TAMI Flashback: Everything Isn't Normal in These Workplace Videos
This article is the seventh in Slackerwood's second series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article in the first series.
"Mary doesn't look like a pusher, and surely doesn't think of herself as one."
-- Narration from the workplace drug use training film Everything Looks So Normal!
Ah, but Mary most certainly is a pusher. She and her co-worker Sue, both hooked on tranquilizers, are among the drug-addled employees of an unnamed corporation in Everything Looks So Normal!, a video long overdue for a TAMI Flashback skewering. Drug abuse in the workplace (or anywhere else) is a serious matter, but cheesily dramatic corporate training films like Everything Looks So Normal! make it hard to take all the toking, snorting and pill popping very seriously.
Made in Houston in 1983, the video centers on two managers at a company that manufactures and sells, well, something. When the bosses notice declines in productivity, one suspects drug abuse. The other dismisses his suspicion; after all, everything looks so normal! The employees don't look like drug users!
But we soon learn that the offices and manufacturing plant are indeed rife with drug abusers and those who feed their habits. We know this because Everything Looks So Normal! clearly identifies them with glaring, all-caps, Courier font titles hammered onto the screen to the sound of a typewriter: Sam Hendricks -- DRUG DEALER, Larry Douglas -- MARIJUANA USER, Mike Ryan -- COCAINE ABUSER and the aforementioned Mary Humphreys and Sue Martin -- TRANQUILIZER ABUSERS. (To name just a few. This company is a thriving drug market; it must have been the happening place to work in Houston in 1983.) We also know there is rampant drug use because of the crime show soundtrack.
As the employees conduct clandestine drug deals in the restrooms and parking lot, the film educates us on the symptoms of drug use and the extent of the problem. It's obvious that Everything Looks So Normal! is the sort of film that employees and managers were (and still are) forced to watch after a drug bust or two in their workplaces. It's a cautionary tale meant to heighten awareness of the problem. Was it effective in curbing workplace drug use? Probably not; its over-the-top production values and clichéd dialogue probably seemed just as silly in 1983 as they do now.
To its credit, Everything Looks So Normal! is not just a hard-nosed bit of war on drugs propaganda; it's more about finding solutions than punishing offenders and suggests ways to help employees overcome their addictions rather than firing them. Of course, the problem it addresses continues, as does the fruitless war on drugs.
Another Houston workplace-related video from the same era is … Just Call Me Joe, a clever 1982 short film meant to encourage employees to donate to the United Way. … Just Call Me Joe addresses a completely different issue than Everything Looks So Normal!, but its trippy story could involve drug use also.
At the center of … Just Call Me Joe is hapless corporate drone Harry. While riding in a carpool van with his fellow drones, he complains bitterly about being pressured to contribute to the United Way during an office fundraising drive.
"Who needs the United Way, anyhow?" Harry asks, reminding his co-workers that because he takes care of himself and his family, so should everyone else. Tired of being pressured, he even suggests doing away with the United Way altogether.
In mid-rant, Harry has a surreal and psychedelic experience: His co-workers disappear, and in the driver's seat appears Joe, a hard hat-wearing, cigar-chomping genie. Joe has granted Harry his wish: The United Way has disappeared. (The transformation is so trippy that maybe Harry is a MAGIC MUSHROOM EATER.)
As they say, be careful what you wish for. In a story with shades of It's a Wonderful Life, Harry learns what his community would be like without the United Way. Joe drives Harry around the Houston area, picking up groups of former United Way clients who now depend on Harry: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, senior citizens, blind people, the Red Cross, children whose daycare center has closed, etc. The group soon outgrows the van and boards a bus; as the bus fills with needy souls, Harry gets the message about the United Way's importance.
…Just Call Me Joe is a pleasant little film, warm and fuzzy and funny and probably very effective. It's also notable for its two leads. Rick Stokes (Harry) appeared in a handful of Texas films including the memorable made-for-TV film Adam (the story of Adam Walsh, whose murder inspired his father, John Walsh, to create the long-running show America's Most Wanted). And Nik Hagler (Joe) appeared in many Texas productions including Dallas, A Perfect World and Walker, Texas Ranger.