Have You Seen This One? Public Service Announcements that Scare the Crap Out of Us!

Back when I was growing up, public service announcements were silly, not scary. Remember “this is your brain on drugs” or R2D2 puffing on a cigarette or Pee-Wee Herman’s anti-crack campaign? (I always thought it would have been more effective if he’d ended with one of his signature maniacal laughs.)

At some point, the folks behind these admittedly important messages must have decided that soft spots didn’t cut it, because a few years ago I started seeing PSAs like this anti-smoking one featuring Marie, who needed to have a bunch of her fingers amputated due to her addiction. Now I’m all for telling my kid not to smoke. (At six, she’s currently in her “I’ll never smoke” phase. Of course, she’s also in her “when I grow up, I’m going to be a mermaid” phase.) But when my daughter saw this ad, she had nightmares for a week! I thought it was pretty nasty, too.

Recently, the New York State Department of Health released a pair of pro-immunization PSAs that really upset me as a parent. Even though my kid’s gotten all of her vaccinations, they totally keep me up at night. They both star vaccine advocate Serese Marotta sitting in her deceased son, Joseph's room. In this one, she says she can’t bring herself to put away his toys and belongings.

But it’s the second that’s seared into my psyche: In it, she chokes up when she remembers telling her daughter the news.

Her five-year-old succumbed to an unnamed disease, which could have been prevented if he had gotten his shots. (As an aside, this USA Today article says that Marotta's son died of swine flu, before the vaccine was available in her community.) 

While I totally agree with what the ad is saying, I just wonder if these scare tactics work. In my case, they’re preaching to the converted, and if the Jenny McCarthy acolytes haven’t been swayed by that debunked autism study, I don’t think this will do the trick, either.

Maybe I should just be happy that these PSAs aren’t as outrageous as the one that likened not breastfeeding to riding a mechanical bull while pregnant, or that horrifying don’t text and drive ad from Europe. Don't moms have enough fear and anxiety about our kids as it is? We've got the message -- you don't need to knock us out with it.

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