Gen Y asks, "What's an after-school special?"

When I teach a unit on movie reviews, I make sure we take a few minutes in class to read The New Yorker's scathing review of the 2000 movie Left Behind, starring Kirk Cameron.

"If the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word 'Rapture' is Blondie, then start stocking up on food and water," writes Michael Agger. I don't expect my students to laugh at this line. Remember: Blondie's "Rapture" was released in 1981, a full decade before today's college  students were born. It's as far away from them as Woodstock is from me. For everyone except the music junkies, this joke flops. Nevertheless, I take pleasure in introducing them to one of the first pop songs to incorporate a fledgling new genre called "rap."

But this year, when we read Agger's review, I noticed something new. Perhaps my favorite line in the review is Agger's description of Left Behind as "an after-school special about the apocalypse."


Come on, guys. An after-school special about the apocalypse! Funny, right?

Then it comes. I should have expected it.

"What's an after-school special?"

Now that I think about it, I guess the laughter at the "after-school special" line has been dwindling over the past four years that I've been teaching college. And it makes sense: According to, ABC's after-school specials ran from 1972 to 1996, with the final episode airing in January 1997. In other words, by the time today's college students were in first grade, the show was off the air. Unless they had a special taste, while still in pre-school, for such titles as "Educating Mom" (a soccer mom goes back to high school with her teenage son, air date: March 14, 1996), how would they know about after-school specials?

Nevertheless, I will keep using Agger's article when teaching movie reviews. For one thing, they need to know another synonym for "sappy television." But most importantly, they need to be exposed to lines such as this: "Read your Bible carefully. A global currency, the ascendancy of the U.N., the telling detail that the Antichrist will have a Russian accent—it’s all there."