Gruesome PSAs Rattle Some Viewers
Ideally, Public Service Announcements (PSAs) serve as an alternative to the majority of media advertisements, offering information to a public who then make informed decisions on issues affecting themselves or their communities.
Realistically-speaking, savvy viewers know that a lot of PSAs are put in place to promote an agenda, and while the groups behind them are sometimes well-intentioned, this does not often translate into a well-crafted piece. How many teenagers really pay attention to those anti-drug PSAs? It's easy to pick on egregious offenders like the Partnership for a Drug-Free America or Just Say No (thankfully, in Canada we generally have more balanced fare from Mothers Against Drunk Driving) but spots from industries targeting external criticism are equally problematic.
Anyone remember the clips the MPAA used to play before films (I couldn't actually find an original copy of that bit so this one on Youtube, modified by some pro-piracy folks to be their own PSA, will have to do. Incidentally, try searching on Google for PSAs from the RIAA or the MPAA and you will find nothing. I guess they do a really good job of protecting that particular intellectual property.)?
With this broad range of various entities promoting their agendas, running by themselves or piggybacking on cartoons, it's a wonder anything worthwhile ever gets said; a sad state of affairs considering the supposedly-altruistic nature of the genre.
This is why it's so refreshing when a PSA comes along that slaps the viewer upside the head, jolting them out of their comfortable evening spent in front of the TV. They do this by removing the na誰ve, it-couldn't-happen-to-me abstract blindfold that many PSAs employ and presenting you with a powerful dose of what I like to call "alternative reality."
The previously-mentioned MADD have done some great spots. So has a UN group campaigning against landmines (see below).
However, the current spotlight is on a campaign being run by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) trying to raise awareness of the dangers of the often lackadaisical approach to safety on the job.
The first series tended towards victims of workplace accidents coming back to life (kinda) to deliver short monologues about how "the company" should've known better, how they should've been more careful and, most importantly, how this wasn't really an accident anyway.
While effectively demonstrating just how gruesome these kind of "accidents" can be, there was also a strong element of unreality that unintentionally drew comparisons to cable shows like Six Feet Under or Dead Like Me and while I like my humor black, I thought they needed to be pumped up a little more.
Evidently, the WSIB agreed because their second series, currently airing on TV, is much better. Instead of having the undead worker coming back to explain what went wrong, we have them alive, talking about their hopes and plans for the future but how this doesn't matter because they're about to die a horrible death.
On ad in particular, which aired during a broadcast of a Saturday afternoon hockey game, received some notoriety when viewers called in to protest the extreme nature of the piece; probably because it reminded them of the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film which scarred thousands of folks for life with nightmares of having their skin melt off.
The piece, featuring a young sous chef slipping and getting burnt by a vat of boiling oil, is hard to forget but it's even harder to believe that people would have a problem with this. I guess it's easier to cheer for Jason Statham while he mows down the bad guys/terrorist/drug-dealers than it is to condemn the faceless negligence that allows workplace accidents to happen in the first place. PSAs shouldn't make you feel good and this why questions of desensitization completely miss the point.
Still, there is hope. An Australian company has jumped on the it-could-happen-to-you bandwagon with its own campaign featuring management types asking their cheerfully-compliant underlings to complete dangerous tasks.
I, for one, would like to see this particular trend in PSAs achieve some more cultural resonance. We need more grease fires and landmines and less of this-is-your-brain-on-drugs.
For your viewing convenience, I've grouped the videos from the campaign below.
The first series:
The second series:
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