Brought to you by a young contrarian

In times of introspection, I often amuse myself with the lyrical magnificence of Rod Stewart: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.”

by Jake Perron

For Immanuel Kant, maturity and enlightenment come from the courage to use one’s own understanding.

“If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all.”

Today, I need not seek understanding from books, conscience from pastors, or dietary advice from physicians. Nor need I use my understanding. For I have public service announcements (PSA) to serve as my guide to leading a healthy and safe life.

Had I only listened more intently to PSAs as a child I could have emerged from endangerment, cultivated my mind and spent more time focusing on how to pursue a secure course to a productive life.

In times of introspection, I often amuse myself with the lyrical magnificence of Rod Stewart: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.”

Had I more rigorously applied the advice of my animated friends Jem and The Holograms, of 1980s cartoon and PSA fame, my life would have avoided many a disaster, strengthened many a muscle and ultimately saved me many trips to the confessional.

But alas, as the omniscient Jem and the Holograms ingrained in my virgin child mind, “Doing the right thing makes you a superstar.” As I grew older, it occurred to me that while it is important to do the right thing, it is equally important not to do the wrong thing.

In which case, I have been doing the wrong thing by not consulting Jem’s dictum in every decision of daily life.

Environmental ethics? If I gave a hoot, I’d never pollute and only I can prevent forest fires.

Driving safety? If I don’t want a ticket, I’ll make sure to click it. I’m also aware that I can learn a lot from a dummy driving a car.

Drugs? I’ve been told that my brain on drugs closely resembles what I ate for breakfast yesterday.

And on the occasion that I purchase a movie, I am confronted by the PSA that plays on insert, and is impervious to my remote’s chapter skip button. It plays out like a Michael Bay movie with thumping techno music and rapid-fire editing, I have all the more reason to react with such disdain.

But then came a moment of realization that even if I got milk, I’m not sure that I want it. The glistening white mustache on the upper lips of the umpteen celebrities who embody milk’s sex appeal suddenly becomes less glamorous when you take into account the numerous hormones that infest the majority of cartons on the market today.

But, just as we have all been told that burning DVDs is akin to stealing a car, and doing drugs is like putting your brain in the frying pan, people still engage in these behaviors.

Are some just immune to PSA messages as the “Burning DVDs is stealing” message is to the skip button on my machine?

In reality, public service announcements have a polarizing effect. It becomes more fun for smokers to smoke, crooks to steal, and arsonists to play with matches when told not to.

It’s tried and true: People do not like being told what to do. This is especially apparent when personal behaviors conflict with the PSA’s superior message. For this reason alone, emotional appeals, especially when provided by a faceless entity, run into the problem of preaching to the converted while polarizing those whose behaviors are in question.

Now, you may wonder why PSAs still exist, and if they have some amount of impact or effect, other than the creators going home on Thanksgiving and saying, “Look Ma, I made a PSA!” (Which is my impression after being subject to this preaching.)

PSA messages fortuitously reinforce individualistic behaviors in those who already adhere to the message. In this case, the intended effect is dismissed by those targeted while the message is still received vicariously through friends or family on the opposite side of the issue, for whom I am more likely to lend my ears.

A pseudo-meta PSA results:

“Only you can prevent your friends from smoking, stealing DVDs, and frying their brains.”

Oh, Kantian autonomy, you win again.

Jake Perron welcomes comments at [email protected]