Today in a Facebook thread, someone made a comment which expressed a theme I’ve seen quite frequently in recent years, usually in lists with titles like “You know you’re a child of the 80s if…” (or 90s, or 70s, or whatever childhood decade the author is being nostaligic for):
Since we are going to date ourselves like that, I remember when they didn’t have to put “do not try this at home” because we weren’t stupid
Speaking as someone approaching my 43rd trip around the sun, it’s a comforting notion. These Kids Today need to be warned not to do things which are obviously dangerous that we would never needed to be warned not to do them!12
I did get curious, though, as to how long this particular admonition had been a part of the culture. I wasn’t able to pin down an actual origin, but thanks to the website TV Tropes, I was able to find many examples from the past there,3 including:
- Every instance of someone climbing into the eponymous wardrobe in CS Lewis‘s first Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is accompanied by the narrator’s remarks on how dangerous it is to close oneself into a wardrobe, how smart Lucy and Peter are to leave the door ajar, and how foolish Edmund is to close it on himself — no doubt to prevent children from getting themselves trapped in wardrobes while trying to emulate the Pevensies.
- Back in the 1960s Bob Monkhouse‘s Mad Movies frequently had Monkhouse telling kids never to copy dangerous stunts from silent movies.
- The real-life Trope Namer was the late motorcycle stunt man Evel Knievel, who on his numerous televised death-defying feats in the 1970s included the same disclaimer: “Kids, don’t try this at home.”
- That’s Incredible was famous in the early 1980s for the use of this phrase to disclaim its many stunts, which was understandable considering how many real stuntmen were injured appearing on the show
- Bill Nye the Science Guy: “Do not, I repeat, DO NOT attempt this demonstration at home!”
- At the end of every Gladiators episode.
Since the Lewis book came out in 1950, it’s been A Thing for longer than most of can claim to be passengers on Starship Earth. Of course, the very fact that it’s become a trope has led to a lot of lampooning the trope, which has led to the idea that this is somehow a new thing that never happened before. But it’s been around for pretty much as long as there’s been media that shows things one might ought not try at home (or, indeed, anywhere.)4
Of course, this is nonsense. I remember when a friend and I, left alone in my grandfather’s workshop, figured out we could attach his equipment winch to our belts and hoist each other up in the air and be flown across the room on the rail it was attached to — over a concrete floor littered with iron and steel apparatus And I was a reasonably bright child. ↩
No one got hurt, aside from the spanking we got when we got caught at it. ↩
If you had somehow managed to get this far in your life without discovering the TV Tropes website, I’m sorry. We’ll see you in a few days. ↩
If anyone might have better luck in finding the first citation of the phrase, I’d love to know it. I’m genuinely curious. ↩