Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Drug Public Service Announcements: love 'em or hate 'em, they're here to stay. Drug-centric PSAs skyrocketed to popularity in the late 80s and early 90s based on research that kids, well, enjoy drugs. Luckily, adults were here to put a stop to all that to-be-expected teenage experimentation by use of scare tactics and what can only be characterized as unfair equivocations. For instance, a logical human being may not immediately associate a single puff of a joint with a future of relentless crackheadery, but alas, there was a reason they hired the "creative" types for these ad campaigns.
The themes and approaches of 90s drug PSAs were all over the place; this was certainly not a well-thought out, focused approach. No, that kind of reasoning would be too effective. Instead of banding together to fight a common cause, anti-drug groups felt it better to create a free and unfettered marketplace of anti-substance ideals in which any organization could put out any ad as they saw fit. Never ones to be outdone, all sorts of people in the entertainment industry came out of the woodwork eager to put forth their own PSAs, such as in the following Ninja Turtles' sponsored Anti-Drug Ad. We can only assume that Leonardo really pushed for this as a positive career move for our half-shelled friends, as the notion that any actual human writer with limited functional brain capacity would ever conceive of the following ad is too much to take:
Oh no! Joey's in a jam! Joey's in a jam, indeed. You have to love the way that every anti-drug ad explicitly depicts drug users as overly eager to share their expensive and limited supply of drugs with uninterested others. The way the agressor states, "I've got some stuff you've just gotta try!" you'd think he was begging someone to take these joints off his hands. This kid looks all of 12 years old, so I'm not exactly sure what his major source of income is, but I think it's pretty safe to say that he wouldn't be overly eager to share the fruits of many weeks of allowance-saving with a casual acquaintance who clearly wants no part of it.
I also love the way that they cut to the Ninja Turtles doing a Q&A postmortem on the peer-pressure scenario video segment with a random elementary school class. Usually, when I'm in jam not unsimilar to Joey's, I use my Zack Morris "Freeze!" power to assemble a bunch of random children to talk out my problem with the TMNT themselves. At least the turtles keep it light with their pizza jokes. Get real, Michaelangelo. You also have to love the eagerness with which that kid in front shrieks, "Get out of there!" With enthusiasm like this, it's fairly certain that there are no marijuana users in this classroom.
So way to go, Joey. Call him a turkey! Take that, bully five times Joey's size! And as the turtles say, drug users are dorks! Who better to trust than martial-arts trained sewer-dwelling half-masked pizza-loving mutant turtles? Who, I ask you?
If that one didn't quite jive with you as a child, there was always this more, er, subtle approach:
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Backtrack a second. I see what you're getting at here with your extended metaphor and all, but...really? I have quite of few points of contention with this ad, the foremost of which being that it's obviously and blatantly insensitive. Of course, though, it doesn't end there! Why does the narrator insist on referring to native Africans of 400 years ago as "African Americans"? They weren't African-Americans when they came here, they were Africans. What a total shot in the dark attempt to be PC in an utterly un-PC commercial.
Oh, voiceover, what gem of wisdom will you share with us next? Oh wait, if I am of African American descent and use drugs, I'm directly dishonoring my ancestors and reenslaving my people? You were always one for subtlety, disembodied voice.
If you still weren't off drugs forever after watching that sobering ad, you could always wait a couple of years to be influenced by this one:
N*Sync, your light and playful tone will surely deter heavy drug use, especially among alternative kids. I don't know if it ever occurred to somebody that N*Sync fans may not be the population most heavily correlated with drug use, but here they are telling us what they're into. And boy, do they have some hilarious fake hobbies! Oh, scriptwriters, have you got these boys pegged. As a former synchronized swimmer, I may have to take some offense to JC's jab, especially because the other lines they give him ("baroque minimalism!") implies that synchronized swimming is in some way wacky and insane (if you are unaware, it's not). You have to enjoy the pre-outed Lance Bance shrieking effeminately, though. At least they had the wisdom to throw some foreshadowing in there for good measure. Oh, and to have him say he's into acting. Touche, scriptwriters. I guess those girls are in the ad to illustrate how desirable N*Sync is. I can't really fathom any alternate explanation for their presence. If anyone was yet to question N*Sync's crediibility and/or masculinity as musical artists, I think this ad probably sealed the deal.
Of course, there was also the more serious (some may say, depressing) approach:
Cue up the maudlin music and watch an adorable inner-city black kid with the hi-top fade haircut dodge the drug pushers. As in the first ad we saw here, it's fair to assume that all drug users are out to force their expensive fare on us. They will not rest until every pocket-moneyless child is forced to try their limited supply of drugs free of charge.
Unfortunately, my favorite-ever anti-drug commercial from 1998 has been forever exiled into the black hole of internet obscurity. Despite an inordinate amount of time spent searching for my once-beloved animated anti-drug PSA, it seems to be completely absent from an otherwise well-stocked video cyberspace. Lucky for all of you, I took a memorization class in gifted summer school in 2nd grade* and have the words forever branded into my once-impressionable childhood brain. It goes a little something like this:
I'd rather eat a big old bug! Than ever take a stupid drug!
Drugs aren't cool, they can mess you up at school,
Drugs are a pain, they can hurt your body and your brain!
A big ol' bug with an ugly mug, is better than any stupid drug!
They make you sad, they make your parents mad,
Drugs are dumb, they make you clumsy, slow, and numb!
I'd rather eat a big old bug...
(Bug interjects:) Don't do drugs!
Than ever take a stupid drug!
There are a lot of confusing elements of this anti-drug jingle, so I'll try my best to break it down for you. First off, are we to believe that the size and age of a given bug are inversely proportional to its desirability relative to drugs? In which case, a young, small bug may not hold the same anti-drug message. Very interesting. And what a kind, selfless bug he is. Even though he knows his life to be at stake with such an anti-drug proclamation, he can tell right from wrong. You just don't see that sort of self-sacrificing sprirt in animated insects these days.
And another thing! Drugs can mess me up at school? My parents will be mad? Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down, anti-drug commercial. I'd never considered any of these outcomes before, I was only thinking of the joys of ingesting plump, juicy insects as a healthy alternative to drug use. Now that you've shown me the light (or darkness, of it may be) of drug use, I will dutifully chomp down on this animated bug sandwich to do my part to deter childhood drug abuse. Thanks, Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
For any of you out there (and I assume you are!) thinking to yourselves, "But what of all my favorite non-drug related PSAs from the 90s? Are they doomed to never see the light of Children of the 90s?" Well, I'm sorry to cause you that brief moment of anguish and withdrawal, but fear not; as God as my witness, those PSAs will be here for your enjoyment in a multi-part series I like to call, "Educational Advertising in the 90s is Completely F-ing Insane." Stay tuned!
And if you don't, the drug dealers from that last videos will most likely hunt you down and force it upon you unprovoked. True story.
*This fact is embarrassingly and unjustifiably true