15 Awesome Vintage PSAs You Probably Forgot
Children of the ’80s and ’90s pretty much learned everything they need to know from TV. (It was basically like a third parent.) Besides “very special” sitcom episodes, one of the major ways we learned about how to say no to drugs and avoid “stranger danger” was from public service announcements.
And since our brains were so addled by cartoons and video games, the makers of these PSAs often had to use characters from our favorite TV shows and movies to get our attention during commercial breaks. This led to quite a few hilarious and bizarre spots that still linger in our hazy collective memories.
Sure, you probably remember “This is Your Brain on Drugs” and the “I Learned it By Watching You, Dad!” kid with the stoner pop who looked like a cross between Mr. Kotter and Judd Hirsch. But do you remember these wacky and wonderful PSAs?
1. R2-D2 and C3PO Stop Smoking
That C-3PO is such a buzzkill. If R2 wants to take a puff between jumps to lightspeed, what’s the big deal? It’s not like 3PO has to ride shotgun with Luke during the Battle of Yavin. Also, he doesn’t have lungs to pollute. Though it was pretty mean of R2 to remind his robotic companion that he doesn’t have a heart and will therefore never experience the feeling of human love that he so craves.
2. ‘Straight Up’ Drug Rap
Remember kids, it’s okay to narc on your friends and hang out with cops.
3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Remind You That Drug Are for Dorks
Back in the early ’90s, kids would basically do whatever the Ninja Turtles said. Even if that meant calling a bully a “turkey” to his face and walking away like he wasn’t going to completely destroy you later in gym class. Also, why does the drug dealer need to add the “You know, marijuana?” part? Just saying “pot” would’ve sufficed, dude. When our friends are over we don’t go, “Want a beer? You know, the fermented combination of starch and malted barley grains???”
4. Pee-wee Herman on Crack
Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, made this PSA as penance for his public indecency arrest back in 1991. Remember kids, when it comes to crack, the secret word is “I didn’t do anything, officer.”
5. Singing Blue Pills Are Serious
The best PSAs inadvertently recreate the sensation of being on drugs. Singing adorable blue pills? Clearly this PSA inspired ‘Trainspotting.’ (Hip hop fans will also recognize the lyrics, which were sampled in Busta Rhymes’ ‘Dangerous.’)
6. What’s Bugging Robocop? Drugs
When his partner asks Robocop what’s bugging him, the robotic scumbag killing machine wistfully replies, “Drugs.” Then the PSA inexplicably cuts to Peter Weller, the actor who played Robocop, out of costume. The jarring transition from Robocop to an intense Weller talking about pot and crack likely scared many an impressionable child straight.
7. Spider-Man Loves Bananas
After saving the city from a dinosaur, Spider-Man waves off the mayor’s financial reward and opts instead for a banana in an effort to promote healthy eating habits. Seriously, Peter Parker must have a really low opinion of himself if he thinks that his heroic deeds are only worth a few cents worth of fruit. One banana? Why not go for a whole bunch, Spidey? Or, you know, money to support your 95-year-old aunt.
8. Clint Eastwood Also Hates Crack
Crack was a pretty scary thing to kids of the ’80s. Even scarier? Clint’s dated line about cocaine being “the glamour drug of the ’80s.” The last thing we want to picture is Clint doing lines of blow with members of Bow Wow Wow at Studio 54.
9. Captain America Reminds You to Save Energy
Captain America barges into some poor kid’s home in an effort to spread energy conversation awareness in this early ’80s PSA. As slogans go, “Keep It Up America!” was no “Just Say No” and the spots faded into memory. Sadly, the Wattage Waster and the Cold Air Crook were nowhere to be found in the ‘Captain America’ movie.
10. Beware Drugs, Kids (And Also the Snakeman)
We’re not really sure why the drug dealer in this PSA turns into a horrifying snakeperson. Is it because drug dealers are slithery creeps? Or maybe it’s a metaphor for how drugs turn you into a monster? Or did someone have a snake suit and needed to use it? Whatever the reason, we still have nightmares about this one. Kids today have it easy.
11. He-Man and She-Ra Remind You that Some Touches Are Bad
’80s cartoons like ‘He-Man’ and ‘G.I. Joe’ justified the fact that they were half-hour toy advertisements by tacking on a quickie PSA at the end of every episode. Is there anything more awkward than a barely-clothed man and a woman in a tight bodysuit and tiara telling kids to come forward about “bad touches”? (We’re not even going to comment on He-Man’s line about telling your minister or rabbi.) Also, Orko shouldn’t worry about inappropriate touches seeing as how he doesn’t have a lower torso.
12. Superman Says “Never Say Yes to a Cigarette”
In the early ’80s, Superman starred in a series of anti-smoking PSAs where he battled the evil Nick O’Teen, a villain with a penchant for dressing up like old wizards. Every ad involved Nick O’Teen trying to hook kids on ciggies, at which point Superman would swoop in and basically torture him. (There’s one spot where he tosses the poor guy into orbit.) As far as slogans go, “Never Say Yes to a Cigarette” is far more confusing for kids than “Just Say No.” Also, why does Superman have a German accent?
13. Urkel Raps About Gun Control
Urkel’s catchy rap came from a “very special” ‘Family Matters’ episode about gun control in schools. The episode ended with a dramatic PSA where the entire ‘Family Matters’ cast (including guest star ’90s Freddie Prinze Jr.) addressed the camera and told kids that before guns come into the picture, they should “squash it.” That catchphrase didn’t exactly become the next “Did I do that???”
14. Smokey the Bear Has a Horrifying Secret
This forest fire prevention PSA terrified impressionable tykes throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Watching it all these years later, it’s obvious that Smokey killed husky-voiced character actress Joanna Cassidy and was wearing her skin during her stints on ‘Falcon Crest’ and ‘Six Feet Under.’
15. Star Wars Cantina Drinking and Driving
Friends don’t let Muftak drive drunk. Poor guy can’t hold his Bantha milk.
Capt. Lou Albano’s Weird Anti-Drug Message
Wrestler and ‘Super Mario Bros. Super Show.’ star Capt. Lou Albano reminds kids that drugs kill, and if you do drugs “you go to hell before you die.” Wait, what? That’s not a thing, Capt. Lou.