America Rock's Education, Presenting National Narratives on American Television
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In 1995, Schoolhouse Rock Live! opened off-Broadway and went on to enjoy a successful run. As a “jukebox” musical, its score comprised selections from all the classic Schoolhouse Rock genres, ricochetingbetween Science Rock (“Interplanet Janet”), America Rock (“ElbowRoom”), Math Rock (“Three is a Magic Number”), and Grammar Rock (“Unpack your Adjectives”). Since then, the musical has become a popular choice for amateur theater companies around the United States.A large factor in the musical’s success is the strong influence of nostalgia. In the case of Schoolhouse Rock, this nostalgia is not too surprising: the cartoons were a 1970s and ‘80s childhood classic, a family-friendly collection of songs that adult audience members can now pass on to their children. This nostalgia can reverberate generationally as a generation of children develop their own memories of their parents’ childhood television. Schoolhouse Rock’s status as a classic remains unclear, since the generation of children of parents born in the 1960s and ‘70s is only now developing its own culture of nostalgia. Yet Schoolhouse Rock remains strong for the present, in part because it is tied so deeply to the acculturation to U.S. history that has contributed to a generation’s national identity. As such, these stories often receive an uncritical reception from students and grownups remembering their childhoods. Examining these stories in relation to the historical understanding of the time may help to break down the implicit messages in these beloved cartoons. America Rock presents a fairly familiar story to anyone who went through the American public educational system in the late twentieth century. The story of the United States’ founding and expansion in both land mass and population depicted in these videos are central to our idea of American national identity.