I Am A Public Service Announcement Victim

A couple of days ago I was pulling into the grocery store parking lot when I was struck by a sudden sneeze. Not really a big deal, unless you happen to live in my head…

Which I do.

Because of that fact, I felt a moment of panic and immediately thought of a Public Service Announcement from my childhood, just as I do EVERY SINGLE TIME I sneeze while driving a car.

From the mid 70s to the mid 80s there was a political battle over the nationwide mandatory 55 mph law. Nobody, except the elderly and my father, wanted to drive 55 mph, but we were in the midst of an energy crisis. There were lines at the gas pump and people were desperate enough to siphon gas out of other people’s cars. (I know because I saw it on CHiPs in between the freeway car flips and the roller skating scenes.) The 70s were a good time to ride a bike but who wanted to do that when you could drive a Lincoln Continental and look like a pimp?

“Pimps are sexy.” (image via fanpix)

Anyway, they came out with a PSA wherein a woman was driving her stylish 70s vehicular tank on the freeway. But she wasn’t going 55 mph. Oh no. She was clearly exceeding the speed limit by at least 5 mph, careening along at a dangerous 60-61 mph. Suddenly she sneezed and there was a deadly car crash. The message was clear:

If you sneeze while driving, you will die!

Someone should have given this kid a Benadryl. (image via flickr & a adamant)

That’s the danger of PSAs. They impart a strong message, but not always the one they intended, especially when played for young, impressionable brains hopped up on Pixy Stix and waiting for an episode of The Muppets to come on.

For instance, the American Lung Association had an anti-smoking PSA with a dolphin taking a cigarette out of a man’s mouth, which rocked my world. Where did these sea mammals buy cigarettes? Where did they carry their money? And how did they keep their matches dry? I had disturbing visions of dolphins and seals sitting around smokey tables in seedy back rooms playing poker. It never occurred to me that these commercials were actually about humans.

Will someone get this dolphin some Nicorette? (image via Amercian Lung Association)

The famous This is your brain/This is your brain on drugs PSA contained vivid imagery which seemed to suggest that cracking your skull open and dumping your brain into a hot cast iron pan wouldn’t turn out well. Nor would frying your organs in butter. I made sure that my organs and narcotics were cold and butter-free.

Brains are high in cholesterol and Omega 3s.

Remember Iron Eyes Cody? He was the majestic Native American in the Keep America Beautiful PSA who paddled down an industrial river and then stood with a tear in his eye on the side of the highway, while people threw garbage out their car windows. I understood that message.

A Native American cries every time you throw a McDonald’s wrapper on the ground. And also Native Americans like to hang out on the side of freeways. Further more, Native Americans like to canoe near factories. It seemed to me that Native Americans were lacking in good hang outs and that concerned me. What if I sneezed while driving and crashed into a Native American hootenanny on the interstate? That PSA spurred my decades-long obsession with Native Americans and their need for places to socialize.

(Ironically, Iron Eyes Cody was actually the son of Italian immigrants, so he was Native American by way of Sicily, but let’s not quibble over details.)

Then I was crushed by the PSAs which informed me that Native Americans were alcoholics because the white man had taken everything away, which explained why Iron Eyes Cody had forgotten he was actually Italian and come to think of it, also why he was hanging out on the side of the freeway. Maybe he was crying because he wanted his stuff back and he was hoping someone would throw it out of their car window.

I was deeply ashamed that my Dad had taken everything away from the Native Americans, which, judging from my Dad’s closet, consisted of velour sweaters and Carlton cigarettes.

“I miss my sweaters.” (image via retroland)

I pledged to make it up to the Native American community by becoming a minority. I wore a lot of silver, got a perm and some parachute pants, learned to do the Running Man and tried my best not to be white, which as far as I know did nothing to improve the plight of the Native Americans, though for the record I haven’t seen any standing on the side of the freeway, so maybe I’m wrong.

PSAs are responsible for a whole slew of my misplaced anxieties. And the propaganda remains embedded in my brain like psychological herpes, just waiting for an opportunity to flare up while pulling in to the Trader Joe’s parking lot. I’m going to make my own PSA, warning about the danger of PSAs, so that the next generation can be spared this torment.

You’re welcome.


This message was brought to you by a partnership for a PSA-free America. (And by partnership, I mean me.)

118 thoughts on “I Am A Public Service Announcement Victim

  1. Courtney says:

    I love this. So true that they sometimes leave you pondering something they didn’t intend to communicate. Love the end–“You’re welcome.” Haa!

  2. Fish Out of Water says:

    I’m laughing so hard I about choked on my dairy free ice cream. We need a PSA for that!

  3. Erisa says:

    I feel you. Every time I see a school bus drive by I’m afraid my foot is going to turn into a banana and smash under the weight of its wheel if I accidentally fall off the curb. I usually try to give school buses a wide berth. I feel that adults are cruel and enjoy tormenting us with terrible PSAs. As pay back we do it to our kids.

    • Terrifying. The fact that you weren’t constantly truant is a testament to your bravery. Poor Riley will be a mess of weird anxieties. Luckily Conor doesn’t listen to me.

  4. I remember all of those PSAs, and got many of the same messages from them. And now I enjoy watching them all while wearing my Ponch helmet, which I, of course, still have.

    • You have a Ponch helmet??? That is so very cool! I would enjoy all of the PSAs much more if I was also wearing a Ponch helmet.

      • It really is an enhancer.

        And now I wish you could come over and watch CHiPS episodes with helmets on! Ooohhh, remember the one with Ralph Malph from Happy Days as Moloch, the Gene Simmons wanna-be? Classic!

  5. Ah the old drive 55 days. That was what cinched Canada going metric, so we could do 100, granted kms instead of miles, but was fun watching the Americans back then when they thought whoo hoo lead foot time.

    • Oh the metric system! We spent so much time in school preparing for the big change over only to have the US completely abandon the whole idea and stick with inches. I felt robbed.

  6. Diana says:

    Hmm.. Would you call this a PSA? Because this has been tormenting me for years. Ever since I was little, my teachers would always reinforce to the class that if your head is not straight down looking at your paper, and perhaps it is slightly turned, you are cheating. I never once cheated in my life, but that message just scared me, because I have a lazy eye. It gives the allusion that I am turning my head but I am not. So for all those years, even now, as I am in high school, I am paranoid. Paranoid that my teachers think I am cheating when I am not. Sure, I have extra vision with that lazy eye, but I never abuse it. So every time I take an assessment, I have to like literally crouch over my desk and make sure my face is straight down on the table with my arms relaxed on both sides of my desk acting like dividers between the people on both sides of me. -sigh-

  7. And now I want to go eat some eggs at the Indian Casino (assuming they will cash my CHiPS).

    • Bwahahaha. I believe you’ll find that casino on the side of the freeway.

      • L. Palmer says:

        Actually, I do know of a Native American casino on the side of a high way where you can eat eggs. I’m sure there’s more than one. They also have bottomless soda. I’m sure there’s a new PSA on that.

      • There should definitely be a PSA on bottomless soda, especially one obtained from a restaurant on the side of the freeway. Long road trips and bottomless sodas are a bad combination.

  8. FF,
    You didn’t by chance wear Capezio shoes and an Esprit sweatshirt with those parachute pants while practicing your roller skating moves to “Double Dutch Bus” in your basement, did you? Yes? I knew it!

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, my friend. I can feel the cool tropical breeze blowing at the GF Blogger’s Retreat in Cabo right now (OK that’s a lie. It’s just a fan by my bed, but a girl’s gotta dream). You deserve this and I’m SO happy for you. Now go grab a copper cup and fill it with Mr. Pibb over crushed ice and celebrate with Hubs!

  9. pezcita says:

    The only PSA characters I remember were those Crash Dummies that always gave me nightmares as a kid. It was so creepy to see them flying through the windshield without screaming! After that, it seems PSAs mostly disappeared in favor of prescription drug commericals and for-profit college pitches. Now if we could just get those off the air . . .

  10. brokenballerina says:

    Is it sad that this was informative for me? haha. The “drive 55” days was before my time though I have heard of it as if it was some urban legend. You have a great writing style! Thanks for the post!

    • Oh no, the drive 55 campaign was real and my father never let go of it. He kept his VW Bug at 55 long after the speed limit had been raised. I rode very low in the seat. Thanks for reading!

  11. I remember everyone of those PSA’s. Thanks for the fond memories. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  12. In Canada, our PSAs were slightly different and involved “how to save yourself if you fall through the ice” and “how to put out a Christmas tree which is on fire”, although I do recall Iron Eyes crying over the litter situation as well.
    Very funny post and congratulations to you on being Freshly Pressed.

    • Thank you! Geez, if I’d grown up in Canada, I would have a whole different set of anxieties, regarding flaming Christmas trees and thin ice. Actually I do already have a fear of thin ice. I would never have been able to play pond hockey and probably would have been tossed out of the country. Shoot, I don’t even think the Northeast or the Great Lakes region of the states would claim me.

  13. Mei says:

    Lol thanks for the laughs. I too freak out when I’m driving and have to sneeze…hope that makes you feel a little better. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. shovonc says:

    Do one on smoking!

    • I could have done my own PSA on smoking as a child, as my parents’ smoking habits were one of my obsessions. I don’t know that they would have appreciated my efforts though.

  15. This is hilarious! Thanks for sharing ๐Ÿ™‚


  16. davewakefield says:

    So funny I nearly pooed myself, very cool post!!

  17. Thanks, dude. Now I can’t get the old “The More You Know” dings out of my head. Or the flashbacks…dogs in trench coats, bears starting forest fires…you may have started a new trauma trend.
    (not to dismiss actual traumas, which are real and unforgiving)

    p.s. awesome writing. totally something I’ll return to for the style as much as the laugh.

  18. I remember all of these PSA’s except for the driving 55/sneezing one — which would have actually been helpful since I was on the debating team and this huge controversy was our topic. I got put on the 55mph side. I won. Ironically, I didn’t even drive yet, and am a terrible speeder. But maybe if I’d seen that PSA, things would have been different.

    • You would have rocked that debate even harder with the “if you drive 60mph and you sneeze, YOU WILL DIE!” argument. Who can argue with that logic? Except logical adults. But if the judges were 8-year olds, you totally would have blown their minds.

  19. misfit120 says:

    I believe that Iron Eyes Cody runs a casino these days and is crying no longer.

  20. aparnauteur says:

    haha! This is really funny. How about this for your anti-PSA PSA: you could show pictures of two brains, one that is threatening to burst open with past PSA info and one that is pristine and calm. Which one is more likely to cause a car crash?

    Congrats of being freshly pressed ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Dear Fathead,
    My 12-year old daughter and I teehee’d and Ahahahaaa’d while reading this post.
    Well done!!!
    I remember every single one of those PSA’s!
    The Indian crying really upset my child self. But, I never wondered why he was hanging around such places.
    I’m really glad I didn’t! I would have stressed out about that, for sure.

    • I always secretly hoped that he’d meet up with the Native American woman in the Mazola commercials and they would hang out. I always like that woman and longed to eat her margarine.
      Thanks for reading!

  22. I remember all of that, including waiting for The Muppets to come on. The only PSA that has haunted me to this day is that little old lady who was really grumpy. She went up to the counter in this fast food restaurant and asked “Where’s the Beef?” Been creeping me out all of these years. What? That wasn’t a PSA? Well, it sure seemed like one to me. At that age, I had a hard time discerning the difference, so to me, it was a warning that fast food restaurants gypped people of the proper amount of beef in their burgers. Quite disturbing, really.

    • It was disturbing! It made me wonder: if they didn’t put in the proper amount of beef then what did they use instead? Completely freaked me out. To this day I don’t trust fast food burgers. Or tiny old ladies with giant voices.

  23. Kathy V. says:

    Know what’s weird? A guy actually did hit my parked truck because he sneezed. He was probably going about 45 (in a 35 zone, but whatever), sneezed, and plowed right into the back of my Durango, parked in front of my parents’ house. Nobody was seriously hurt, thank goodness, except for his Honda SUV, which I fear did not survive.

    • Dude! I’m glad I read your PSA, because I was thinking about buying a Honda, but if they can’t survive a sneeze-induced crash then there’s no point. Maybe those gas-guzzling tanks of the 70s were actually a smart buy.

      • Kathy V. says:

        My gas-guzzling Dodge Durango (well, really my husband’s — I prefer a tiny car that gets at least 35 mpg) has been through a couple of accidents which have resulted in major damage, but the frame has always been fine, and nobody in the truck has ever been injured. It really is practically a tank.

  24. Whalebomb says:

    Brilliant. My favorite catchphrase from these PSAs is “I learned it from watching you.” It’s a line my brother and I use on my dad all the time. When used, the meaning is mostly irrelevant, but then again so was that PSA.

  25. hahaha There should be a PSA about not reading Freshly Pressed blogs like yours while working! The dangers include giggling in your cubicle, and snorting while you should be on the phone. People will think I’m–I mean, someone else–is a nut job! Awesome job and congratulations on being freshly pressed!!

    • Thank you!
      That should be a PSA! And it should have played before I entered the work force. It would have saved my work reputation from being the snorting nut job in the next cubicle.

  26. Great post! Ever notice you don’t see PSA’s anymore. Is it that the governing body (that could include the media) doesn’t see the need to try to educate anyone anymore. What ever happened to “school of rock” on Saturday mornings for kids? I learned from that as well when I was young. Now a days they should do one called “trust no-one especially anyone you’re supposed to trust”. The words “customer service” have disappeared in society just like the PSA’s. It used to be about human interactions and encouraging each other as well as our kids, now it’s “go look it up on Google”. PSA’s might not have always given the best message in the best way, but at least no-one screamed foul. If you say anything today it is sure to offend someone and everyone is so scared of that, that would rather just say nothing at all. It’s a shame because that’s not progress but regression. Please keep YOUR PSA coming, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Please also check out my book “A Fly On the Wall, A Bartender’s Perspective”, I think you will really enjoy and appreciate it. http://secretsofabartender.wordpress.com/

  27. F.F., I love this post. It made me laugh out loud and I think I need to read it again. Once is not enough for the fried egg on drugs memory and the image of the sad Native American wandering the freeways. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  28. rebecca2000 says:

    I love this ” propaganda remains embedded in my brain like psychological herpes” I might love you. My blog ladyornot.com would love to link yours. Check it out. You’re hilarious.

  29. kellygrace1 says:

    Was ‘Just Say No’ a PSA? Because it was soooo effective,right?
    Personally I still duck under the desk when I mentally replay the Test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is a test. This is only a test.
    Thanks for the memories.

    • Oh yeah. Just say no. I can’t believe they ran with that for so long. The anti-drug campaign composed by a 2-year old. Of course, I think I heard my husband telling our sweet-natured daughter to punch anyone who offers her drugs in the nose, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge somebody else’s campaign.

  30. Very funny, and well written. By the way, Iron Eyes Cody was half native American and half Italian — he was a Sioux-cilian.

  31. dste says:

    This was really funny. Made me laugh out loud

  32. polwygle says:

    Oh, the hilarity! Thanks for the laughs. I really enjoyed reading this. ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Sunkist2 says:

    Thanks for the “Like” on my sunkist2 Travel Escapes blog, the tongue in cheek humor is great. ~ Ron

  34. sholashade says:

    You are tooooooo hilarious!

  35. I’m afraid to sneeze when I drive, too!!!!! I feel so used and abused…

  36. I was going to comment, but everyone else’s comments were better than mine…
    Hey, wait, what am I doing here? Huh?
    Maybe my egg-brain got too close to a frying pan…

  37. calvinandi says:

    I’m not American so I don’t know the PSAs you mention, but I cracked myself laughing.when I read your post. You made my day, really. Thank you freshly pressed!

  38. Haha, I love this…fantastic article!

    Cheers to you,
    Courtney Hosny

  39. Catholic school and the nuns were my daily diet of psa. They intoned things like your heart stops when you sneeze, white blouses remind boys of bed sheets and my all time favorite: boys are light bulbs and girls are ovens so you gotta watch out for them heating up too fast. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    • Thank you! And thank God I didn’t go to Catholic school. I would have been an absolute mess. I also would have had an Easy Bake oven fetish. Who knew ovens were so erotic?

  40. Incredibly well put, and thought out. Thank you for thinking this so that I don’t have to! ๐Ÿ™‚

  41. keepbuilder says:

    Single most Ginny blog I have EVER read. You totally deserve the fresh press! Congratulations.

  42. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed – Loved reading your blog and all the comments – Thank you

  43. swimmersbun says:

    I’m quite frightened by the major networks trying to bring back PSAs. When CBS ran that ad around valentines saying the only thing you need to give your loved one is an exam for testicular cancer and then said “CBS cares” at the end had me wondering whether CBS was in cahoots with Big Brother. The more you know campaigns were more subtle. However, when NBC’s ad for a sweepstakes in which you’re told to fantasize about winning a colonoscopy, I just knew those scary gerontologists had taken the ad executives hostage.

    • Well that explains why Hubs tried to give me a testicular cancer exam this past Valentines Day. I should have know something was up when he murmured “CBS cares” lovingly in my ear.

  44. C.K. Hope says:

    That was great and I am SO glad to discover I’m not the only one who wondered about the dolphin’s smoking habit! The “hanker for a hunk of cheese” cube guy used to worry me as well, probably why I’m a junk food addict. They really outdid themselves on PSA’s in the 70’s and early 80’s, no wonder most of us wound up not-quite-right lol
    Awesome post!

    • “A wagon wheel’s a winner. And yet won’t spoil your dinner.” Yep, can’t remember where my keys are but I remember the lyrics to that gem. I think you’re right–they messed us all up.

  45. That’s a fine partnership you’ve got there! Amusingly, I cannot remember any almost-traumatizing PSAs from my childhood… maybe because I grew up in Poland. Does Poland not have PSAa? Or are they so unimpressive, my humble self would not remember any. Good I have the image of the Native Americans of the side of a freeway now, at last! Great post ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Maybe the powers that be in Poland figured “yeah, we know we’ve got problems but our people are smart enough to figure out the solutions on their own and don’t need a ridiculous commercial to help them.” Our powers that be figured that we needed to be told how not to burn down a forest by a giant talking bear.

  46. Kathy V. says:

    Lady! Freshly Pressed! Congratulations!

    • Thank you! It was a short 15 minutes of fame but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I must fill the void with chocolate;-)

      • Kathy V. says:

        Chocolate and wine. But if I may make a suggestion? Don’t buy that stuff at the liquor store that’s chocolate mixed with red wine. I tried it. It. Was. A. Mistake. (Your loyal followers will always love you, even once the WordPress Gods have forgotten you. โค )

      • I am always grateful when smart, funny and coherent people like you tune in. Oh and for the record, I tried the chocolate wine. It begged me to throw it up but I declined.

      • Kathy V. says:

        I’m glad I’m not the only one. My mother loved it. I think her taste buds must be dead.

      • I think you have to be really into dessert wine and I’m not really. I don’t drink port either.

  47. emisformaker says:

    You have not known how bizarre PSAs can get until you have met Astar:

    I just re-watched this, and I can’t discern a clear message. Does Astar have to do unreasonably unsafe things by virtue of being a robot? Am I being told not to cling to the sides of futuristic buildings with my feet?
    Also, the one about not putting things in your mouth has a catchy (read: virulently infectious) little ditty to it.

  48. Running Free says:

    This cracks me up–when I was a kid one of my dad’s student’s sneezed and crashed into a tree. He didn’t get hurt, but I have a minor freak out every time I feel a sneeze coming on behind the wheel.

  49. OMG! I assume this is the post that got you Pressed – and deservedly so. Hubby is 1/2 Ottawa and his family has been pretty involved in tribal politics over the year, so he and I both got a huge kick out of your interpretation of the Native American PSAs. This was so awesome, I shared it on my FB page. Congrats, my friend.

    P.S. I love the whole bit about the smoking dolphins!

    • Cool! I’m glad you guys got a kick out of it.
      I believe being 1/2 Ottawa entitles your husband to 1/2 of one of my dad’s velour sweaters, though I’m not 100% sure how that all works. I’m picturing him in the cream and brown stripe v-neck.
      Actually I did have a major obsession with Native Americans and African Americans as a child. I suffered from major guilt over my status as an oppressor and longed to be a minority.

      • That’s how I felt about the Jews. My mother is German and my grandmother was in the German army. Living in Miami, I was surrounded by very nice Jewish people and I was convinced that I was responsible for their relatives being killed in the war. I even started writing a book entitled, “Escape from Dachau.” It’s terrible. Apparently, I thought concentration camps were a lot like summer camp. What do you want? I was, like, nine.

      • “Escape from Dachau Summer Camp” might be the sleeper comedy of the year. I don’t think people truly understand the plight of the guilt-ridden white woman. They should make a PSA about it.

      • And it should star a Native American, a dolphin and a fried egg.

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