Scared Straight! (1978)

TV-PG   |    |  Crime, Documentary

Scared Straight! (1978) Poster

The filmed depiction of a program where convicts tell troubled kids about the horrors of prison life.


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9 January 2007 | nocompassneeded
| Propaganda or a Matter of "Keepin' It Real"?
There is no denying that this documentary is really engaging, if only in a perverse sort of way. The grating, in-your-face approach was certainly ahead of its time and the ultimate message--however closely orchestrated and exaggerated--cannot be mistaken. It's interesting to note how we are assaulted with "good" here, rather than being assaulted with "evil", how we , as passive viewers, are pushed and pulled by the film without our own volition. We are "turned out" by the convicts and walk away broken but wiser. That said, the film reminds me somewhat of "Reefer Madness" and other such pieces of propaganda that force the audience into an ostensibly "real" hell-hole in an effort to scare us straight. Here we have a more street-wise but equally paranoid attempt to pummel at-risk kids with sordid tales that will lead them away from a life of crime. The kids in the film, although shown to be the focus of the warnings--the very center of attention, are really nothing more than supporting actors-- players, not recipients, of the message which borders on outright propaganda. The real audience is comprised of slightly rowdy and/or delinquent middle class kids who both are both fearful of and fascinated by deviant actions. For them, watching this film is equivalent to "slumming". It's "real" only in a very mediated way. With that in mind, it's arguable that this film's shock tactics do more to entertain than to instruct. Thus, on a fictional level the film is wonderful, but if we're looking for gritty cinema verite that just happens to coincide with governmental policies we will be disappointed.

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