(If only they’d warned us about the dangers of cosplay.)
By Will Levith
G.I. Joe. ThunderCats. He-Man. Care Bears. What do these still-beloved 1980s cartoons have in common? Public Service Announcements.
For the uninitiated, PSAs were basically message-based advertisements that told a short story about a dangerous or bad situation, then finished with a big, climactic life lesson — all from the mouths of your favorite cartoon characters and over the course of about 30 seconds or less. Essentially, it was classic Reagan-era hysteria about drugs and sexual-predators, presented in a way that would give children nightmares. Perfect concept, right? Repeat after us: Wrong.
HolyTaco has saved you the time and energy of scrolling through countless pages of YouTube to find the nine greatest cartoon PSAs of the ’80s. Here they are, in no specific order…
G.I. Joe – Nosebleeds
Thanks to its “Knowing Is Half the Battle!™” tagline, G.I. Joe was a perfect fit for the ’80s PSA scene, with a deep roster of helpful characters. You had Snow Job, the arctic-ski guy, talking about the dangers of playing on thin ice; Barbecue and Blowtorch, the two pyromaniacs, discussing fire safety; and Doc, one of the token black dudes on the force, lecturing us on home-medicine. But this one is a particularly giant WTF moment. It’s a life-lesson from the 1980s about what to do if you’ve got a nosebleed — an affliction that certainly plagued the marketing department at Hasbro between coke-binges in those days. And who better to deliver the message du jour than a guy named Footloose, who has a live grenade strapped to the front of his vest? “Hey, mommy, I just learned how to stop a nosebleed from a suicide bomber!”
ThunderCats – Alcohol
Schooling kids on the dangers of raiding their parents’ liquor cabinets isn’t a bad idea in theory. But if you ask us, this particular PSA might take the prize for “worst possible messengers.” (Do you think anybody is going to listen to a goddamn thing Snarf has to say? I get drunk because of Snarf.) Now had the message come out of Mumm-ra’s gob, we might’ve been scared straight. What’s more frightening to a kid than a dead Egyptian guy wrapped in gauze talking about binge drinking?
He-Man – Molestation
Long before the Catholic Church got called out publicly for allowing a bunch of pedophiles to fiddle around with choirboys across America, He-Man and She-Ra from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon were on the case, warning kids about “good touch” versus “bad touch.” The list of adults that the two cartoon heroes suggest you should tell if you get inappropriately groped — parents, teacher, minister, rabbi — sounds more like a likely offender list. As far as we’re concerned, anybody’s a suspect. We learned that years later on CSI.
Care Bears – Sharing
What’s worse than having to share something with somebody? That’s one of the biggest takeaways from our childhood, which involved our older brother beating on us whether we shared with him or not. But in this PSA, everybody’s favorite trans bear-friend, Share Bear, comes to the rescue before blonde-haired, blue-eyed Sally gets her popsicle licked by a little black kid. Ah, how far we’ve come…
Yogi Bear – Smoking
This Yogi and Boo-Boo PSA from the early ’80s has a few too many messages going on at the same time. First, you have Yogi talking about the environment — something that Ronald Reagan knew very little about (read: “trees cause pollution”). Second, you get Boo-boo dropping some cool facts about fruits and nuts. (Was this a subliminal anti-gay and -mentally ill message? Probably.) And finally, you get the meat of the message — smoking is bad, and it makes people need doctors (but not bears). Well, if you throw a lit cigarette butt in the woods, and it becomes what scientists call a “forest fire,” your bear friends will be what veterinarians call “burn victims.”
Superman – Drugs
Again, with the black people. Not only does this PSA basically throw a bunch of off-camera black friends under the bus for being recreational drug users who drive vans out into the middle of nowhere to drug up, but it also makes Superman look like a total sneak-attack narc. If we were that kid, and that red-caped freak swooped out of nowhere in front of us on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, we’d either (a) run like the wind and never look back or (b) stab his ass. It’d probably get us so amped up that we’d try crack and die.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – More drugs
You didn’t think we’d forget your favorite sewer-dwelling, chemically altered Ninja Turtles, did you? This PSA is pretty incredible, because it’s about choosing whether to smoke a joint or not — and features a munchies joke spoken by a cartoon amphibian. It always struck us as odd how perfectly rolled those PSA prop doobies were. Whomever did them had some serious skillz. Oh, and we can almost guarantee that calling a New York City-based drug dealer in an ’80s high school a “turkey” would get your ass pistol-whipped good and hard. Thanks, Turtles!
Transformers – Running Away from Home
“I’m running away from home; my parents are mean,” whines the little kid at the center of this ’80s Transformers PSA. You know what occurred to us? Maybe he’s right. Maybe his father beats him to within an inch of his life with one of those steel-studded emo belts everyday. Maybe his mother ties him to a chair, cuts his face with a razor, and squeezes drops of lemon juice into the bleeding cuts. And maybe his sister makes him dress up like a girl to play the dreaded “boyfriend.” But in screeches Bumblebee, the smallest and no doubt, loneliest Transformer; and out pops a jeremiad on the dangers of running out on your family. Aren’t you supposed to knock people out when you see urine-colored punch-buggies?
M.A.S.K. – Hitchhiking
Like the He-Man PSA, again we’re talking child molesters, but in the context of hitchhiking, which is that age-old game of trying to get from Point A to Point B without getting murdered or your dick sucked by a 40-year-old man. Who better to tell you what to do than members of the M.A.S.K. team? This strikes us as odd: If someone who wears a mask all day long and rides around in a car/truck/fighting machine tells you not to ride in cars with strange people, isn’t that sort of a mixed message?