Fearmongering & Football: A Look At The Ridiculous Anti-Drug PSA Airing During The Super Bowl

All things being considered, I’d have to say my abilities as a job interviewee aren’t stellar. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem tooting my own horn, answering questions on the fly and being engaging and all that noise. My main issue is that I suffer from what I like to call Chandler Bing Syndrome, which means I have a tendency to make jokes and act overly familiar whenever I feel nervous. Sadly, I have a handful of stories wherein I do this during a job interview—with one borderline NSFW example involving almost 3 hours of questions, an empty stomach, a stone faced CFO and Susan G. Komen for the Cure—but the one that I found myself recalling recently happened when I was trying to land an internship at the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

At first everything went really well. Since I had to get all gussied up in a proper suit and festooned with all of these fancy clearance badges before being led to the interview room itself—one of those big, windowless deals with the fancy chairs and the imposing, mead hall-sized conference tables inside—I was pretty professional and businesslike for the first portion of the interview. However, the longer we talked, the more casual my demeanor got, until the very end of the interview when they asked me if I there was any particular piece of drug prevention advertising that I was fond of. In retrospect, I probably should’ve been smart enough to play a little kiss ass and praise the Above The Influence campaign they were running at the time, but for some reason I was stuck on truth mode. So I started singing: “Meth—Oooooooh Meth!”

Some of you who are reading this may already know what ad I’m talking about, but for those who don’t, there was an anti-Methamphetamine PSA that came out sometime in the early 2000s, that featured this really tweaked out girl, well, tweaking her lady balls off while this amazingly cheery, yet extremely haunting song played in the background. For example, the snippet I sang in the interview was, “I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, but I’ve got the clean-est house on the street. Meth—Ooooooh Meth!”. To this day it’s my favorite PSA, about anything, not so much because I think it’s effective, but because it’s so delightfully twisted and memorable. You could have put in as a sketch on Saturday Night Live and nobody would’ve known the difference.

Considering the fact that, as I would later find out, the PSA was produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Bush years, there’s no way they intended it to be received the way it. That being said, it’s often better to be lucky than good, and the Oooooh Meth ad is one of the few anti-drug PSAs I know of that manages to engage its target audience while not patronizing them and providing a fairly honest account of the effects of drug addiction. Compared to many of it’s forebears and contemporaries, like the infamous This is your brain on drugs egg to the stoners running over the tricycle girl at the drive thru ad, the Ooooh Meth PSA is actually pretty good, in spite of or perhaps even because of its unintentional hilarity.

I bring this up because I recently the group Families For Sensible Drug Policy recently posted something on their Facebook page that made me privy to a particularly off-putting anti-heroin advertisement that will be airing during the Super Bowl which follows in the fearmongering footsteps of the Just Say No era. The ad, which was made by a drug prevention outfit in St. Louis called the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (NCADA), is called “All-American Girl” and I can only hope, given NCADA’s location, that it is confined to the greater St. Louis area because it is pretty awful. And, to be clear, the “All-American Girl” PSA isn’t awful in the, “it’s so bad it’s good” way, but in the, “how did anyone think this was good idea” way.

The Reader’s Digest version of NCADA’s ad is essentially: watch a pretty, upper-middle class high school girl get hooked on heroin and give up everything important in her life. However, just recounting the simple plot of PSA does not do justice to how profoundly stupid it is, so I’m going to give you an in-depth breakdown of the myriad ways this ad is and embarrassment to sound drug abuse prevention:

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0:01 – The PSA starts off with a pointless shot of our beleaguered protagonist cooking heroin in a spoon, because f**k it, why not trigger any newly recovering heroin addicts who wanted to watch the Super Bowl? Also, they display a fundamental misunderstanding of how Twitter works by putting #heroin up the screen with no explanation. Who is that hashtag for? People who really like heroin? People who are trying to find treatment help for heroin abuse? Someone sharing a gif of the the toilet diving scene from Trainspotting? It makes no sense.

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0:03 – Our living, breathing, female cautionary tale is now in the middle of a cheerleading practice when she drops her pom-poms and walks away. A few things: 1) Why are all of these girls in their full cheerleading uniforms during a practice? There’s clearly nothing happening on the football field behind them and no sport—not even cheerleading—practices in their uniforms. 2) This girl is in the middle of a routine and decides, apropos of nothing, to drop her pom poms and walk away. Who does this? She couldn’t have waited until the end of practice or at least told someone that she had to go because she was sick? As a teenage opiate addict, the last thing this girl wants is people suspecting that she’s using and leaving cheerleading practice without saying a word is basically the equivalent of calling your own intervention.

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0:14 – For some reason, our budding heroin junkie is walking down the ramp of a circular, multistory parking garage when she just throws her computer over the railing and about 30 feet to the ground. I mean, I realize these are all metaphors for how you’ll lose everything you have if you start shooting dope, but they’re god awful ones. Seriously, you couldn’t have shot a scene where she sells her laptop at a pawn shop or tries to use it to barter with her dealer for smack?

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0:24 – Now, the girl is sitting at the counter at an upscale coffee shop, fidgeting her legs, when she gets a call from her mom. Instead of answering the phone she gets up and drops her phone in the trash. What the ever-loving shit?! First off, she’s going to have answer that phone at some point to get her mom off her back because she still probably needs a place to stay and, considering the fact that she probably isn’t working, her parents are pretty much her only source of income, especially since she just flung her laptop off a damn parking garage instead of pawning it. Second, how the hell is she going to get her heroin now? Her dealer’s number was in that phone. Now she’s going to have to drive to his house every time she needs more and hope the guy’s home.

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0:35 – The girl is walking her yellow lab down a side street when she takes his leash, drops it over a two-by-four in a dumpster, and walks away. Why? No, seriously. Why? She’s in high school and still lives with her parents. There’s no reason for her to give that dog away, even metaphorically. She could run away from home, do heroin every damn day for a year and then come back and the dog would still be there. Not only that, but if for some bizarre reason she did leave the dog on the side street, her neighbors would wind up finding the little guy and he’d be back at home in 6-8 hours tops.

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0:48 – Saving the best for last, the girl parks her brand new 2015 Subaru Forester in the middle of the street, gets out of the car and walks away from it, dropping her button down shirt on the ground as she leaves for no apparent reason. Good god, that is a $23,000 SUV with tremendous resale value that she just left in the street. And, not only did she just abandon at least $13-14k worth of car, but she did it in the middle of the street where it’s liable to attract the most attention from neighbors and police, who will certainly try to find the car’s original owner.

That’s the end of the the ad. Where this girl is going now is anyone’s guess. She’s got no phone, no laptop and no car and she’s now just walking around suburban St. Louis aimlessly like some pretty, heroin chic zombie. I have watched this ad at least 25 times and I have yet to find one redeeming or informative quality in it. The folks at NCADA provide no solution. They provide no hope for recovery. All they do is try to scare white, middle class parents out of their shoes by showing that even their sons and daughters can get addicted to heroin. The only thing ads like “All American Girl” prevent is meaningful dialogue with teenagers about the realities of substance abuse and the possibilities for positive change inherent in abstinence-based recovery, medication assisted therapy and harm reduction.

Categories: Drug News, Media, Uncategorized

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4 replies

  1. Well said, thank you.

  2. It’s an ad. I don’t think there’s any serious expectation that an ad is 100% realistic.

  3. You’re right. Mind-numbingly pointless, ineffective ad. What I’ve seen recently on the tube, albeit not in commercial format, are a couple of episodes of Anthony Bourdain and some really good half-hour format show on AJAM, the latter of which unfortunately will soon be no more. Much more effective, not at all patronising nor dumbed-down, with a bit of hopefulness via focus on those in recovery. But this? Meh.

  4. This was a beautifully written piece and so true!!! Love it! Hate the ad, but glad it inspired some great writing!

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