Hullo again,Retrojunkies! Boy,it's been a looong while since my last article. Today I want to torture and amuse you by reminding you (or introducing you to if you're from a younger generation) of those cooky public service announcements that plagued our existence during those otherwise sweet hours of TV watching growing up. But first, a little bit of history.
Public service announcements in the U.S date back as far as the Civil War,but it wasn't really until WWII that large awareness campaigns were launched by the Government, like this one to keep our G.I's guns holstered.
Yes,the Military used Donald Duck in an ad to promote the use of condoms among U.S troops. Your life is now complete...
During the 1950s mass media campaigns in the form of short films started to widely circulate in classrooms across America. First they tackled issues like personal hygiene, etiquette and safety (and later drug abuse and gambling). But in the wake of the Red Scare and McCarthyism these short films slowly became instruments of conformist indoctrination (for the lack of a better term) and even alienation.
There is a number of these short films that you can find on YouTube, but I'm just going to show you a quick clip of one that'll give you a good idea of the ridiculous levels of douchebaggery that prevailed in those days:
Good God,are you kidding me? Don't you just want to punch that narrator? It's when you see stuff like this that you understand that the Sexual Revolution and the Counterculture movement of the late 1960s HAD to happen.
During the 1960s,the PSAs thankfully began to change with the times and started to adopt a more mass media approach appearing regularly in popular radio and TV kids shows and comics:
So these guys don't want the black kid to play because "he's not a real Amerikin"? Shame Batman didn't kicked their racist asses.
But it was in the 70s and specially in the 80s when the PSA machinery went into high gear with the advent of the "War on Drugs". Most (though not all) of the PSAs that aired were so farfetched and sometimes downright puzzling that you couldn't help but either scratch your head or burst out laughing. And we're going to take a look at 15 "gems" from those two decades ranked in magnitudes of awkwardness.
So prepare yourself and your senses because here we go.
15) PeeWee's Big Uncomfortable PSA
Forget about it.we have to start with this one. This golden nugget of awkward encapsulates everything that was wrong with the whole Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" anti-drug campaign of that era. I remember staring unblinking at the screen when I saw this on the TV screen. A kid's TV star -whose show is mostly watched by 6-year olds- talking to a young audience about an illegal drug they probably had never heard of until that very moment is just plain bat-shit insane.
Less than two years after this came out PeeWee would be arrested in a public bathroom for...being a naughty boy.
14) The (Other) Ghostbusters Take a Bite Out of Punk Rock
That must be a pretty bad 'hood the Ghostposers live in where members of The Clash sell you drugs smack dab in the middle of the street in open daylight. And is it me or that kid at end was just creepy?
13) We're NOT Candy...But We're SO Cuddly!
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
Clear case of a good idea with a broken execution. Did they have to make the damn pills so darned cute? Couldn't they just come off and say,"Kids be careful if you see medicine pills like us,we're not candy and may make you il"l. Instead they have to put up a retarded musical number that seriously makes you want to murder Jim Henson. If I was a kid I'd be more curious to see if Uncle Jed's pills on the top shelf of the counter can sing. And if you swallow some of those,chances are they will sing to you...
12) Please Don't Kill Me, Mr. Eastwood!
Ok,understood. No rock,no crack,no glamour,no cra-mour, no anything... Just don't draw that .44 and blow our brains out!
Admit it,you backed away a couple of inches into your chair when you saw Clint giving you his icy stare-o-death...
11) Prohibition Lion-O
Ok Lion-O, I won't drink any alcohol. Thundercats,OOOOO!
Um...uh...why? Any explanation or elaboration? Nothing? I wasn't really curious about alcohol,but I'm sure curious now about that devil juice Aunt Stella is always sneaking around sipping when Uncle Jed is not looking... YEEEHAW!
10) Robolar Wants Your Fruit
Oh Lord... Take a good look at this guy. Doesn't he embodies all the Bad Man nightmares you had as a kid? And that costume sure ain't helping...
9) Don't Go GTA, Next Time It Might Be a Decepticon!
The "Knowing is Half The Battle" PSA shorts in G.I. Joe and Transformers were mostly pretty well done and transmitted the right message largely without feeling forced or too preachy. But inevitably there were a couple that were a bit...goofy. Like this one a kid -with some obvious issues- is about to incur into a major first time offense. And all he has to say for himself after getting caught is "Aw shucks,sorry I almost committed a felony and potentially got my candy ass raped in Juvee. Whoop-tee-doo!"?
8) Cable Television Is Run By Teh DEVIL!
This was an smear campaign in that some East Coast networks were running in movie theaters during the early 70s. Though subscription cable TV existed since the late 1950s,it wasn't really until the 70s that it began to reach mass market and some networks began to feel treatened. The sheer silliness of it would make you think that Cable TV is a monstrous entity that's going to come in the night and...do things with your skin.
Yah,HBO says "Hi!" network suckers!
7) Oh Hi,Mr. Swamp Thing!
Gotta love how utterly nonchalant these kids are at the appearance of a humanoid mass of living vegetable matter emerging from the swamp like something out of your worst Boogeyman nightmares. But at least these kids got off easy, because speaking of superheroes...
6) You Better Listen to Superman...OR ELSE!
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
Seriously,is that not the most AGRESSIVE animated Superman you've ever seen? I mean...shit! He flung that guy up the freaking stratosphere. So much for due process and the Amerikin Way. You kids better stay away from Nicky Nicotine or else Superman is going to Superfly your ass pronto!
5) Hanna-Barbera's Zombie Gate of HELL!
While it is true that serious drug addiction can lead you into becoming a zombie-looking shadow of your former self,uh,did Hanna Barbera had to use such a funky soundtrack? I know it was the 70s,but c'mon... Chances are most kids thought this was an ad for an Scooby Doo TV movie.
4) Where No PSA Has Gone Before
I'm sorry Spock,but I don't think Kirk can hear you over the sound of how awesome he is. He no need no drugs to achieve self-Nirvana...
3) Douchy Arguments Wars
(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
Something inside me died when I first saw this. Saying no to tobacco is all fine and well,but the pantonimesque way C3PO expresses himself is simply suicide-inducing...
2) He-Man & She-Ra's All-Important Message About Touching
We're reaching critical mass. I suspect some of you knew this one was coming. Honestly,just looking at some barely clothed muscular oaf like He-man talk about improper touching would make anyone feel weird. Add to that the 1950s Mum voice of She-ra and you got the perfect storm of awkwardness. Enjoy the shudders!
WARNING Viewing of the following video may provoke brain tumor and/or induce suicide
1) Winnie The Pooh's "Not OK" Song
Oh Dear Lord,just hearing that song makes my soul shudder. This is technically not a PSA,but might as well be. This childhood killer comes from an "special" starring Winnie The Pooh called Too Smart for Strangers that ran on the Disney Channel in 1985 (it later run on PBS for many years) . This was the time in America when parents began to grow really paranoid about "Stranger Danger",and this special was the materialization of all that paranoia. All thru the special you hear people in bad cartoon costumes warn you in unnervingly soft-spoken voices about the terrible dangers that Strangers pose.
But is in the last quarter that things go from awkward to suicide-inducing when Pooh and Piglet start discussing the subject of "touching" and how said touching can give you a "funny feeling inside". That's when we come to the "Not OK" song concluding with a montage of kids saying "Don't touch me there!" all the while a chirpy 60s sitcom music plays in the background. Because telling THAT to a prospective child molester is going to scare him away...
At this point your brain grows legs,bursts out of your skull and runs for the nearest exit... I don't doubt the producers of this special had good intentions,but this is a topic that parents should discuss in private with their children,not let a bunch of furries inculcate fear and distrust of everyone outside their houses. God only knows how many kids were turned into agoraphobic nutjobs because of this black hole of sanity.
All this plethora of 1980s convoluted anti-drug messages and misdirected parental guidance reached their absolute climax when THIS aired in early 1990:
Oh no,I'm not touching this one! Fuck that. Let other Retrojunkies deal with it...
Now, I don' want to completely criticize all PSAs from those days. Like I've said,most of the G.I. Joe/Transformers "Knowing is half the battle" shorts were pretty well made, and so were the ones in Jem & The Holograms. In fact,the ones in Jem aimed at young teen girls were probably better made than the ones in G.I. Joe. One good example of a well made PSA aimed at children using cartoon characters is this one from 1968:
Did you see? It drives the point home without feeling forced or preachy while illustrating and explaining why cigarettes are bad for you. Well done,Yogi!
OK,I wanted to add this coda to compare these PSAs with ones from other parts of the English-speaking World from that same time period.
Wow,that was kinda freaky...
Great Britain (Broken YouTube Link Removed)
Jesus Christ in a bike! That was scary as all Hell. Donald Pleasence's (Dr. Loomis from the original Halloween series) voice is the stuff of nightmares. I can't think of a more terrifying PSA than this...
Holy... Y'know what? I think I'd rather stick with our good old Amerikin PSAs in all their glorious goofiness.
Well,that's all for now,Retrojunkies. Until next time,remember the wise words of Mr. T and treat your Mommas right.