Monday, November 10, 2008


before i get into this, let me show you this:

Okay, if you know me well at all, you know that I obsess over public service announcements. Mostly antidrug PSA's, but generally any spot that is trying to scare you out of doing something. I have been this way as long as I can remember. Growing up, basically two things scared me commercials/trailers for horror movies (until I actually saw my first horror movie in 4th grade, realizing how ridiculous they usually were) and public service announcements. The thing that probably makes me kind of mentally ill, is that old public service announcements STILL scare me. I think that goes with how there is such a synthesis of intent and skill, mixed with anonymous mystery. A horror movie isn't usually concerned with being a good movie, just with getting people into the theater, therefore enough scary stuff is required to put into a 1/2/3 minute trailer. Even when horror movies are a labor of love and meant to be solidly effective, it is rare that the feeling of dread/fear/whatever can be sustained for much of the running time. That's when we end up with lot's of boring padding or ridiculous shit like aerobic sequences (which often are my favorite parts) that undermines the good stuff. You can sense the cash register sound as you get duped into seeing some dumbass movie, and that also takes away from the immersion of scariness. I mean, I love movies like New Years Evil, but I'd be sorta pissed if I paid full price to see it back in '80.
PSA's are different in that they don't need to deal with all the filler and seemingly aren't doing it for the other words, they were out to scare the shit out of you, had the skill to do it, plus nobody knew who was doing it in the first place! With the exception of celebrity appearances (i.e. the notorious Pee Wee Herman anti-crack PSA), the actors are unrecognizable, there are no credits for director/writer/etc and we only have vague organizations to give them any identifying marks. As I grew older I learned more about the Partnership for a Drug Free America, the Ad Council and others, making things a little less foggy, but as a kid, these felt like scare-attacks from nowhere. There you are watching the Wonder Years at age 12 and the fucking Ballerina commercial comes aren't supposed to be scared of this kind of thing at this age, but jesus, that ballerina fucks with you. And you suspect your friends feel the same way, and we all talk about it in the cafeteria the next day.
I'll tell ya, the ballerina was IT for me. I actually had nightmares about it, and I hated it. I don't even know why it scared me except that it's so fucking creepy, and I would experiment with different viewing techniques. As soon as I heard the swell of the orchestra tuning and that twirling figure I would try closing my eyes, counting her spins, looking at the onlookers in the background, probably causing the thing to enter into my consciousness like little else. After it stopped airing (which it did a lot) I felt like I had to find it again to gain some power over the way it haunted me. The need became greater as I got older, helped along by my increased interest in collecting old video footage of just about anything, cartoons, horror movies and tv shows especially. Would I find a tape with the ballerina on it?
As I got less obsessed about it over the years, i have looked back at how weird it all was, especially with talking with Josh C. and Erik H. and others in Marblehead Middle School, talking about this stuff more than we probably should have. A major part of our social process was coming up with lies about various untrue bullshit, trying to convince the others to believe. I think it was Josh who told us that he saw another in the series that 'ballerina' belonged to (the 'track star' and the elusive 'millionare' were the others), which was "the nurse" and it featured a lady banging on some dead guy screaming. We half believed him. Erik (I think) said there was one with a boxer getting knocked out...we let on. I can't believe Josh was fucking right.
Finding the 'ballerina' on youtube was fucking anticlimactic. Watching anything on youtube is nonoptimal for various reasons, but I couldn't resist, especially after it took so long for it to show up there. Even worse: recently I was looking though a backlog of old tapes i hadn't looked at and there was the old gal spinning around in all her glory.

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