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Up With People
August 14, 2011 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Before there were yuppies, there were uppies—the term Up With People members use to refer to themselves. Most Americans over the age of 35 are vaguely familiar with Up With People, as its cast members have sung to more than 20 million people worldwide, and at the height of the ensemble’s fame it provided the halftime entertainment at four Super Bowls (1976, 1980, ’82, ’86). But many are unaware of the group’s cultish utopian ideology, its political connectedness, and how it was funded by corporate America, part of a deliberate propaganda effort to discredit liberal counterculture in the 1960s and ’70s. In the documentary Smile ’Til It Hurts: The Up With People Story (Storey Vision), writer-director-producer Lee Storey provides a thorough, balanced look at the organization’s history, demonstrating “what can happen when ideology, money and groupthink converge to co-opt youthful idealism.”

This summer the Up With People International Alumni Association will hold a 45th anniversary reunion in Tucson (July 29 – August 1, 2010), bringing together those alumni who haven’t distanced themselves from their past. It’s safe to say, though, that Up With People’s most famous alumna, Glenn Close, won’t be on hand. “She was in the organization for nine years,” reports Storey, noting that Close’s parents and grandparents were very involved with MRA and Up With People and donated money to both groups. “Up With People is where Close’s acting career began,” continues Storey. “But she has essentially denied any involvement. She doesn’t want to go back.”
posted by Trurl (93 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did uppies take uppers? (Just breaking the snark ice.)
posted by Philofacts at 6:34 PM on August 14, 2011


I know that an old freind and co-worker of mine (and a fellow mefite) was a member of this bunch for a while. I assume he'll show up shortly.
posted by jonmc at 6:37 PM on August 14, 2011


Wow, I never knew - the rest of the story.
posted by Curious Artificer at 6:38 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


So these guys are an evil version of the Polyphonic Spree? I don't mind a bit of mindless positivity, though the stuff I like is more 'life sucks. Be positive anyway'.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:38 PM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Never heard of MRA. From their Wikipedia page:
In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was formed through people, notably William Wilson and Dr Robert Smith, who recovered from their alcoholism through a combination of the Oxford Group (the forerunner of MRA) and medical treatment. Before adopting the name "Alcoholics Anonymous," AA was called "the alcoholic squadron of the Oxford Groups." The twelve steps of AA are, in part, a derivation of Oxford Group principles...
posted by DU at 6:40 PM on August 14, 2011


My grammar school music teacher used to teach us "Up With People" songs. I can still sing every note to a song called "Gee, I'm Looking Forward to the Future."
posted by xingcat at 6:42 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Up With People came to my highschool in the 90's and my cousin ended up joining and touring with them for a year. From his photos it consisted of a lot of drinking in saunas and ice holes of northern European countries.
posted by kanata at 6:43 PM on August 14, 2011


We hosted one of them in our house when I was a kid. Leana from Sweden. She looked like the girl on the Swiss Mix box and was probably the first real live girl that ever stayed in my house, other than my mom. This must have been around 81 or 82.

The group performed a concert at the local high school and we all got to go. I remember being all excited to see our "friend" Leana singing along with the group.

Looking back, it was so amazingly cheesy. "Up, up with people! You meet 'em whereever you go. Up, up with people, they're the best kind of folks you know!"

Guh. Now I'm all stabby. I need a shower.

I hope Leana is ok.
posted by bondcliff at 6:45 PM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


See also the Mike Curb Congregation.

Although, for a "a deliberate propaganda effort to discredit liberal counterculture," they're about as reactionary as the stage shows at Six Flags.
posted by Yakuman at 6:45 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


they actually dropped by springfield high school to give a concert in the gym in the early 70s - and even though we were hopelessly uncultured midwestern kids who thought grand funk railroad was the epitome of hip, we still recognized their lameness and the utterly unthreatening nature of their music

now i have their godawful theme song going through my head, trurl - tremble and click on this linky link for my earwormy revenge
posted by pyramid termite at 6:46 PM on August 14, 2011


Gee, I'm Looking Forward to the Future I thought I'd made up the horn section. It's even more over-the-top than I remember.
posted by xingcat at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2011


Up, up with people
you meet 'em whereever you go
Up, up with people
they're the best kind of folks we know
If more people were for people
All people everywhere
There'd be a lot less people to worry about
and a lot more people who care.

(I was obsessed with Up With People when I was young, and was convinced I wanted to be an Uppie at one point. Then I wanted to be the evangelical Christian equivalent [yes, there was a equivalent group who was spreading The Word]. Then I realized that I didn't want to be any of those things. In the meantime, I saw, um... 3 different years of Up With People when they came through my area, and I loved every moment. I even have an Up With People vinyl record, which I have digitized bits of and horrify people with in the middle of nights of music they've asked me to program. My hippie soul loves what Up With People represents, even if it doesn't really love Up With People overall.)
posted by hippybear at 6:49 PM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Let's hear it for the greatest hemisphere in the world: the Western Hemisphere!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:49 PM on August 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


I thought I'd made up the horn section. It's even more over-the-top than I remember.

nah, that's just your run of the mill 60s pop horn chart - it's "peppy" - sort of
posted by pyramid termite at 6:54 PM on August 14, 2011


Then I wanted to be the evangelical Christian equivalent [yes, there was a equivalent group who was spreading The Word].

yeah, they played at our gym too - my little hometown school wasn't so great at that separation of church and state thing
posted by pyramid termite at 6:55 PM on August 14, 2011


I didn't see it in the article but our version of Up With People also did projects in the communities they visited. Help repair playgrounds or senior centers along with their singing engagement. Was that just a Canadian thing?
posted by kanata at 7:00 PM on August 14, 2011


So these guys are an evil version of the Polyphonic Spree?

No, they're entirely not like The Polyphonic Spree at all.

Or are you being sardonic? It's hard to tell with you down-under types sometimes.

But suffice it to say, what the Spree is and what Up With People was had no overlap at all, aside from perhaps bit of sonic similarity. How they were formed, what they sought to achieve, and how they executed themselves... entirely different.
posted by hippybear at 7:03 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and all the races sing shoo-be-doo, shooby-dooby-doo, shoo-be-do, shooby-dooby-doo, yeah!
posted by griphus at 7:04 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Polyphonic Spree

how they executed themselves

If only.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:05 PM on August 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


I remember seeing a bit of UWP doing the Superbowl halftime show way back then. For a cynical Canadian teenager, it was kind of surreal. 1986 was about the last year that the Soviet Union allowed a massive military presence in their Red October parade too. Ah, those were the days.
posted by Pseudonumb at 7:06 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Down With Replicants!
posted by spitbull at 7:07 PM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Up With People? Soooo glad I was too young for this.

the evangelical Christian equivalent

Soooo glad I was too young for that. The evangelicals where I grew up liked to play heavy metal. Folk-singers and guitarists with their Kumbayas and earnest Godspell just didn't stand a chance.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:07 PM on August 14, 2011


1986 was about the last year that the Soviet Union allowed a massive military presence in their Red October parade too.

You're confusing this with Nyet With Proletariat.
posted by hal9k at 7:09 PM on August 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


Folk-singers and guitarists with their Kumbayas and earnest Godspell just didn't stand a chance.

no, it was more like tacky pop and faux r&b (in the late 60s, early 70s style)

you missed nothing
posted by pyramid termite at 7:10 PM on August 14, 2011


Oh, but Up With People wasn't folk-singing and guitarists. It was earnest rock-ish music with a bit of a soul/funk edge (not much of one, but a tiny bit) which also had a bit of Brady Kids quality to the music.

Your profile says you probably weren't too young for it, but you certainly would have been just on the edge of missing out (and it sounds like you did).

It was glorious and awful all at once. I can't wait for the documentary to get wider distribution (and to get out of its IRS troubles).
posted by hippybear at 7:11 PM on August 14, 2011


This summer the Up With People International Alumni Association will hold a 45th anniversary reunion in Tucson (July 29 – August 1, 2010)

This is obviously a meaning of the phrase "this summer" which doesn't actually correlate with anything in current language usage.
posted by hippybear at 7:17 PM on August 14, 2011


So these guys are an evil version of the Polyphonic Spree?

No, they're entirely not like The Polyphonic Spree at all.

Or are you being sardonic? It's hard to tell with you down-under types sometimes.


Nope. I was too young for Up With People, but Polyphonic Spree kinda pretend to be cultish, and they are super-positive. I dunno... I think there's a place for music with a positive, uplifiting message if it comes from some honest place. these guys aren't it, obviously.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:21 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I hate optimism, and why in my soul, I am a deep pessimist.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:23 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I remember them all too well. They were creepy as creepy can be. Even as a kid they seemed like they were a weird cult. And they were so obviously being run by "the man" they had no relevance at all.
posted by cccorlew at 7:29 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd never met anyone who took them seriously. It never occurred to me that such people existed until now. I just thought it was a big ad campaign.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:32 PM on August 14, 2011


Wow, I can just barely remember them. Background music when I was a kid, along with Peter Paul and Mary, say, or the soundtrack to one of those forgettable rock operas. I was too young to really get it at all.
posted by Forktine at 7:35 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, Up with People was like the Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show or John Davidson -- blended with members of the Jonestown cult. In other words, like an explosion of Osmonds, only more calculated.

And now I'm going to be singing, "if MORE people were FOR people, all people everywhere . . ." non-stop for the foreseeable future, fuck you very much.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:39 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I knew there was something bullshitty about these guys! Even in 2nd grade. Just way too fucking happy.
posted by theredpen at 7:40 PM on August 14, 2011


Too bad no one made a rather more serious film about MRA. This film is fine as an assemblege of clips and interviews, but its rather underdeveloped.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:46 PM on August 14, 2011


Having now watched all the links - I'm AMAZED that no video of the Super Bowl Halftime Show from 1980 exists. Even if it WAS "Up With People".
posted by Curious Artificer at 7:49 PM on August 14, 2011


I've seen at least one mefite comment about their time as a cast member. I'll let them 'out' themselves if they wish.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:50 PM on August 14, 2011


I could swear this was an FPP once before...

I vaguely remember seeing a big of one of the Super Bowl shows and thinking conceptually the idea of Up With People was cool. The 1982 one looks most familiar, which means I was only 12 when I saw this and is probably why i thought it was cool.

I read once in an interview that John Cusack remembers watching the 1986 Up With People halftime show while on shrooms, and ever since I kind of wanted to try that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


C'mon progeny
posted by Conductor71 at 7:55 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to see a dystopian 70s movie presenting the flip side of The Warriors, where L. Ron Hubbard calls a massive midnight summit of all the early-70s cults in LA -- the Moonies, the Hare Krishnas, Up With People, the TM people, est coordinators, the Branch Davidians -- all of whom cross paths with each other on the way and compete for control of the city.

I envision much singing, dancing and candy-colored costuming a la The Young Girls of Rochefort.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:00 PM on August 14, 2011 [16 favorites]


Seeing "Up With People" on TV (Super Bowl? I dunno.) was the first time that it came to me like an epiphany: any large group of smiling, identically-dressed people shouting a message in unison is not to be trusted.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:02 PM on August 14, 2011 [16 favorites]


DU, that wikipedia entry is misleading. AA split off of the Oxford Group well before the MRA was formed. They basically got expelled.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:03 PM on August 14, 2011


As for homosexuality, Up With People took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. “There was no such thing as ‘gay’ in Up With People, even though it attracted every closet case” asserts Eric Roos (a cast member from 1980-82) in a scene from Smile. “It was like the whole country got upended and all the boys who liked to put on tights and prance around in front of the mirror ended up in Up With People. But in the Up With People world, homosexuality did not exist…. You were surrounded by other gay people who you could never talk to about it.”
This makes perfect sense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


> See also the Mike Curb Congregation.

I love that song (both versions)! Those drums! Lalo Schifrin, man...
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:14 PM on August 14, 2011


Didn't The Simpsons have an UWP derivative called "Hooray for Everything"? I think they played at Duff Gardens.
posted by ga4ry at 8:25 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hooray For Everything also played the halftime show during the Thanksgiving Day Cowboys game in Bart vs. Thanksgiving.

"...in the Silverdome, now ablaze with flashbulbs, as 'Hooray for Everything' leaves the field! Of course, a stadium is much too big for flash pictures to work, but nobody seems to care!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:29 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫
UP UP AND AWAYAYYYYYYYYYYYY
IN MY BEAUTIFUL
MY BEAUTIFUL
BALLOOOOOOOOOOOON
♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:31 PM on August 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know thats not Up With People, but I refuse to care.

It's a very positive tune.
About dirigibles.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:32 PM on August 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Was that Coke song ("I'd like to teach the world to sing") an Up With People song? It's very Up With Peopley.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:38 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


[D R A M A T I Z A T I O N]

♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫
UP UP AND AWAYAYYYYYYYYYYYY
IN MY BEAUTIFUL
MY BEAUTIFUL
BALLOOOOOOOOOOOON
♪ ♫ ♪ ♫ ♪ ♫


[D R A M A T I Z A T I O N]
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:43 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somehow I missed UWP. Unfortunately, I didn't miss having this forced on me when I was a kid. Still makes me stabby just to preview it on YT.
posted by ctmf at 8:43 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


During last year's Super Bowl halftime show, my wife texted me halfway through to state that nothing could be worse than the show the Black Eyed Peas were putting on. There was a lot of similar chatter on Twitter, etc.

None of these people - and I say this as someone who hates The Black Eyed Peas - knew what the hell they were talking about.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:52 PM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've never seen Up With People, and I missed the documentary screening recently.

But I do have a friend who was a backstage person for UWP.

She tells me it was basically nonstop sex. Of course, I don't think that typically involved her, so her perspective may be a bit skewed.
posted by Madamina at 8:53 PM on August 14, 2011


Can NOT believe that I can't find Hooray For Everything's "Get Dancin''" on Youtube. Tonight, the Google let me down.

But, it turns out, it's a real song by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.

Here's the original!
posted by kimota at 8:54 PM on August 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awhile back I watched the documentary Hair World. My recollection is that one of the competing hair artists was an ex-Uppie (or maybe he had auditioned and was rejected?). He spoke very fondly of it. Damned if I can find a clip of it, though.

Somehow it did not seem a stretch to go from UWP to hair artistry. I remember thinking when he revealed that he had a connection to UWP, "Of course you did!"
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:54 PM on August 14, 2011


Heh, Polyphonic Spree.

I still like a few of there songs, but my brother ran sounds for them years back, in Dallas (at the Gypsy Tea Room, I think) and had been friends/acquaintances with Tim during the Tripping Daisy days. According to his telling, it was like seeing an old buddy rebron as a completely humorless cult leader.

Then there was the deal where Tim's wife needed her own special micing, despite the fact that she was one of a dozen of more chorus members with no solo parts in the set, and then she proceeded to loudly and openly talk shit about my brother through all of the set-up, run up a huge bar tab, and then vomit all over the house cables before skipping out on said tab.

Changes one's views on the group, a little bit.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:55 PM on August 14, 2011 [10 favorites]



In the face of diminishing corporate support, Up With People began relying more heavily on tuition fees to pay for its increasingly expensive stage shows. While the organization began charging tuition in the early 1970s ($2,400 in 1972), fees rose dramatically in subsequent years, up to $5,300 in 1982. By the 1990s, the organization found itself struggling to recruit youth capable of paying tuition rates that exceeded the cost of most private universities, a problem compounded by the mostly indifferent response to the group’s public performances.


Holy shit.... you had to pay to be in the group?!?! I remember vaguely they performed at my (Catholic) high school. Most of us knew it was bullshit and the performance was forgettable in its saccharine non-offensive way. I always thought it was a culty/religious organization.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:59 PM on August 14, 2011


Sheesh. I remember Up with People. My younger, reactionary Reagan-loving self ate that stuff up, at a distance (never followed-up on my vague positive feelings about the whole affair, and hell, I was just a kid, so my attention's were fickle).

So has anything happened over the last 50 years or so that wasn't secretly "part of a deliberate propaganda effort to discredit liberal counterculture"?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:02 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


saul: no.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:05 PM on August 14, 2011


But, it turns out, it's a real song by Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes.

Here's the original!


In a salute to the Western Hemisphere, the dancingest hemisphere of all!



(Holy crap, Disco Tex just lets it all hang out! "My chiffon is wet, darling, my chiffon is wet!" This is great.)
posted by Spatch at 9:16 PM on August 14, 2011


I grew up in Tucson, and my 4th grade teacher—also my first crush—was fresh out from a stint with UWP when she started her teaching career with my class. She coordinated a miniature youth replica of the show with some of the students, and I participated enthusiastically (if without much talent).

The songs were fun to sing, but easy to leave behind. I remember not being surprised about the religious bent of the group when I learned more (much) later on.

Anyway, thanks for the post and the memories. 4th grade was a long time ago.
posted by carsonb at 9:22 PM on August 14, 2011


If more people were for people
All people everywhere
There'd be a lot less people to worry about
and a lot more people who care.


This, from a singing group funded by huge corporations. The hypocracy is fucking killing me.
posted by JHarris at 9:43 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Bright and Shiny from the sadly underrated Bubble Boy.
posted by fairmettle at 9:59 PM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is like when I found out that rainbow-haired John 3:16 guy was a psychotic who got life in prison for taking a cleaning lady hostage.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:07 PM on August 14, 2011


There even were some international versions of this thing. Like a Venezuelan one.
posted by MrMisterio at 10:13 PM on August 14, 2011


Holy shit! Who knew?
posted by ericb at 10:40 PM on August 14, 2011


It's a testament to the success of these corporate shills that "Up With People" remain multi-million selling artists while Bob Dielan, The Beetles and the Rolling Rocks or whatever they were called now languish in poverty stricken obscurity.
posted by joannemullen at 10:49 PM on August 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


An absurdly cute girl from my high school made it into this. She seemed ok, but nobody I knew thought of UWP as anything but hopelessly lame and unimportant, not even worth taking remotely seriously. And naturally, the whole thing was a twisted sham...which should ready us for the next time fresh-faced kids are used for propaganda purposes...yeah, right.
posted by telstar at 10:51 PM on August 14, 2011


For those of you who think you're too young to have experienced this, you're likely not. I have vague memories of seeing them in the mid-80s, as my family still has the record. I also know that around 1998-1999, they came to my town again and we hosted an Uppie.
posted by knile at 12:19 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


And naturally, the whole thing was a twisted sham...which should ready us for the next time fresh-faced kids are used for propaganda purposes...yeah, right.

Hmm... any investigative journalists out there want to take a hard look at High School Musical?
posted by JHarris at 1:23 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


(When I said "funded by huge corporations," I should have chosen my words better. Of course, just about all popular groups are funded by huge corporations. Most of them aren't part of an outright propaganda scheme though. Well, other than potentially that of the musicians themselves.)
posted by JHarris at 1:25 AM on August 15, 2011


Oh my god, this brings back memories... or I should say a memory... of a sort. I never watched the Super Bowl, so I missed their halftime shows in the '80s, and I managed to live in an UWP-less world until about 1994 or so, when I was in college and I met this fantastically neurotic anorexic girl named Melissa. She often had dinner together with me and my other friends from the dorm, and I liked her for the most part, even though I felt sorry for her-- she seemed pretty miserable, even though she seemed to be trying to pretend to everyone (and herself) that she was the happiest person on the planet. She was like a one-woman cheerleader for her own psyche.

Anyway, one night at the dining hall she told me with a bright yet self-deprecating grin that she spent a few years with Up With People when she was younger. I remember thinking, "what the hell is that?" I was told later it was a cheesy singing and dancing club that often performed at schools, and that they did nothing worth watching. And that they were also kind of like a glee club crossed with Amway. Melissa did not talk too much about her experience-- I don't think she took it that seriously.

That was the last I heard of UWP until now. Somehow, none of this surprises me.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:27 AM on August 15, 2011


They gave a little recruiting talk at my school (either Jr. High or High School - I'm not sure). At one point, it suddenly dawned on me "holy crap! they actually want me to pay them for the privilege of being in this lame-ass troupe?" My dreams of being a traveling performer pretty much ended that day.
posted by Gilbert at 3:28 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


From Wikipedia
Some of these activities included a visit to a juvenile detention center, a tea ceremony, the World Expo in Toyota, Aichi, and lunch in a high school made up predominantly of immigrants.
Up With People's lunch is PEOPLE!!?!?
posted by knile at 4:30 AM on August 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, they secretly called themselves Down the Hatch with People.
posted by AugieAugustus at 4:40 AM on August 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


I knew a girl in the late 90s who wanted nothing more than to be in Up With People. We worked together scooping ice cream; she was saving all her money to be able to afford to go.

I also don't remember her name, but I do remember the day she walked in and announced she'd decided she wanted to be called Flower now. After that, she wrote 'Flower' in aggressively loopy script on the free drink cup she got every shift and ignored you if you slipped up and forgot.
posted by sugarfish at 5:03 AM on August 15, 2011


she walked in and announced she'd decided she wanted to be called Flower now

As still more proof that people didn't do anything right in Oklahoma, at least in the 70s and 80s, the "girl who changed her name" in my High School changed her name from Jill to Meredith. Or maybe it was from Meredith to Jill. Either way, everyone was like "shit, why bother?"
posted by Curious Artificer at 6:40 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I was born in 1971 and while I have vaguely heard the name I don't think I have ever actually been exposed to the work of Up With People. Or maybe I had, and had the same reaction I did while watching a couple of the YouTube clips - "this is terrible, and not even fascinatingly terrible. Just plain old uninspired" - and changed the channel long before the song was over.
posted by egypturnash at 6:50 AM on August 15, 2011


I don't recall being exposed to UwP as a kid, and I grew up in the 70's/80's so I'm in the right age group. I probably would have liked it since I loved any dancing/singing thing and had no problem devouring cheese.
The crazy thing is that my ex and I got hold of UwP and Free to Be vinyls from a thrift store along with an old record player in the 90's. We played the songs and danced around the house with her two kids. I mean their music was great for preschool/early elementary school kids.. I had no idea about the corporate backing nor have I seen the creepy performances of UwP before now though. I prob. would have felt different about the record if I had. For what it's worth we also found an old vinyl of Pink Floyd's The Wall and the kids learned those songs too.
posted by Librarygeek at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Most Americans over the age of 35 are vaguely familiar with Up With People

It's odd, but this chunk of pop culture never made it anywhere near me, even slightly, and I lived through the time when it would have been perfect fodder for my developing mind. It's all completely alien to me, in the same way that stuff like "Godspell" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" is, except for the "Up Up and Away" song, which I remember not from Up with People but from the Fifth Dimension and multiple uses in network TV and ad campaign contexts. But I'm really glad that I escaped this particular element of the past.
posted by blucevalo at 8:17 AM on August 15, 2011


Oh, man, one of my first truly awkward social anxiety moments was in maybe first grade, and thanks to Up With People. I told the Irish Girl (tm) that I was from Ireland, too, not realizing that there's a difference between "some ancestors" and me, personally. When she asked me what area I'd lived in I danced away and did my best to avoid her the rest of the time they were there, deeply ashamed that I'd misrepresented myself.

I then decided that I preferred "Free to Be You and Me", anyway. Oh, the 70's!
posted by ldthomps at 8:27 AM on August 15, 2011


I could write for an hour about Up With People, but I really don't have the time, so here's the tl/dr version: posted by o2b at 10:10 AM on August 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


The stereotype of the shiny happy people is right on — and it's not fake. Just about everyone who joins the program does so because they a) want to see the world, and b) want to make a positive impact on it.

That's why people join the army, but they're not quite as smiley.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:14 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


o2b, I hope you can write more in this thread later!

When I saw this, it reminded me that the sitcom Grounded for Life spoofed Up With People once. Here's a clip from the episode.
posted by umbú at 11:38 AM on August 15, 2011


I didn't see it in the article but our version of Up With People also did projects in the communities they visited. Help repair playgrounds or senior centers along with their singing engagement. Was that just a Canadian thing?

Yeah, the article seems to imply that volunteerism became a part of UWP after the 2005 reboot, but I don't think that's accurate. When they came to my town, they spent a week working on a school building project and did only two shows on the weekend. When members spoke in my school, they definitely emphasized the volunteering aspect and downplayed the musical aspect. This was in the 90s.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:12 PM on August 15, 2011


I was reading the site, w/o being logged in, on my phone, and the ginormous ad in the middle of the page was a tea party patriot ad, which I thought was so funny, I had to login to share. of course I clicked on it first, I think its great for them to spend money here. and now, back to reading the thread...
posted by dejah420 at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2011


I hosted UWP cast members for years - or I should say my mother did. I made sure there were young, great looking males that stayed over at our place. Danish, Swedish, German, American - they were all delightful - and more than happy to bend the cast rules and provide an evening of snogging with the local high school girl. In the 1980's they tried very hard to cover their cult like roots and the company line denied this link. I auditioned and was accepted to travel in 1988. There were 5 casts that were to converge on Tuscon, I think it was Tucson. Something did start smelling strange about the whole thing. Perhaps the smelliest part was how much we had to pay as cast members for the privilege of traveling around the world and putting on shows. The basis of it was that as cast members you put on shows wherever you visited and did community work during the day. You put up the stage and took it down. You then performed in the show. You stayed with host families who fed you. I don't know where all the money went but I do know I woke up one morning very close to when I was supposed to fly down south to learn the show and thought "WHOAAA". I bailed at the last minute - lost the cost of my flight but luckily managed to cancel my check to UWP.

Up, Up with people...
posted by YukonQuirm at 3:52 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have been summoned to this thread.

I traveled in Up With People in 1995. It remains one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I am very grateful for the chance I had to do it. I still use the lessons I learned then in my daily life. The experiences I had are mine, so I can't speak for anybody else or any other cast.

I saw a rough cut of this film in 2005 at my cast's 10 year reunion. I remember thinking that if I had seen the film before traveling, I would not have gone. The whole background concerning the MRA was very off putting. I knew there was a connection but what they were really all about was unclear to me.

"The songs were fun to sing, but easy to leave behind. I remember not being surprised about the religious bent of the group when I learned more (much) later on."

Long before I joined UWP, it has already established itself as being strictly secular. It had to be. One of the things that one learns in an organization like UWP is getting along with people from other kinds of religions, races and countries. It is the kind of experience that most people never get. You are with a huge group of people from all over the world. You have a huge project (The Show) that you have to work on together and take on the road. You have to work your petty shit out and get on with it. In my cast, which was considered small at the time, there was around 150 people from about 24 different countries. Most of the people in my cast were non-Americans, which meant that most of them (mainly the Europeans) didn't give a shit about religion. I just got of a 4 year Jesuit high school, so I had just about all the religion I could take, thank you very much. However, there were some very interesting conversations about religion with those of us who were religious (mostly Americans). 1995 was still before the Internet was mainstream so it was still amazing to be exposed to this wealth of cultural knowledge. Most people probably still don't take advantage of what they can learn about other cultures over the Internet, but compared to back then, today it is so easy to immerse yourself in that kind of knowledge. One kind of activity we did was having people introduce their religion or country or culture or whatever and explain, "This is how it is where I am from. This is what we tend to believe. Here is why."

As for homosexuality, Up With People took a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. “There was no such thing as ‘gay’ in Up With People, even though it attracted every closet case” asserts Eric Roos (a cast member from 1980-82) in a scene from Smile. “It was like the whole country got upended and all the boys who liked to put on tights and prance around in front of the mirror ended up in Up With People. But in the Up With People world, homosexuality did not exist…. You were surrounded by other gay people who you could never talk to about it.”

My experience was completely different. This was the first place where I saw gays being openly gay. One thing you have to understand about living on the road with UWP is that you are living in a microcosmic group of people. The only things around you that were constant for the whole year, were the people in your immediate environment. Every other day was a new town, a new bed, a new host family, a new concert hall and a new sponsor. When you are that close with a diverse group of people day in and day out, you drop your masks and facades. You just want to be yourself. I think that for a lot of the gay men in our cast, this was the first chance they had to live semi openly and be themselves. If I remember correctly, a few of the staff members did a "Hi, we're gay. We know some of you are gay. It's okay to be gay" kind of thing. That just broke the ice. Some of the guys were away from their conservative homes and communities for the first time. I think it took some time for some of them to let their guard down and breath easy, but once they did..... it was okay. We accepted it. No big deal.
"I'm gay."

"Great, now help me hook up the light dimmer."

And after that, we got together for karaoke night in some small midwestern town and it was FABULOUS!!!!!!

“The members of the cast were like puppets. They never stopped to think about where the funding came from, or that someone had to open doors for them,”

We were told at the very beginning who the sponsors were and how the organization was financed. It was not a secret at all.

As far as how we had to conduct ourselves, we were told what kind of behavior was expected from us. It boiled down to being respectful of our host families and the people and communities we came in contact with. In other words, act like an adult. They told gays and straights alike not to be to touchy feely and show too much PDA. It's not polite. Actually, the rules were sort of understood as such: "If we catch you doing drugs, having sex, drinking to excess or outside of appropriate social norms, driving a car unauthorized (insurance reasons) or being a dick and besmirching the fine reputation of UWP, we'll kick you out. So please, don't get caught." Let me tell you, UWP has a pretty squeaky clean image, but behind the scenes it can get a bit freaky; on the bus, backstage, up in the catwalk in some high school auditorium, cougar host mom's basement, Older host brother's dorm room, layover in Amsterdam........ It's not like we were Led Zeppelin throwing tellies out windows and hiding fish, but it wasn't like a super bowl halftime show all the time. It was a group of hard working and extremely horny young adults. Shit was bound to get real.

Host families: That was an amazing experience. People from all walks of life, opening their doors to you and bringing you in. One day with a family so wealthy (Hey, fridge is loaded with beer and food. Help yourself! I'll be out back sailing my boat in my pool!), the next day with a family so poor that they all sleep together in the kid's bed so that you can offer the parent's bed. Upon arriving in every town, you never knew what kind of host family you were going to get. I'll always remember those few nervous moments in each town before I met mine. Most were wonderful, some were amazing live changing experiences, a few were awful. I'll always remember arriving at one host family's house in former Eastern Germany. I wanted to take a short nap but about 20 minutes later I hear Black Sabbath's War Pigs starting up. My CD had been sticking out of the pocket of my backpack after I had opened it to take something out. So I get up and go to the room where the music was coming and my host mom was listening with her eyes closed. She explained that this music was forbidden back when she was younger and she remembered that friends would get smuggled copies of Westmusik. One of them was Black Sabbath's Paranoid. They would get together and listen to the music and hope not to get caught. That was the first time she had heard it after the wall came down. As I was out the next day doing my thing, she was taping my cds to cassette.

Community service: The volunteer aspect of UWP had already been around for years (decades?) when I was involved. Lots of different things. Nursing homes, Habitat for Humanity, drug and alcohol addiction centers, prisons, orphanages and homes for special needs children, animal shelters, soup kitchens, meals on wheels, etc. Meeting a lot of amazing people dedicating their lives to helping others. For a lot of young kids who came from stable families and environments, this was a huge eye opener to see how those less fortunate lived.

I also met my girlfriend in UWP. We traveled together in 1995 but we didn't get serious until 2001 when I moved to Germany in order to be with her. Been here with her ever since. Awwww.

That was my experience. For some people it wasn't so good. There were a lot of problems with culture shock, especially among the Americans. Some people just could not get used to living on the road and this led to a lot of anxiety and depression. For some people the hardest part was coming off the road. But they tried to prepare you for that.

TL;DR
It's a front for Scientology and I made it all the way to OT VIII before escaping from the secret ship while a mob of Uppies wearing bright yellow matching T-shirts were chanting, "What color is Xenu's skin?" and lobbing e-meters at me.
posted by chillmost at 4:53 PM on August 15, 2011 [138 favorites]


chillmost: that was awesome, the experience sounds awesome, and you are awesome. Thanks SOOOO much for commenting!!!
posted by hippybear at 5:25 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


TL;DR
It's a front for Scientology and I made it all the way to OT VIII before escaping from the secret ship while a mob of Uppies wearing bright yellow matching T-shirts were chanting, "What color is Xenu's skin?" and lobbing e-meters at me.


I KNEW IT!
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2011


My mom had a short involvement with UWP that, for all intends and purposes, sounds a lot like what chillmost described. I think it was her first exposure to pot, and it was definitely her first exposure to (somewhat) out gay people. Except it would have been about 25 years earlier.

Since UWP meant that my mom had gay male friends at one point in her life, it will always have a weird place in my heart -- because her talking about that time in her life is so closely tied to my coming out to my family. Shit between us was hard enough -- I can't imagine if she was one of those people who didn't think she knew any gay men previously.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:08 AM on August 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


That Black Sabbath anecdote did not end up how I expected it to.
posted by intermod at 2:59 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


How did it take me so long to see this thread?

I travelled with Up with People too, though this was in Fall 2005 when it had become (temporarily) the WorldSmart Leadership Program. By our semester though we had a new guy heading it and he wanted to bring it back to UWP roots, cheesy music and all.

My experience was much like chillmost - very multicultural, had everything from Mormons to Muslims to Hindus to Buddhists to Shintos (strong Japanese contingent) to UU to sorta-Pagan (me) to atheists to whatever else. Mix of conservative and liberal. Some openly gay people. I'm sure some people hooked up, though I wasn't one of them. Our team leaders and staff (who were pretty much part of the crew) trusted us to be adults, and basically made us accountable for each other. We did lose a couple of people - one was expelled for bad behaviour and one's father was dying halfway through the trip (she had been my best friend and I was devastated).

we were a weird transitional group - full of snarky fun earnest world changemakers, many of whom weren't expecting the musical bent of UWP, and a few that had been familiar with UWP's past that took to it well. For me, being both a change-the-world type person *and* someone who loves to perform, it was a dream come true.

People were pretty upfront about its past, and the general vibe was that we were moving away from that. However, WorldSmart got closed after us, and after a year hiatus it got rebranded *yet again* as Up with People, though it seemed more like a beefed up performance aspect followed by WorldSmart's best bits.

Us WorldSmarties (3 semesters worth) got pretty alienated by both the ye-old alumni and new administration - we were told that we were a "mistake" and that we weren't like what they remembered, even though personally I felt that we were more relevant to current times than anything. Our team leader, an AMAZING AMAZING person, got fired from his post as General Manager. They've since had a new CEO and I don't know what his feelings are on the whole thing.

I was super passionate about UWP and as the crew rep for the alumni org I was greatly looking forward to our 5-year-reunion last year. Then Arizona decides to have that law about investigating anyone that looks vaguely illegal, and as someone who's gone through similar hassles I knew it wouldn't be safe for me or half my crew. I emailed the alumni with my concerns and they basically brushed it off thinking "oh, we're there, we'll make EVERYTHING BETTER!!". I didn't end up making it, and it was about then that my confidence for the org fell.

TL;DR: My crew ROCKED. Best time of my life. Old alumni in organisation and current-ish leadership? Not so great. Sucks to have one of my most defining moments be dismissed by the people that provided them.
posted by divabat at 9:56 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


knile: HEY! everything you said was EXACTLY what my specific crew did! wonder who they interviewed.
posted by divabat at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2011


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