When you think of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the images that come up usually revolve around saving the environment, some weird pollution-based villains, a bunch of diverse teenagers with rings, and an overly optimistic superhero who looks like he’s been polished with far too much wax.
What you don’t think of is “man, that TV show really taught me a lot about AIDS, huh?”
Well here’s the thing, Captain Planet actually eschewed the usual environmental angle for one episode and instead focused it entirely on raising awareness about AIDS.
Titled ‘A Formula For Hate,’ the Captain Planet episode aired back in 1992 and revolves around a student, Todd Andrews (voiced by Neil Patrick Harris!) who has been diagnosed as being HIV-positive. After the baddies get into the town’s medical records (for some reason) and discover his illness, they get the entire town turn on Todd by spreading false information about AIDS.
After the main characters combined their ring powers and summoned Captain Planet to beat up the baddies (again), he steps in on Todd’s behalf and delivers a straight up PSA about AIDS/HIV to the town. Everyone learns about the disease, Todd is accepted by everyone again and all is well once more.
It was one of the very first episodes of children’s television to deal with a topic like AIDS/HIV – in fact, Captain Planet was one of the first TV shows period – and was groundbreaking stuff back in the day. Pretty unexpected from a show that usually focuses on the environment.
Back in 1992, AIDS was still painted by society as some mystery illness that’s associated with homosexuality. Nuanced, thoughtful conversations about AIDS were a no go since people were uninformed, not to mention the fact that no one wanted to be in the same room with someone who had the illness.
It was a terrible time for people with the disease and no one had thought to educate the public until the people behind Captain Planet decided to combat all the negative stigma associated with AIDS by doing an educational episode on it.
Sure Captain Planet was campy but ‘A Formula For Hate’ was an important step in educating children (and adults) about AIDS and it remains one of the most groundbreaking moments in television.