Drugs are bad. I shouldn’t let anyone touch my body. I shouldn’t be sexist. Proper ventilation when painting is very important. Riding in dryers can kill me. I know all this thanks to Public Service Announcements. For over a decade our favorite cartoon characters were forced to deliver some sort of moral by their overlords, the FCC. Considering how many cartoons were themselves drugs for kids, it wasn’t a bad idea. Most of this was started by Nancy Reagan and her propaganda-spewing war on drugs. If you grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, consider yourself a veteran.
There have been many infamous PSAs over the years. He-Man, Sonic, Transformers, and even the Turtles had something important you needed to know. Michelangelo suggested eating a pizza instead of smoking marijuana. Um, yeah. In a Sonic Sez, Sonic educated on the horrors of false advertising. “If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably false.” He-Man, a blond Adonis in a loincloth, along with his mini-skirt wearing sister, warned me that my body is mine, and no one has the right to touch it. Hell, even Captain America got onto kids about saving energy. Cap wasn’t the only superhero with a message. Spider-Man proclaimed his love of bananas in this short:
The most famous PSAs came from G.I. Joe. The Joes ran the gamut from ignoring strangers to proper action in case of fire to not jumping your bike over downed power lines. Since Transformers was also a Hasbro property like Joe, they had many of the same PSAs, line for line. The ridiculousness of the Joes PSAs hasn’t gone unnoticed by the internet. Many have been dubbed over with nonsense, likely by the same potheads they failed to prevent from existing.
If your favorite hero telling you not to let strangers stuff drugs in your mouth with their filthy hands wasn’t enough, an entire show was created to be a PSA. From television monarch Ted Turner came Captain Planet and the Planeteers. I won’t be covering any new ground if I try to make fun of this show. If anti-drug messages were the No. 1 thing PSAs rammed down our throats, environmentalism was easily No. 2.
Finally, we have the mother of all PSAs: Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. A girl’s piggy bank is stolen by her teenager brother, Michael. It’s up to Alf, Garfield, Papa Smurf, Alvin, Slimer, Bugs Bunny, Michelangelo, Kermit (Baby version), Tigger, and god knows how many others to save the day. They take Michael on a hallucination-like tour of cartoon-land Charles Dickens style to teach him about the horrors of drugs. There’s even a song. Yep, singing cartoons. That’ll fix ’em.
I don’t think PSAs are conceptually a bad idea. However, their lack of context and unrealistic portrayals tend to confuse more than educate. I remember being in first grade and my teacher urging us to tell her if our parents drink and drive. I shot up my hand to proudly proclaim that my mother did just that. Whenever she didn’t finish her soda at McDonald’s, she took it with her in the car. Thankfully this propaganda-spewing crap is years behind us. Drugs are awesome kids! So is littering!
What was your favorite PSA (Captain Lou Albano, hands down)? Suggestions for topics? Comment in the appropriate comment space.
“If you do drugs, you go to hell before you die.”