The short “Are You Popular?”, like many Coronet shorts in the Prelinger Archives, manages to find ways to emphasize and encourage postwar conformist norms in the last 1940s to play up the need to belong and behave. The film encourages popularity as a virtue, and tells people why being popular is important, asking: “How does a person get to be popular with lots of people, and have a few close friends too?” First, physical appearance is a huge factor; Caroline is attractive and safe, and the students have “heard no scandal about her”. This means that popularity and virtue come from being prim and proper. Promiscuity is demonized – sex is subtly referred to as “parking in cars with the boys at night,” and Jenny is basically called a slut. According to the narrator, she is not really popular, “not even with the boys they park with”
Dating in this short involves slyly hinting at how much the man can afford when taking a girl out, since girls can’t handle making decisions: “It puts her on a spot!” You must also keep a date calendar to remind yourself of your schedule, and call a girl early so she doesn’t think she’s “a last resort.” Dates are encouraged as communal affairs that involve the input of the parents as well; the narrator even opines that they could “bring a couple back with them. That might be fun.”
All of these tips and tricks teach boys and girls that they must be orderly, punctual and polite to each other; furthermore, they must also take steps to safeguard the man’s wallet and pride. This is much different from society today, when men and women can freely ask each other out without needing so much input from their parents, or worrying about promiscuity as a means of losing popularity.
“Dating Dos and Don’ts” (1949)
In “Dating Dos and Don’ts,” we learn a lot of the same things we learned in “Are You Popular?” except this is more about the minutiae of dating itself. First of all, the planned setting for the date is a carnival, which is posited by the short as a fun, consumerist and interesting place for a romantic date. When the boy figures out who to ask on a date, he first things of Janice, who is attractive but way out of his league. Furthermore, the short posits that attractive people are easily bored, and act superior to men, noting that it is the woman’s responsibility to not make the man seem foolish and not in control. At the same time, when he thinks about Betty, she bores him; the woman’s job is also to entertain the man. Ann is thought of as sufficiently fun, and so she is called.
During the short, the parents of both parties are consulted, as Ann’s parents have to be convinced to give Ann the phone, and his parents are solicited for endless bits of advice about appearance and punctuality. The mother even says that women should be on time or they won’t get dates, in short; his father was punctual and was rewarded with a wife. Ann is pressured into being cheap on the date, so that the boy has “more money to take you out again.” All of these things result in dating protocol that is strictly regimented, which applies much less today. Now, kids can ask each other out, they don’t normally go to the carnival, and punctuality is not a severe offense punishable by breakup or cuckolding.
“Are You Ready for Marriage?” (1950)
In “Are You Ready for Marriage?” a marriage counselor provides some very odd advice about whether or not two teenagers are ready to get married. The principle itself is not a bad one – the short essentially warns teenagers to not get too committed to each other before getting to know one another – but takes some bizarre steps to showcase that perspective. The marriage counselor brings out “Cupid’s Checklist” which consists of three traits: 1) Similar backgrounds, 2) real friends, and 3) understanding marriage. The counselor states that the couple must have things in common in order to have romantic chemistry, but this is illustrated with a weird “Psychological Distance” diagram that shows the life paths they take relative to their parents. He also trots out graphs showing the ‘chance of happiness’ at ideal sociological ages for marriage (which are different for men and women). Interestingly enough, the woman’s age is younger than the man’s, which also furthers the sociological norm that it is okay for men to date younger women but not vice versa.
Placing such strict boundaries on what is acceptable emotional maturity for people regardless of background is something that is not done as much anymore – the 1950s had very strict, conformist ideas of how love and marriages should go, often with the effect of marginalizing women’s choices or agency. Today, men and women can get married whenever they want as long as they are both happy, and it is not as much up to the parents to control their destinies.