Retrotisements — Classic PSA edition

I don’t know if the social consciousness of the average American is lower than it was back in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, but it sure seems like it sometimes. I remember seeing a public service announcement (PSA) at least once or twice an hour while watching TV as a kid. These days, not so much. And the ones that are around don’t seem to have much heart or soul. They’re every bit as cynical and cold as regular ads if you ask me.

So if you feel the same way — or even if you don’t — let’s take a look at some of the more memorable PSAs of the past…


Johnny Smoke

Cigarette advertising on TV in America was everywhere until it was pulled off the air for good by an act of Congress. But in the final years of tobacco ads, there was no shortage of anti-smoking ads meant to counter their pernicious effect. One of the more striking ones was an animated spot produced by the American Heart Association and featuring a character named Johnny Smoke.

Even now, this is pretty unsettling, even with the slightly hokey script.

Out of the land of the tobacco plant
Come a tall, fast-drawin’, long lean bloke
Feared by his friends and enemies alike
Feared by all who come to know the name of…JOHNNY SMOKE!

Woodsy Owl

If the phrase “Give a hoot! Don’t pollute!” bring a smile to your face, then you remember Woodsy Owl. Woodsy was born on Earth Day in 1970 and, other than looking like a reject from a Sid & Marty Kroft series, lived to dissuade people from trashing the planet. And he did it in style.

Woodsy has served the U.S Forest Service faithfully for more than 40 years, and fills in at public events when Smokey the Bear is sleeping one off. He was rewarded with a crappy new slogan awhile back — “Lend a hand — Care for the Land!” Ugh.

Save Free TV

Now here’s one you never hear about any more. Back in the days before cable TV was something more than a novelty, the networks were sufficiently threatened by it to create this PSA (which was aired in movie theaters in the 1970s). Although I guess it’s more like an anti-PSA, as it was hardly made with the public’s best interests in mind.

Yes, who needs lousy things like choice or the free market? Keep fighting the good fight, network television executives!

VD Is for Everybody

This has to be the cheeriest PSA about sexually transmitted diseases I’ve ever seen. Just don’t tell me where that woman with the horse got her VD from.

Keep America Beautiful (The Crying Indian)

Here it is — the mother of all public service announcements. You know this one by heart, don’t you? The booming, orchestral soundtrack… the Native American paddling past a factory belching filth into the air… the single tear. Ah, what a classic.

Of course it’s common knowledge that the “Indian” in this Keep America Beautiful spot — which debuted on Earth Day in 1971 — was actually portrayed by an American actor of Italian descent named Espera Oscar de Corti (he later changed his name to Iron Eyes Cody). But to read this article from Orion magazine written by Ginger Strand, the ruse goes much deeper than that. I can’t say whether the claims Strand makes are true, but you know what? It’s still a damn powerful PSA.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk (Star Wars)

Yup, there was a Star Wars anti-drunk driving PSA. Nobody remind George Lucas, or else he’ll make them add Hayden Christensen to it.

Well see, that’s just nice. For a wretched hive of scum and villainy, those Mos Eisley Cantina aliens are OK. And I know I heard Chewbacca in there, where the hell was he? Too bad there wasn’t a “Friends Don’t Let George Lucas Ruin Childhood Memories With Shitty Prequels” PSA in the ’90s.

Ounce of Prevention (Bugs Bunny)

I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s worth another look. This safety PSA featuring Bugs Bunny, here voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc, comes across as less scary now than I’m sure it did when I was little. But it did its job — I now know to keep my son’s cookies off the stove.

New York, Let’s Clean Up New York

Gahbage, fuggedaboutit Noo Yawk!

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