Learning From Dummies

David Harsanyi
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Posted: Apr 03, 2009 12:01 AM

I recently stumbled upon a brilliant piece of advice on the radio.

Did you know that if you post topless photos of yourself on the Internet, some dubious character may find out one day? And, depending on your career choices, you may even live to regret the decision.

"Think before you post," pleaded the extraordinarily even-tempered woman in this public service announcement, which was "brought to me" by the good people at the Department of Something-or-Other in conjunction with the Ad Council.

As I made a mental note to delete my topless photos pronto -- lest some wiseguy disseminate them on Facebook and induce hundreds of my "friends" to throw up -- I also resolved to investigate the Ad Council. After a lifetime of listening to its aggravating do-good spots, it was time.

I learned that "for 60 years," the Ad Council has created insipid icons and slogans "woven into the very fabric of American culture," such as Smokey Bear's "Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires"; the Crash Test Dummies' "You Could Learn a Lot From a Dummy"; McGruff the Crime Dog's "Take a Bite out of Crime"; and, of course, "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste."

You can say that again.

If your standard Madison Avenue garbage isn't grating enough, the Ad Council gladly will flex its creative muscle. Then the resulting "public service" spots will run relentlessly before movies and on television, radio and the Internet, and some bureaucrat can profess triumph and clear his self-important conscience.

For years, we've heard advice about the glaringly self-evident ills of excessive drinking and drug use. Fine. But because I already have a wife, two daughters and 3,000 years of guilt to keep me perpetually harassed, the last thing I want to see popping up on TV is my "green" governor -- who lives in a mansion on the taxpayers' dime -- scolding me about the temperature reading of my thermostat.

I first detected this killjoyism during the 1980s, when PSAs stole valuable time from the five-video rotation on MTV. Today nearly every government agency -- large or small, local or federal -- operates some informational Web site or "campaign" to point out how irresponsibly I conduct my affairs.

Take our secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who recently "teamed" with the Ad Council and characters from Walt Disney's "Pinocchio" to help "remind" moms about MyPyramid.gov.

MyPyramid.gov, it turns out, treats moms as a class of twits unable to differentiate between a vulgar leafy green vegetable and a proper cheeseburger. What would the Founders have thought of such paternalistic finger wagging and direction? ("This is Thomas Jefferson. I'm here with Pinocchio to tell you, "You could learn a lot from a dummy!")

Then there is the captivatingly useless U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission's Web site, Mymoney.gov. Taking fiscal guidance from a tragically inefficient and irresponsible organization that runs trillions of dollars of debt is very much like taking seriously a 1990s-era spot from Motley Crue beseeching us not to use drugs.

Now the government has set up a site to help us get through the coming depression (although, really, it's done enough). At http://www.samhsa.gov/economy, you can learn more about the possible health risks associated with an economic downturn.

Do you feel "depression"? "Anxiety"? (And, considering your 401(k), if you're not, perhaps you're a sociopath.) Are you engaging in compulsive behavior? How about "substance abuse"? (Fingers crossed; I'm only one fiscal quarter away!) Or is there "persistent" crying going on?

Hey, why not? In the eyes of Washington, we are children, after all.

If we're not, how about doing us a public service and leaving us alone?