New Zealand Public Service Announcement

Well, the happiest time of the year has passed, and Christmas season has come to an end. (Don’t give me that. There are many adjectives that might be used to describe my tiny readership, but “orthodox” is not one of them.) Let’s return to the blogging mines by examining a New Zealand public service announcement you may well have seen already, given that it went viral six months ago.

(Content note: at one point there were innocents (Willym, Maddie, maybe others) who at one point visited this blog. The below video may not be appropriate content for them. Such readers may want to seek permission from a parent or guardian before proceeding to watch.)

This PSA blew my mind when I first saw it. It is so strange.

Firstly, this is a government public service announcement for a website called Keep It Real Online. That in itself is not so strange, but the PSA is genuinely entertaining. When was the last time you saw a government PSA that was genuinely entertaining? Many government PSAs try, but the vast majority end up being (as the kids say these days) “cringe”.

Secondly, this government PSA is using sex to sell a message about… sex. Isn’t that supposed to be illegal? It is well and good to use sex to sell beer and shampoo, but since when are you allowed to use sex as a lever to educate people about sex?

Thirdly, and maybe most significantly, look at what the PSA is not saying. Even though this ad is commenting on the consumption of pornography by children, it is not trying to ban porn or even saying that porn is bad. As Sue says, “We usually perform for adults, but your son’s just a kid. He might not know how relationships actually work.”

It turns out that there are many activities — investing in real-estate, playing contract bridge, listening to rock-and-roll music — that are appropriate for adults, but which you would not want your 10 year old doing unattended. Young brains are still growing and maturing, and children often lack the life experience to put these activities in an appropriate context. This PSA is putting porn in the same category, as an activity that requires context to appreciate without harm.

Can you imagine such an ad running in America? Just think of the backlash from assorted concerned moms of America, who by day loudly proclaim that pornography is ruining America and ask “who will think of the children?”, and never ever search for pegging or cuckold videos late at night. They would be organizing maskless protests and making angry phone calls to their senators if any government was to suggest that porn should even be allow to exist.

There is a fourth thing. It consists of only two words, but they are important: “No judgment.” (Can you imagine a PSA with those words airing in America? Holy cow.) The idea that kids are going to find porn, and that it is better to give them context for what they are seeing rather than punishing them for their curiosity is inconceivable. What kind of parenting is that? How do you build up a culture of vindictiveness if we went around saying “no judgment” to children? What’s next? Dismantling the prison-industrial complex because retaliation is less effective at keeping us safe than rehabilitation? Holding police officers to account for arbitrarily inflicting force on black people instead of rationalizing how the black people in question deserved their brutality for not being compliant/subservient enough? This slope gets real slippery real fast.

I’m not trying to say that this PSA is perfect, or that the associated educational campaign is perfect (there is a lot of “stranger danger” when they talk about grooming) but something is very strange in New Zealand. Maybe it is because they live upside down and all the oxygenated blood rushes to their heads, but I do not know that I have ever seen frank and honest messaging like this coming from a government agency. Maybe things are changing everywhere and I am just out of touch?

There is also a good podcast about the campaign which is worth a listen: Pornography awareness ad reaches millions around the world.