This Is Your Brain on PSAs

At some point when no one was looking -- though it was probably in the hazy '70s -- attention deficit disorder went from clinical condition to cognitive norm. Cultural critics and behavioral scientists say Americans' inability to focus on anything for more than a few seconds began with Sesame Street's rapid cuts, abbreviated sequences, and dizzying colors. The final brain rewiring may be blamed on video games, movies (now the domain of the editor), and of course MTV. But there has been a beneficiary of this trend: Public service announcements, those homely homilies to communitarian values that briefly and anonymously visit our TV screens late at night, are positioned as the ideal millennial art form.

"Bombard Me With the Message" resurrects 100 of these minute-or-less melodramas, and they offer plenty of what every American craves: wisdom -- or terror -- in a nutshell. PSA styles vary radically, from hokey-timely (a tacky Suicide Prevention Center spot), to concentrated flash (Film Arts Foundation's festival ad), to comic-provocative (Don't Be a Dick's reinvention of Jesse Helms as a talking penis). Then there's the downright weird, viz. gospel singer Vicki Winans' 1950s touting of a "Get Involved" program from the National Council of Negro Women. The sponsor? Aunt Jemima pancakes!

Some of these spots cry out for context; others, like PETA's ever-alarming fur show bloodbaths, are as effective in isolation as any good art. "Bombard Me With the Message" screens Saturday at 8 p.m. at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (at Ninth Street), S.F. Admission is $6-8; call 626-5416.

-- Gary Morris

 
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