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The wonderful fun of old PSAs - Curt Yeomans

Let me preface this column by telling you the idea came from the DVD for a movie about drug use. It seems appropriate to point that out because one of the first examples will seem a little out there.

I bought the DVD for the movie "Dazed and Confused" about a month ago. One of the great features on the DVD is the addition of two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) from the 1970s. The movie is set in 1976, so it's appropriate to add a couple of PSAs from that decade. All of the PSAs I talk about in this column can be found on YouTube, by the way.

The first PSA on the DVD is the crying Indian commercial, which was aimed at curbing pollution. It's a classic commercial, because it makes such a dramatic statement. You see a Native American paddling his canoe past trash in a river. He walks along the bank, with a smokestack in the background. Then he reaches the side of the highway and someone throws a box of French fries at his feet.

The camera pans up to the Native American's face and you see a single tear rolling down his right cheek as he mourns the pollution of the Earth.

The other PSA on the DVD also was awesome, but not in the same way as the crying Indian. It was awesome because it was so absurd, and hilarious. The PSA was entitled "VD is for everybody." It was about venereal diseases (VD), and how anyone can get one. VDs are now more commonly known as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).

The commercial featured lively ragtime/ garden party music, and it showed a wide variety of people who could get VD. The commercial was trying to make a legitimate point, but it looked ridiculous. It made VD sound like something you wanted to get. Adding all of the people, doing everyday things, such as selling meat and skating on ice, makes you feel like you're not part of the "In crowd," if you don't have VD.

Last time I checked, you don't want VD, or an STD. I'm not sure which part of the commercial was more ridiculous, showing an old librarian, or a newborn baby.

However, that PSA still may not be as bad as the singing pills from 1983.

This was a commercial designed to teach children it isn't safe to eat someone else's medicine. It featured a bottle of medicine on it's side, with the top removed. Four little blue pills, with big mouths and beady, little black eyes, were stacked outside the bottle.

No, they were not THAT kind of little blue pill!

The pills sang a song entitled "We're not candy." It was a barbershop quartet-type of song. One of the first lines in the song was "This is serious, we could make you delirious."

Now, children do respond to songs. They remember ideas which are presented in a song, even if adults look at these types of commercials and wonder if the concept was drug-induced.

I was five when this PSA came out, so I remember thinking medicine was bad. That may have been why I didn't like it when a doctor said I had to start taking Ritalin a year later to deal with Attention Deficit Disorder.

I already thought medicine tasted like chalk. Don't ask how I know what chalk tastes like.

Talking about drugs, we come to the 1980's equivalent of the crying Indian PSA.

Yep, I'm talking about the "This is your brain on drugs" commercial.

This is the ultimate PSA. It just lays the message out there for you, and it lets the imagery do most of the talking. It effectively says: "If you do drugs, your head becomes permanently scrambled like a pan of eggs."

I don't know if today's crop of PSAs work as well. In the late 1990s, the Ad Council tried to update the "This is your brains on drugs" commercial by having a girl smash the pan into everything in a kitchen, while screaming that it showed what everyone around the drug addict goes through.

It was bold, but it was also tame when compared to the original.

A few years ago, someone got the idea to just re-run the crying Indian commercial on television. It didn't work, either. Once something's been done, you can't go back to it and hope for the same response.

Maybe if they ran a commercial where pollution caused the earth to explode, or led to animals dying, it would have the desired response. But today's PSAs have become tame.

They've lost the boldness, or imagination of the old-school PSAs.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.