Monday, October 1, 2007

‘Tis The Season To Spread Fear

This morning I was surprised to see one of these ads on CNN. They’re nearly identical to the “wait for marriage to have sex or your life will be ruined” PSAs I wrote about in early September; both ads feature cute little kids, and both creeped me out enormously.

The terrorism ad went like this:
[Child's voice:] Mom?
How long should I wait for you?
If I’m at soccer practice ...
What if something happens?
Will you come get me?
[Announcer:] There’s no reason not to have a plan in case of a terrorist attack.
[Child's voice:] Mom, if you’re not home, should we go to the neighbors’ house?
[Announcer:] And some extremely good reasons why you should.
[Child's voice:] Can you tell me?
[Announcer:] Talk to your family about what you should do in case of an emergency.

Using cute little children and scary words like “terrorist attack” in the same 30 second spot is pretty emotionally manipulative, but that’s also why it’s such an effective fear tool. Using child actors to ask “Mom, what if something happens? How will I find you?” sure tugs on the heartstrings. Add an announcer’s voice reminding us that we need to be prepared for a terrorist attack and I get a visceral “Ohmygod” feeling in the gut.

I also have to wonder why we’re seeing these particular PSAs now. has all sorts of emergency preparedness PSAs; why the terrorism ones? I mean, it’s hurricane season; how about telling families to be prepared for that? Or how about earthquakes. Electricity grid failures. Bridge collapses. Toxic waste spills. Africanized bees, body snatcher invasions, little green men from Mars. Seriously, why did they have to say be prepared for a “terrorist attack” specifically?

This is actually an old campaign that started in 2004, but I think this particular ad is new, as its not listed on's PSA menu.

But regardless, seeing ads telling moms to be prepared for a terrorist attack at the same time the White House is trying desperately to keep funding for the Iraq strikes me as rather fishy.