When I was a little kid, all the Saturday cartoon characters got together to tell me not to do drugs. They did it in Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, a weird one-off special that included Bugs Bunny warning the viewers to avoid smoking crack.
It seemed like an odd message for a 7-year-old — no one was offering me crack or any other drugs in third grade, even in 1990 — but damn if I don’t remember this special very well. I remember it because it was all my favorite cartoons teaming up, but since then I’ve also had an odd fascination with TV public service announcements.
There’s evidence certain PSAs are effective, but (despite their noble intentions) many of them come off as just plain silly. As such, I went to YouTube and found some of the best PSAs set and made in Philadelphia. Enjoy!
10. Mike Schmidt: I Don’t Need Drugs
I agree, Mike Schmidt! Cocaine is no way to believe in yourself. Ah, did they have to position the camera so close to your face, though? It makes it weird.
9. Beanie Sigel – Anti-Violence PSA
I like when rappers talk and their voices still sound awesome. Sigel’s first three lines (“There’s a black cloud over our city. Philadelphia’s in a state of genocide. We’re losing our youth at a rapid pace.”) don’t rhyme, but they’d fit in any song.
This tops the Mike Schmidt PSA of a similar style because of its admission that “we need to come up with a solution.” Also, because it’s delivered by Beanie Sigel’s disembodied head.
8. McGruff the Crime Dog – The Philadelphia Story
“In certain parts of Philadelphia, things were, uh, ruff.” Jesus. Screw you, McGruff.
I did like the part when the cartoon dog low-fived the woman in the wheelchair.
7. Cassidy – “Condom Style”
Last year, propelled by a catchy beat and its universal message of “rich people are hilariously tacky,” PSY’s “Gangnam Style” shot up the charts across the world, shattered YouTube records and made him a household name.
Also in 2012? Philadelphia rapper Cassidy released “Condom Style.”
When I first saw the title of this song, I expected a corny parody sex jam. Instead, we got a straight public service announcement about wearing condoms. Great goal, sure, but one that probably didn’t need a full song. Still, the best part comes at the 2:20 mark, when three producers in the studio look at each other and nod approvingly for their hard work of taking a beat from the most popular song of 2012.
This also added to the Philadelphia rap beef between Meek Mill and Cassidy last year, when Mill called it “the worst song in rap history.” Eh, as PSA raps go, it’s better than Don’t Copy That Floppy.
6. Philadelphia Fire Dept. and Chamber of Commerce: Fire Safety
This is pretty convincing. 12,000 people! That’s a lot. I’m going to be extra careful to stay away from fire. I really hope people didn’t have to be told to not store gasoline right in their bedroom closets, but I guess they did.
5. Philadelphia Athletes: Good Sports Drive Straight!
This PSA definitely dates from the mid-1980s — the late Peter Zezel first played for the Flyers in 1984 — which would probably make it in response to Philadelphia Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh’s 1985 drunk driving death. I love how it shoehorns the “drive” pun into baseball, a sport that traditionally does not feature drives. Football and basketball are easy, but Mike Schmidt is forced to say “putting together a drive to the pennant.” Not bad, and better than Zezel, who didn’t even get one.
If you’re wondering which of the four major sports feature the biggest dorks, please look at the haircuts of the players in this PSA.
4. Philadelphia Electric Company: Don’t Put Your Life on the Line
I enjoyed how grim this PSA is, as well as its uneasy, Jaws-like tension build. I also liked how this is a PSA specifically aimed at one group: People who operate cranes. It even says it! I profess I will never get in a crane near overhead powerlines, or near anything at all, really.
3. Philadelphia PD and Chamber of Commerce: Traffic Safety
This PSA comes to us from a time — 1977, as if you weren’t able to tell it was late 70s — when people complained about cars doing illegal things on the road! (This role in American society is now filled by bicycles.) I can’t imagine a government agency telling us “turning on a red light without stopping is wrong” directly in 2013. The best part is the sleepy drunk at the end, openly drinking a beer in his car and then littering on the street. This doubles as an anti-littering PSA!
2. Philadelphia Water Department: Play Smart, Philadelphia!
Opening a fire hydrant with a neighbor’s wrench and nearly getting your skin ripped off with a strong blast of water is a time-honored illegal Philadelphia tradition. The city doesn’t like this, for obvious reasons, and so in the 1980s the Water Department produced this incredible dance rap PSA to combat it. I like to think it was all done in one take.
What’s confusing about this video is the advice of “playing basketball” as a way to stay cool in the heat. Maybe the courts were air-conditioned back in the 80s? What’s sad about this video is there are so many fewer public pools to use than there were in the 1980s. Eh, I guess you can always go to the Far Northeast and sneak into someone’s backyard above-ground pool.
PSA to Cassidy: Now this is how you do a PSA rap. As in, it’s only 30 seconds long.
1. Captain Lou Albano for Philly 57: Say No to Drugs
This is not just the greatest Philadelphia PSA in history, it is the best anti-drug PSA possible. I was a big fan of the The Super Mario Bros. Super Show as a kid; I can only imagine this is why I was straight edge until I was 18.
There are too, too many reasons this PSA is great:
- Ex-pro wrestler and pro wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano played Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, which aired on Philly 57 from 1989-1991. He usually appeared in full Mario get-up; in this commercial he’s in regular clothes and a Mario hat.
- To be fair, he does identify himself as Captain Lou Albano, lest we think it’s Mario dishing out anti-drug advice. That would go against Mario’s pro-magic mushroom stance.
- The list of people who can help you with drugs is pretty exhaustive: “You priest, your rabbi, your minister, your moms, your dads, your teachers.” Why not just say “an adult”?
- “If you do drugs, you go to hell before you die.”
- The “please” thrown in at the end is pretty great, too, considering it comes right after the “Hell” line. You go to hell before you die, please.
- Last, but certainly not least: The Mario-esque music fits perfectly.