pirates and Emperors: from the Schoolhouse Rock cutting room floor

Posted under: American history, art, childhood, race, unhappy endings

You must check this out, or the terrorists have already won:

Clearly, this is a really well done parody of the genre–perhaps unsurprisingly, I was always a fan of the four “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons that referred to early American history–No More Kings, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World, The Preamble, and Elbow Room.  Of course, I’m appalled by the incredible whiteness of their points of view, but I admire them still today for their engaging animation and their wonderful songs, which integrate storytelling with traditional American musical forms and references.  I still know the songs and (most) of the words and can sing along–and the truth is that I can’t either read or recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution without the jingle ringing in my head…(but I try not to sing along when teaching the Constitution to my students!)  I think these history cartoons were much better done than most of the “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoons on words or numbers–with the exception of Interjections, My Hero Zero, and Interplanet Janet perhaps.  In my opinion, Sufferin’ Till Suffrage is a disappointment, perhaps because there’s no clear, short story to tell to explain American feminism or the suffrage movement.  (This is a problem in general when writing about women’s and gender history, isn’t it?)  The music is great, though.

“Pirates and Emperors” is a Schoohouse Rock you never saw when you were growing up–but your students and kids should watch.

12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Pirates and Emperors: from the Schoolhouse Rock cutting room floor”

  1. squadratomagico on 08 Nov 2009 at 2:24 pm #

    My favorite was the bluesy, “Conjunction Junction.”

    Conjunction-Junction, what’s your function?
    Hookin’ up words n’ phrases n’ clauses!

  2. Notorious Ph.D. on 08 Nov 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    I’m with squad — where’s the love for the grammar videos? Our students might be able to write better, had they grown up with those.

  3. Bavardess on 08 Nov 2009 at 2:53 pm #

    Uncle Sam on the sofa in his jammies crying ‘why does this keep happening to meee?’ – classic.

    I wonder if the quirky format helps the message sink in for people resistant to more serious modes of delivery, or if the fact it’s a cartoon allows people to dismiss it as not serious? Thanks for the links to the other clips, too. Even though I haven’t lived in the US for over 20 years, I can still recite the preamble to the Constitution pretty much word-for-word thanks to Schoolhouse Rock’s childhood indoctrinations (and that has come in useful in more than one pub trivia quiz).

    Squad – You’ve just reminded me of Conjunction Junction! I’ll be singing these all day.

  4. Historiann on 08 Nov 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    I remembered the grammar cartoons fondly–until I went back to review them for this post. And they’re just not as good as the American history cartoons, which are a much better match of subject, visuals, and musical forms.

    I liked Conjunction Junction too–that Lolly Lolly Lolly adverbs one was irritating even as a child. (And I still don’t know what the hell an adverb is. I know they sometimes end in -ly, and that’s about it.) There just isn’t a story to tell about nouns or adverbs or conjunctions–kind of like suffrage!

  5. Indyanna on 08 Nov 2009 at 4:46 pm #

    Wow, I never even heard of this series; the underlying genre, I mean, not the parody version. When was it in the schools? I’m reading some early American midterms right now that might be elevated by consulting some of these titles. On the “scaleability” comparison between emperors and pirates, when I was admitted to college they sent us something that quoted Theodore Roosevelt as saying that an uneducated tramp might steal from a boxcar, but with a university education, the same guy can steal a whole railroad! How timely in light of the Berkshire-Hathaway acquisition last week. Full steam ahead. I also think of Capt. Kidd, who served as an anti-piracy consultant to the English empire in the Madagascar Straits both after and before he helped himself to some of the choice fruits of commerce. Then they fed him to the rope!

  6. truffula on 08 Nov 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    No way! The Tale of Mr. Morton is far and away the best School House Rock song & cartoon. Really, I insist. Subject & predicate with a sweet (albeit heteronormative) story even a feminist can tolerate. Three is a Magic Number runs a close second in my book, for the tune & the family planning. Eight and Zero are up there. Conjunction Junction rocks it too. Not to say I don’t like the history songs but just go watch Mr. Morton and Three.

    I’m reliving all of this stuff with my kids via YouTube.

  7. Belle on 08 Nov 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    So I’m a geek. I didn’t hear these until I was out of school, and wished we’d had ‘em before! Would have made grammar easier for a non-grammar me. But I gotta tell you, I’d love to post this parody on my class web site. If only they’d not lynch me…

    Life in a RedNecked state…

  8. Notorious Ph.D. on 08 Nov 2009 at 8:50 pm #

    I dunno, H — Every time I grade a paper that a student has artificially inflated with fluff in order to almost but not quite make the page limit, I sing under my breath: “So I unpacked my adjectives…”

  9. shaz on 08 Nov 2009 at 10:29 pm #

    I loved that camping adjective girl! And all the others, frankly. Only reason I know my times tables.

    I actually use the No More Kings in my U.S. history survey class — last meeting of the term. After I confess my own conflicted nature about revisiting a childhood favorite, we deconstruct it: where are the slaves, where are the women, how are Indians portrayed, why is George feminized, etc. They completely get into it, and I hope emphasizing my own shock at seeing it through my now-historian eyes helps them be willing to come to terms with some of the new perspectives on U.S. history I’ve taught throughout the term.

  10. Jacqueline Whitt on 09 Nov 2009 at 7:03 am #

    For a couple of years now, I’ve been using “Pirates and Emperors” and “Elbow Room” on the first day of class as a way to talk about historical questions and narratives–that, given a set of facts, historians can tell wildly different stories about American expansion and involvement in the world. I have my students identify three things 1) what does the producer/author want you to believe about American expansion/international relations?; 2) what does the producer/author get right about the story?; and 3) what does the producer/author get wrong (or leave out)?

    My students do a remarkably good and thorough job analyzing both videos, and it’s an excellent opportunity to get them to think about the craft of history and the idea that history, at its root, is about storytelling and interpretation.

    Currently, I’m teaching at a military academy, so showing “Pirates and Emperors” on the first day of class is a pretty sure way to get students fired up, talking, and wondering (perhaps lamenting) how they managed to get the crazy civilian woman teaching them military history. I also wonder what my boss thinks as he roams the hallways on the first day of classes, but carry on regardless.

  11. Paul on 09 Nov 2009 at 10:39 am #

    I’ve seen the “Pirates and Emperors” clip, although strangely enough I never watched the original Schoolhouse Rock cartoons growing up, which I think makes me kind of an oddity!

  12. Digger on 09 Nov 2009 at 5:46 pm #

    Pirates and Emperors was great! When I’ve made similar arguments to people… well, obviously I’ve been temporarily inhabited by alien terrorists, how could I say such undemocratic, socialist, terrorist, treasonous, must be a Commie things!

    My favorite school house rock was “I’m just a bill, I am only a bill…” And conjunction junction. I don’t remember the history ones; maybe the Canadian educational station didn’t play them?

    I do miss the WB’s Hysteria though. Wonder if those are on YouTube.