Teen-Age Booby Trap

Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

An Armchair Analysis of Teen-Age Booby Trap: 1970 US Government Comic Book on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
by Ethan Persoff

tbtrp-200.jpgPart One: Introduction

There’s an old joke played with food, popular with kids. Goes like this: You hand someone a piece of something to eat and just as they are about to take a bite, you say a word completely opposite to what they’re about to taste. Example can be handing them a piece of creamy chocolate, and saying the word: ‘Glue’ or ‘Toenails’ right as they are chewing. It works every time. The brain struggles for half a second, and the experience of tasting is affected. This form of tampering is not just child’s play. It is a highly effective means of affecting somebody’s experience before they attempt consuming something.

Imagine reading a food review saying a restaurant got you sick. Would you eat there? For over fifty years the US government has played this suggestive food game again and again, creating a number of pieces of dishonest art and text about the consumption of mind-altering drugs. The high-water mark for both cautionary messaging and artwork can be found in a little known (but highly sought-after) comic book produced in 1970 by the US Bureau of Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs, entitled Teenage Booby Trap. Scans of this entire document are available at http://www.ep.tc/teenageboobytrap/


Note: This booklet was also produced with the alternate fear-mongering title, Beware the Booby Trap

Threats aside, Teenage Booby Trap, on the surface, is an incredible government booklet. It is lavishly illustrated, and contains a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge on practically every substance available to young people in the early 1970s. Flipping through the pages, it’s amazing to realize the amount of information presented here. There are sections on everything from Pot, Cocaine, LSD, even Demerol and Meth. Compared to modern-day anti-drug messaging, this booklet is a breath of fresh air. There is no description of your brain as a cracked frying egg, or of vague instructions to Just Say No to anonymous unseen strangers. Nor are you implored to find an anti-drug substitute. What you have here instead, almost miraculously, is basic facts and information. Or rather, as we will discuss, something resembling facts and information.

As this is a government document about illegal and outlawed substances, it is important to question the messenger – and above all things, one should consider the food game mentioned above. The federally instructed authors of Teenage Booby Trap want very much to insert the right word in your ear before you try any of these substances. They want to affect your experience, or prevent the experience altogether. If this wasn’t so, this booklet would not be created. There are a number of reasons for drug enforcement, some include public safety. But drugs are also an opportunity for free will and creative thought, as much as (or more than) they are a threat to our health and welfare. This control of something that gives people a unique sense of freedom is worth evaluating. So, considering this booklet as part of the food game, let’s look at the front cover. Incidentally, I love this image. It’s very dishonest but it looks great, and is one of my favorite images ever found in any comic book of the last century. Check it out: http://www.ep.tc/teenageboobytrap/01.jpg

Here with the cover we see the government’s thesis. Playing the suggestive food game, the first words spoken to the reader before they bite are ‘failure’ and ‘isolation’. You are shown two kids trapped in what looks like a pleasureless cardboard box prison, strung out with props that suggest a king’s ransom of pills, heroin and pot. Their eyes are barely open, and they aren’t even acknowledging each other. Only a small window shows us the outside world, full of trouble-free couples happily enjoying the sunshine, and holding hands. These other people seem to be in love. These other people are obviously off drugs, and seem presumably without a worry in the world. Note that I happen to enjoy this illustration so much that for years it has been the mascot image for Comics With Problems.

The cover to Teenage Booby Trap is a masterpiece of compressed, calculated information. It’s even sexy, even alluring. It certainly caught the long gaze of many students who received it. It achieves the number one goal, which is to lure you to open the otherwise threatening and boring Government Booklet. And it’s with this first page flip where the bias of Teenage Booby Trap truly begins. An important play on words hits you right away: http://www.ep.tc/teenageboobytrap/02.jpg

So you’ve taken the bait by opening the cover and then WHAM you are asked, in boldface: “Is it possible” … “that someone you care about has changed for no apparent reason?”

    Before: From eager, active, enthusiastic

    Before: From friendly, open, trusting

etc. What I find interesting about this play on words is that it, to me, completely reverses the effects the right drugs in the right circumstances have done for so many. If anything, they’re just describing a heavy hangover from alcohol. Drug abuse is a terrible situation, but so is any self-destructive excess (shopping, eating, gambling…). I don’t advocate ever touching the scary shit: heroin, crack, etc.. But things like pot and natural hallucinogens, when done safely with others and in moderation, do have positive healthy effects on you. The positive affects are social, mental, and can even be physical (a change in posture, healthier decisions about diet, etc.). If that shows my bias, fine. I’ll put that right there on the table. Don’t do the death drugs, though. I’ll say that too. Heroin, crack and other shit WILL kill you, or seriously threaten your health. Let’s just be up front about that. But Teenage Booby Trap is mostly designed for the pot smokers. It wants to connect all drugs like pot with the death drugs like heroin. So let’s return again to this introduction on the inside front cover: which states:

is-it-possible-1-250.jpgHere I would like to offer that they have this before-and-after information incorrect. I know many people who have come out of their shells through drugs, have found a community and bond with others through drugs, and have made a success of themselves through drugs. I know people who have gotten off of alcohol dependency through drugs, and I know people who have figured out some of their deepest troubles through drugs. To incorrectly paraphrase Allen Ginsberg: I have seen the best minds of my generation find themselves with drugs. Mind you, not with drugs as a goal, but with drugs as an important life-affecting community experience. So let’s revisit Teenage Booby Trap’s introduction, but make a small editorial adjustment. It’s my argument, that in the right social setting, and during the right time of life, healthy drugs actually manage the following:

is-it-possible-2-250.jpgIncidentally, this is a good example of the power of an authoritative narrator voice. We have merely switched around the statements, and they appear just
as valid. In fact, for me, they seem to resonate more as truth and less as propaganda.

We will continue with part two, examining further pages of Teenage Booby Trap at a later date. Scans of this entire document are available at http://www.ep.tc/