As our friends at Open Culture recently pointed out, the heyday of the public service announcement has passed. The Internet is our new gateway for learning about social issues — once you sort through all the false information, of course. When we saw a cheeky anti-smoking PSA from John Waters, we got a hankering for more vintage awareness videos with a bizarre twist. Go henceforth to see what the Pope of Trash had to say about cigarettes, and enjoy other PSAs that mesmerize with their well-intentioned weirdness.
California’s Nuart Theatre gave John Waters’ first successful feature, Pink Flamingos, a lot of love during its initial release. As a thank you, he created this anti-smoking PSA, while smoking. He takes a few long drags off his cigarette and encourages people to smoke anyway. “It gives ushers jobs,” he deadpans.
We’ve showered David Lynch’s anti-litter PSA with love before, and it bears repeating. The director created a macabre, apocalyptic short to help keep the streets of New York City clean. If the style reminds you of Eraserhead, it’s because director of photography, Frederick Elmes, previously worked with the filmmaker on the movie, as well as Blue Velvet. Brace for shots of nasty, hissing rats.
We’re sure the irony of this ad that Stevie Wonder created about drunk driving wasn’t lost on the musician. Don’t drive blind, kids.
If the voice of your conscience has always sounded like Frank Zappa, you’ll enjoy this selection of PSAs he recorded during the 1960s. “Hi, wanna die? Start today. Use a little speed,” he quips. The ads Zappa made for the American Dental Association during the 1980s are equally odd and lovely. See more PSAs from Zappa on Open Culture.
Did Alice Cooper threaten to come to our house and slit our puppy’s throat if we did drugs? Yes. Yes he did.
You’ll remember Joanna Cassidy as the exotic dancer (with a snake) in Blade Runner. About a decade before her role in the dystopian cult classic, Cassidy appeared in this terrifying PSA raising awareness about forest fires. Was she trying too hard to sound sultry, or was she just high? At the end of the video, she tears her face off like a mask revealing Smokey the Bear underneath.
After the Star Trek icon calls human beings dreadful, dull, and useless, he warns about the dangers of drug addiction. “As a Vulcan, I find the need for hard drugs to be totally illogical,” he says sternly. That means soft drugs are probably ok.
Pee-wee Herman/ Paul Reubens
In the 1980s, Pee-wee Herman scared children everywhere with his PSA speaking out against crack — and as we’ve all learned, there’s nothing more frightening than being in the dark with Pee-wee. Kids were used to seeing the jovial side of Pee-wee, but Paul Reubens took his early popularity seriously and wanted to be a strong role model for children. Clint Eastwood made a similarly scary PSA about crack, too.
Captain Lou Albano of WWF and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! fame created this “Just say no” video for children, which ends on a morbid and confusing note. “And if you do drugs, you go to hell before you die,” he concludes. Thanks for clearing that up, Captain Lou!
The Fonz/Henry Winkler
This is the longest PSA on our list, but watching the Fonz educate kids on pedo creepers is pretty interesting — especially when some guy in overalls starts singing uncomfortable songs about body parts. The most fascinating part of the video is the appearance of Kee MacFarlane. She was a staunch figure behind the satanic ritual abuse hysteria of the 1980s. Her interviews with 400 children, using anatomically correct dolls (which she apparently helped pioneer), led to false claims of sex abuse. We prefer to take our advice from people without nationwide conspiracy theories.
Spider-Man doesn’t want your stinkin’ awards for saving the city from Godzilla. He wants bananas. Are they relating the superhero to a monkey? It sure seems that way.
Go-Go’s-era Belinda Carlisle apparently quit drugs when she got bored and ugly.
The insanity of Tom Cruise’s lost Scientology PSA knows no bounds. The Daily Beast collected the best parts of the old video. He discusses having crazy mind powers and going on a vacation. Cue maniacal laughter.
You might need to track down a PSA for depression after watching this video from Sex Pistols founder Steve Jones. To skip right to it, watch it here.
Sweater lover Bill Cosby made a psychedelic PSA about drugs that probably made people who took drugs want to keep taking them.
In 1979, characters from the most popular movie on the planet at the time, Star Wars, were featured in multiple PSA videos. This clip showing Tatooine residents partying at the Star Wars Cantina makes us want to drink like fish.