The controversial anti-smoking PSA -- Taking a page from the ''South Park'' play-book, the new ad from The American Cancer Society shocks

By A.J. Jacobs
Updated March 26, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Advertisement

It’s official: Tasteless humor is king. Having already conquered sitcoms (see South Park‘s barf-a-thons) and movies (anything by the Farrelly brothers), gag-worthy gags have spread to the unlikeliest of places: public service announcements.

Witness ”Cancer Cash,” a controversial new antismoking PSA from the American Cancer Society. Buy enough cigarettes, the darkly satirical spot promises, and you’ll earn these fabulous gifts: an oxygen mask, a chemotherapy discount, or a coffin! ”Four thousand coupons gets you this beautiful lung ventilator with matching tracheal tube!” boasts the gung ho voice-over as a bikini-clad model lounges next to the life-support gadget.

We’ve come a long way (baby) from Yul Brynner’s posthumous 1986 scare tactics. And it seems not everyone’s happy about it. Writer-director Jeff Goldsmith says a pack of nets — ABC and HGTV, for example — won’t be airing the provocative PSA. ”Several of them said they prefer warm and fuzzy stuff that wasn’t offensive,” Goldsmith says.

”Cancer Cash,” which debuted Feb. 19, did get the nod from CBS, UPN, and Comedy Central (and will be on the Internet at http://www.unlikely.com). ”It’s a hilarious PSA,” says Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox. ”We look for PSAs that are relevant to our audience and have a lighthearted or funny approach. This fits both bills.”

”I saw it as something that would appeal to teenagers,” agrees the American Cancer Society’s Charles Green. ”It’s definitely cutting edge for [us]…. I think controversy is good.” Any questions?

Comments