So the state of Georgia, the second fattest state in U.S., has been airing this public service announcements about how fat their fat state’s fat children are. They are fat, you see. And it’s probably their fat parents fault. And their fat asses should be ashamed of that. And…that’s it.

These PSAs offer no solutions to the obesity epidemic in their state, and made me harken back to a simpler time, a time described quite well by my friend Jackie on her set-to-private Livejournal, so I won’t get too repetitve/plagiaristic, but a time when kids had fewer channels to watch, and fewer shows catered directly to them. A time when, once the ABC Weekend Special was over, Saturdays were for running around outside, tobagganing, play blockwide games of hide-and-seek, and getting our money’s worth out of our young bodies and their capacity for being on the move for hours on end.

It was also a time when PSAs were frequently absolutely fantastic and generally non-fatalistic. Specifically, I’m talking about the ParticipACTION ones from the 1970s/80s. Like the Georgia ads, I presume, were supposed to (?), ParticipACTION was trying to discourage being sedentary/unhealthy (starting by comparing us to those lousy, superhealthy Swedes).

The message of most of their PSAs, unlike the Georgian ads, was just to, well, do it. These predate the Michael Jordan “Just Do It” commercials, the ones where you were meant to be stylish and awesome and wear expensive shoes. The lower budget, nationalised, Canadian version of ‘do it’ meant get out, move a bit, do any activity, be it bowling, swimming, or, apparently chopping wood (this last thing features in a few of them, presumably because of our lumberjack heritage?). Note also the variety of sizes, shapes, and ages in the people featured, be they in meatspace or claymation. It’s fantastic.

That message might not seem gung-ho, but the examples are just so achievable that I find these PSAs incredibly endearing and, frankly, far more useful than most anything the modern media is churning out. Sure, they are cheesy as hell in some most cases*, but they are memorable, aren’t they? Most Canadians of certain ages will remember the jingle incredible well, at the very least. And how rad the badges and t-shirts were.

(A chunk of my MPhil dissertation discussion, which was based on assessments by other academics, was that those Heritage Minutes that everyone mocked (probably still do) were a much more useful teaching tool than many full-length history programs because people could recall them much more easily, hell often had them memorized (‘I smell burnt toast’, anyone?**), whereas there is an incredibly limited audience who would watch an hour+ per episode of something like “Canada: A People’s History”. People’s attention spans are short. Commercials and PSAs are useful. True facts.)

They also fit in with this whole Healthy At Every Size thing that I’ve been reading about too, obviously, but even before I really understood what that whole philosophy/campaign was about, I still would have said the ParticipACTION is a far better campaign than Strong4Life. The message that anyone can be active is so clear, so simple, that’s it’s impossible to misinterpret. The message from Strong4Life is missing, aside from that thing about how kids are fat.


* Not nearly as cheesy as the next generation of ParticipACTION PSAs, Body Break, were though. Hideous.

** When I was taking a film class in Edinburgh, a fellow student said ‘It smells like burnt toast in here’. I replied ‘Where’s Dr Penfield when you need him?’ Of course, British people had no clue what I was talking about. (See also: Being the only one laughing at Mel Lastman and Burton Cummings jokes in Last Night at the Cameo Cinema on the Lothian Road on Home Street.)

6 thoughts on “Advertising.

  1. Ron

    This is my first memory of Participaction, after we moved from Bermuda to Winnipeg. I still have my bronze award! Riding those laurels for 38 years, I am.

  2. Jackie

    There was one year I was DETERMINED to win an Excellence award (the top one), but the Flexed Arm Hang relegated me to Gold. DAAAMMMN YOOOOOOU FLEXED ARRRRRMMM HAAANNNGGGG!!!

    *shakes puny girly fist; collapses on floor, panting*

  3. megan

    Heh. I got Excellence a few years, Gold a couple, and Bronze one (not sure what happened there). But my schools didn’t make us do the bar-hanging thing. Too many kids, not enough bars, maybe?

    (I’m glad they didn’t make us do it, either. I would have been hideous at it.)

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