The 20 Best Public Service Announcements of the Last 30 Years

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 8:03 am
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By Chris Cummins

If it were not for public service announcements, would any of us know how to behave? If these time-filling lessons weren't around, would the populations of our cities be extinguished due to drugs and litter-fed mutant death rats? Would the forests burn? Would we eat hot fudge sundaes for every meal? Would superheroes sell out their poor aunties for produce? Would women really be bears? Would prejudice and sexism and homophobia and sadness once again rear their ugly heads, threatening to destroy the serenity of our post-PSA utopia? Fortunately, these aren't questions we'll ever have to answer. For we live in a world where PSAs act as televised moral compasses--teaching us what pitfalls to avoid as trudge our way through this damaged planet. The effectiveness of these messages is spotty at best, but at least they've given us some great pop culture moments, right?

Over the years there have been many unforgettable public service announcements--from the one with the crying Native American who wasn't really a Native American to the one with a fallen children's icon espousing the dangers of drugs in what may have been part of his court-ordered community service. Public service announcements are informative, fun and, more often than not, terrifying. With that in mind, this super-sized Daily List focuses on the most memorable PSAs from the last 30-some odd years. So put your common sense on the backburner and prepare for the nostalgic wonders (and terrors) that await you within.

20) Pee Wee Hates Crack

Crack is whack. Public masturbation? Not so much. The sight of a solemn Pee Wee Herman is disturbing, but not nearly as troubling as the slow realization that life will never be as much fun as it seemed to be inside the Playhouse.

19) Gung Ho Doesn't Judge

And why would he? Gung Ho knows a thing or two about how harmful people's judgments can be. He's had to endure a ton of adversity to become the mustachioed, camo-wearing in every environment, super solider/bear icon that he is today. Yo Joe!

18) Childhood Immunizations in a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The first of three Star Wars-related PSAs on this list features R2D2 thinking he has contracted whooping cough. (It would seem that having a rusty discharge or Space VD are far more reasonable illnesses for Artoo to be worrying about). Since this ad isn't considered canon, R2 and his hypochondria can fuck off. There's nothing worse than a robotic drama queen. I'm looking at you, C-3PO.

17) Thundercats Moralize! Hoooooooooooo!

What misguided fools Lion-O and Snarf are. Don't they release that 90% of all Thundercats viewers are drunken kids? (The other 10% are bitter Topless Robot readers). Way to bite the hand that feeds guys. No wonder your movie can't get off the ground.

16) No One Has Ever Wanted to "Make a Saturday"

Children aren't stupid. Okay, they are, but the average kid develops a bullshit detector pretty early on in life. So when a PSA comes on and begins spewing lies, kids will see right through it. That brings us to this entry that leads viewers to believe that the baseball-playing youth of America secretly dreams of eating perverted looking health food instead of hot fudge sundaes. There's no way I could possibly prove it, but I suspect that the obesity epidemic currently gripping our nation originally began as a rebellion against this ad. Bananas, yogurt and pineapples are no substitute for ice cream wonderment.

15) Parents Who Have Questionable Facial Hair Have Children Who Use Drugs

Along with the eggtastic "Brain on Drugs" spot (which does not appear on this list due to its sheer ubiquity throughout the 1990s), this is the most mocked of all PSAs. Created by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, this epic taught us that if your dad has a porn stache, he's probably holding as well. In terms of catchphrases as cultural touchstones, "I learned it by watching you" comes pretty close to matching the gold standard that was set forth by "Where's the beef?"

14) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Hate Pot (Yet Are Always Hungry)

Wait, getting pizza isn't a good idea? There is never a time when getting a pizza is the wrong thing to do. Clearly, the Turtles are high on the pot (insert obvious munchies joke here) and therefore discredited as role models.

13) Yul Brynner: Anti-Smoking Advocate from Beyond the Grave

Making its debut shortly after Yul Brynner's 1985 death, this groundbreaking PSA helped raise awareness for lung cancer -- scaring the hell out of people along the way. Shocking and a bit ghoulish, the ad is the definitive example of how effective public service messages can be when done properly.

12) R2D2 Knows That Smoking Is Very Glamorous

Clearly R2 doesn't give a shit what Yul Brynner has to say. These robots today think that they will live forever.

11) Time for Timer...and Cheese

Timer was an anthropomorphic yellow blob thing that had an unhealthy obsession with human nutrition. Through his Time for Timer PSAs that aired on ABC, he would discuss healthy (i.e. lame) snacks like homemade orange juice popsicles that suck in comparison to the sugary deliciousness of Otter Pops. The above clip features a Wild West-themed ode to cheese that have you wanting to eat a brick of cheddar or yearning to watch the complete run of Deadwood. Preferably both.
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