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Qspective: Being an AV geek had its advantages

It’s why this week’s Qguide cover story on the American Museum of the Moving Image’s retrospective on classroom films brought back a torrent of memories for me.

An AV geek, in case you haven’t read the story yet, refers to those kids in the 1950s and ’60s who were selected to be audio-visual monitors — to run the projectors showing those preachy films on everything from body odor to sex, usually as a way for substitute teachers to get through the period.

Of course, I never thought of myself as a geek (although with my thick glasses and tendency to daydream a lot, that’s probably exactly what my peers considered me to be). I felt honored, actually, to be selected in the sixth grade at PS 195 in Brooklyn to be an AV monitor. I didn’t even ask for it — teachers and administrators just selected kids who they thought could handle the job.

I liked it. I could get out of my regular class time and travel to various other rooms around the school, wheeling the bulky projector and large cans of 16 mm film on a cart. It was interesting to learn how to thread the film through the projector, how to stick my index finger in the right spot to get the film moving again if it got jammed while the narrator was describing personal hygiene, and how to rewind the film and set everything up for the next presentation.

It was also a great feeling of responsibility, since most of the teachers didn’t know how to operate the projector, and relied on me to show the films.

And while all the other kids were a captive audience, no teacher cared whether I actually watched those boring films or not, just as long as I kept everything running smoothly. I could read an interesting book or get an early start on my homework by the light of the projector bulb while my schoolmates were trapped in their seats in the dark, having to endure “Let’s Be Clean and Neat” or “Biography of a Bee.”

I wonder — who really was the geek?

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