09 June 2006

Come to Marble-Row Country

Today's post of deep introspection, profound inspiration, and advanced staph infection comes in two parts and was inspired by two things: 1) a brief conversation I had with my son last weekend, and 2) a brief post by Nettiemac about losing a friend to cancer.

First, the convo with Tiger. It was at my mother-in-law's birthday party last weekend over in Albany, a/k/a East Pine Bluff, Georgia.

As we all were sitting in the fellowship hall of the church where Seraphim and I exchanged vows over five years ago, Tiger, my FIL and I were watching a tape of Howdy Doody that was playing on the TV (the overall theme of this birthday was knocking the "0" off her age and making it a "6th birthday party" -- and I put together a tape of classic '50s kiddie shows as visual wallpaper). Tiger was getting a kick out of one of the Hostess commercials, for a disgusting product called "Sno-Balls", your typical sponge cake surrounded by chocolate nougat, which surrounded -- you guessed it! -- say it along with me: CREEEEEAMYYYY FILLING!

After the joke about Hostess products being kindred to cockroaches (both are the only things known to be able to survive nuclear holocaust), that commercial sparked a fun discussion about old commercials ... which led to old cigarette spots, something my kid found hard to believe were actually on TV at one time. From there it went to the "counter-commercials", actually PSAs advocating against smoking. By 1967, the dangers of smoking were beginning to catch on, and prior to their elimination in 1971, the FCC mandated a certain ratio of those PSAs to correspond with the amount of ciggy commercials aired.

And brother, those PSAs (Public Service Announcements) pulled no punches. They weren't like the current-day anti-smoking spots produced by the likes of Philip Morris, and required due to the huge tobacco litigation a decade ago (the one that forced an end to the "Joe Camel" character). The ones you see today are dry, boring and basically say "Cigarettes are for grown-ups. Kids, DO NOT SMOKE. They're for adults only!" And Philip Morris knows damned well the psychology driving that message. Even my 14-year-old son could pick up on the mind-game involved here.

Those late '60s anti-smoking spots were devastating. They caused the smoking rate to go DOWN. They were so effective that the cigarette companies were DELIGHTED (!!!) when the FCC instituted the ban on broadcast cigarette ads. 'Cuz most of those PSAs went away with them.

One I can recall from way back when is known as "Like Father, Like Son" -- depicting a Dad and his young boy frolicking on a nice Spring day. Kid is imitating what Dad is doing. Voiceover announcer: "Like father, like son." Dad sits down against a tree for a smoke break. Kid sits down with him. Dad lights up, then puts the pack of coffin-nails on the ground next to him. Kid picks it up and looks intently at the pack. Voiceover again: "Like father, like son .......... think about it."

Actually that was one of the tamer PSAs.

What we need today are more of the sometimes fun but always hard-hitting anti-smoking spots. Don't be preachy. Be humorous. Be irreverent. I'd love to see one involving middle school or early high school kids ... one lights up and all the girls start going "ewwwww!" and his peers start calling him "Yellowteeth", "Ashtray Face" or some other creative name. Equate cigarettes in these spots with eating ones' own boogers and you'll snuff out (heh ... ahem ...) the teen smoking rate five minutes ago. It's time to make cigarettes a social outcast, not something to do to "act cool" or rebel.

I like some of the anti-smoking billboards I've seen. One, which I saw in Alabama a number of years ago, looked like a Marlboro billboard. Old West sunset, two cowboys on their horses, almost in silhouette fashion. One cowboy's head is turned toward the other ... and in that same bold serif font you see in Marlboro print ads today are the words: "I miss my lung, Bob." Damned creative, if you ask me.

Of course, today that same billboard would probably read, "Tell you what -- truth is, sometimes I miss you so bad I can hardly stand it ... I must have you, Marlboro hard pack."

Anyhoo, those old '60s spots were produced mostly by the likes of the Heart Association, American Cancer Society and [inhale] The National Tuberculosis And Respiratory Disease Association, the latter of which changed its name to the easier-on-the-lowest-common-denominator American Lung Association. Back then, it seems, those organizations were on the cutting-edge and full of piss and vinegar.

Today? I doubt they'd be able to step up to the plate. They've all become bloated, self-perpetuating bureaucracies full of people who care more about padding their resumes than those organizations' purported missions.

Talk about a rant waiting to happen.

Ciao for niao.

--Talmadge "It's a matter of (COUGH!) life, (HACK!) and (WHEEZE!) breath" Gleck

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