Ten-year-old kids shouldn’t be worrying about the after-effects of unprotected sex, mind-altering drugs, and adult unemployment, but thanks to several artful public service announcements (PSAs) that aired on network television in the early 70s, I once considered pre-booking a room in a nunnery!
As a boob-tube loving adolescent, I was equal parts baffled and delighted by a 1969 PSA featuring a montage of clean, healthy people, cut to a suave Broadway-type tune sung in the style of Julie Andrews. Here we have a gurgling baby and a graceful ballerina, a coy debutante and a clean-cut daddy – all laughing and romping to this refrain:
VD is for everybody, not just for the few
Anyone can share VD, with someone nice as you.
Well, I didn’t know what VD was, but if it made people this carefree, I wanted someone to share it with me! I desired this VD stuff in the same way I craved what those women in the magazine tampon ads possessed: freedom, confidence, and comfort!
Ah, but all too soon I would learn all about this mysterious VD. And I would come to live in total fear of it. VD, after all, was for everybody! Was I doomed to get a venereal disease? As an ugly duckling tween surely destined to be a spinster, I ruled out all possibility of sexual intercourse as a means of transmission. But what about toilet seats? Like the 9-year-old boys in “South Park” who wore condoms all day for fear of contracting AIDS, would I need some type of protection? Maybe those tampon things would guard me! But Mommy said only married ladies wore those. Hmmm. This would trouble me for months on end. Until I learned about…DRUGS!
A body dumped in a trash heap. A man shooting up at a sink. A boy convulsing in a jail cell. These were all scenes from a grainy, graphic 1972 PSA warning against the evils of illicit drugs. This haunting black-and-white reality piece featured a catchy song delivered in the hand-clap style of a jump-rope rhyme. Although both black and white actors appear in the scenes, the song is unmistakably performed by a chorus of African Americans of all ages, stretching the boundaries of modern-day political correctness. And the “Ten Little Indians” theme of the song – nine little Indians feelin’ great, one OD’d, then there were eight – would today be considered derogatory to Native Americans. But despite all that, the video remains the most powerful anti-drug PSA I’ve ever seen. And, as a fan of realistic filmmaking and clever lyrics and rhymes, I consider it a fine example of provocative video art.
Okay, so you managed to avoid VD and steer clear of drugs. But what if poor grades prevented you from entering college? You watched PBS documentaries galore, read Camus and Kafka, but you just didn’t have the SAT scores. Well, there was a PSA for that, too — one featuring a dejected Abe Lincoln leaving an unemployment office after being told he wasn’t executive material because he lacked a college diploma. “You ain’t goin’ nowhere without that sheepskin, fella,” says a seedy-looking job rep, as he stuffs a sandwich into his mouth and wipes the mayo from his face. In 1860 a smart guy like Lincoln could become president without that sheepskin, but it would take a lot more to get ahead by 1970. That’s why the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) was established. It allowed people to gain college credits for what they’d learned on their own.
Those creative PSAs from the early 70s left an indelible impression on me: protect your private parts, say no to drugs, and avoid a life of drudgery by getting into college. I wonder if today’s young people are as daunted by public service announcements as I was 40 years ago. When was the last time you saw a PSA worth remembering?
By Dana Spiardi, Aug 12, 2013