So Dlisted posted this video a few days ago, and it’s taken me that long to overcome the suppressed terror and jam it back down into my subconscious. My memory kind of shoves ASTAR together with all the PSAs from the ’80s and ’90s that bring the same feeling of confusion and anxiety. I find it interesting because everyone I’ve spoken to about them also vividly remembers these videos and the dark-ass Freudian hellscape they seem to open. I realize PSAs are meant to broach uncomfortable topics, but Canada’s prolific output all seemed to resemble a Hunter S. Thompson ether dream sequence. Instead of Mr. Rogers’ gentle trolley-ride into imaginationland, Canadian PSA’s were all like busting out a Ouija board for a direct link to Captain Howdy.
Basically, for the unfamiliar or unCanadian, the ASTAR video was put out by WarAmps, a Canadian non-profit started during World War I to assist those injured in combat. Over the years they widened their reach to help others effected by amputations, and educate the public, especially children about accepting those who have lost limbs and preventing accidents at home.
ASTAR a humanoid robot made of Fritz Lang’s horrible metallic nightmares mixed with a little of Dario Argento’s ability to push suspension of belief to critical mass. In the video, ASTAR is sailing down a pit of live wires, a scenario that is not adequately explained by ‘it’s a metaphor.’ Like all objects ASTAR must stay in motion until he meets his equal force, which comes in the form of a buzz saw that promptly hacks his arm off. C3PO’s bastard toaster child nonchalantly solders that shit back on and addresses the audience “I’m a robot, but you’re a human.”
The problem is that when you watch a robot fall down a k-hole into a Home Depot aisle, you are not in a ‘receptive’ mood. The only appropriate reaction to that sequence is a giant “WTF?” which is the response it has been inciting in children for generations. The other major issue is children are not known for their ability to grasp metaphor. There is a reason kindergartners aren’t analyzing The Great Gatsby. When you only recently learned of object permanence, robot standing in for human, and rejected SAW set as metaphor for the dangers of the world might be a little much.
Which I think is where Canada really missed the mark with it’s PSA game. No matter how many times you watch it, you aren’t thinking about workplace safety or the inability of human limbs to regenerate, you’re thinking about how you just saw a robot fall down a pit of live wires into a moving saw blade. This video is terrifying, without the defensible consequence of teaching anything.
Canadian children’s television in the 1990s was a fever dream. The irony is that the “Concerned Children’s Advertisers” were the source of more horrific, emotionally scarring images than anywhere else. I used to stay up at night watching partially scrambled cable and nothing was as disturbing as the wholesome, well-intentioned messages meant to cement my development into a responsible, well-rounded citizen with all four limbs.
Other highlights/bullet points for my therapist include:
He’s My Brother, which is known for ruining “He’s Not Heavy, He’s My Brother” for everyone who hears it. I’m not joking when I say for decades, I had no idea what this video was about. I feel comfortable in stating no one knew what this was about, yet any Canadian born between 1985-1995 will experience a spontaneous seizure upon hearing “‘cause he’s my brothhaaaa.”
When I re-watched it all I remembered accurately was the bathrobe, the canoe, and the feeling that you are supposed to feel sad but are really experiencing crippling schadenfreude. Not only did this not teach me to stay away from drugs, but the sight of someone snorting coke through a Canadian $5 bill made me shit myself laughing.
PSAs are always steeped in metaphor, which is why they never do anything. Adults with PhDs will stab each other over the meaning of a green light, yet children are expected to understand snorting drugs will destroy your interpersonal relationships based on use of sepia, loungewear, and an awkward hug? When I was in the target age range for these commercials, I had no idea what a rolled up bill was used for. Or what rehab was. Or what drugs were. When I was older, I would have just laughed because of it’s hokeyness (interchangeable with ‘Canadianess’) which is exactly what happened.
The only thing Canadian PSAs ever made me to was be afraid to go outside. In their more opaque ads, WarAmps posited all amputations were caused by one of two things: lawnmowers or fireworks. Basically I feel 100% sure if I step behind a lawn mower it will somehow develop consciousness and start hobbling around like the furnace in Home Alone and devour my limbs. If you light a firework you will no longer have thumbs. Which is curious given the difficulty of obtaining fireworks in Canada. Nonetheless, according to WarAmps, 95% of Canadian children have been injured in lawn mower or fireworks accidents (fireworks/lawn mower accident scores as a combo). It is a miracle I can stand. I am a living testament to the power of Canadian service announcements.
Less visible but other popular maiming scenarios include: standing near a radiator (end up in burn ward.) Standing near a window (all windows contain an ungodly vacuum that will funnel you outside faster than a door malfunction on the Final Destination plane.) Whatever is underneath a bathroom cabinet (you better not put that shit in your motherfucking mouth.) Tainted ground apples (you are a raccoon.)
Basically interest groups paid a lot of money to tell Canadian children if they moved they would be maimed or killed instantly. Instantly.
Which is why I have a theory.
It is a joint ploy by the US and Mexico to make us shit at sports and keep all the fireworks. A NAFTA conspiracy. The U.S. owns John Deere, there are lots of Mexican gardeners, and they both have a shit-ton of fireworks. They produce all the drugs, firearms, and other fun things we are too afraid to manufacture, but often buy. The U.S. and Mexico are scary as fuck as well as renowned for amazing barbecues, while Canada is a step away from being England.
Rob Ford may be the true liberator of our nation