I recall seeing a commercial on a local television station, not long after I moved to Hong Kong, in which Jackie Chan sat in a grade school classroom surrounded by children. “Wild birds are not pets,” he kindly admonished. In the midst of a bird flu scare, government bodies urged citizens to refrain from handling birds and their feces. (As if we needed encouragement to avoid the latter.) “Of course,” laughed Jackie Chan as he picked up an origami creation, “paper cranes are excluded.” The children giggled.
Runner-up on my list of favorite public service announcements featured Jackie and Arnold Schwarzenegger on hot-rod motorcycles, racing down the highway, exclaiming, “Piracy is a crime. When you make illegal copies of movies, we all lose.” They pop a wheelie and zoom off into the sunset.
And then my television jack broke and I spent the next four years watching DVDs and broadband cable channels.
Fast-forward to the August 2012 Olympics. I had the television jack repaired so that I could access local TV stations, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time watching the Games. I find local advertising—whether printed or televised—a bit juvenile and unrefined. Where American commercials are determined to entertain and amuse with the highest quality filmmaking, Hong Kong commercials employ a cartoonish figure or dancing actor singing a cheesy song about the product. A teenager in a garage with a video camera and computer could generate an equally stimulating ad.
But what shocked me was the overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of Public Service Announcements on local television. Furthermore, the range of topics and issues addressed in these ads was wide and varied. Two weeks of sporadic Olympics-watching—and dutiful note taking—and this is the list I ended up with:
- Bicycle safety: “Safe cycling is always most important.”
- Food safety: “Be careful of food temperatures; do not leave food sitting out, as it may spoil.”
- Something about a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education
- “Be prepared before taking part in water activities” (check the weather forecast, drink plenty of water, wear safety gear).
- Communication with your employer is important in case of a typhoon; communicate before such a situation takes place, to prevent disputes
- “Be careful who you authorize to make investments on your behalf.”
- “We must take proper care of trees so we can live in harmony with the trees.”
- Beware of heatstroke.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
- “Window Inspection Scheme”—helps to insure the safety of windows (so you don’t fall out the window, and the window doesn’t fall on an unsuspecting person below).
- “China, our Motherland, and Hong Kong are one family under the Basic Law”; China’s military protects us.
- “No matter how busy you are, try to exercise every day.”
- “Breastfeeding: the first step to lifelong health.”
- “Verify suspicious emails” to avoid getting scammed.
- In case of fire, leave your flat and take with you a mobile phone (to call for help), a towel (to cover your nose and mouth) and your door keys (so you can return afterwards).
- “Mutual respect, communication and understanding leads to social harmony” (emphasizes getting along with people of different races, cultures and backgrounds).
- “Adopt reasonable employment terms.” (Treat employees properly.)
- “Stand firm. Knock Drugs Out.”
- “Vote for a clean election. Vote for a better Hong Kong.”
- Please pay attention to tropical cyclone warnings.
- “Support the Indoor Air Quality Programme for Better Living.”
- “Check data usage; enjoy mobile internet.”
- There’s a new lift and elevator ordinance, which will help with “strengthening regulatory control and enhancing public safety.”
- Let’s move toward a “barrier-free world and equality for all” (regarding persons with disabilities).
- [Two testimonies from people who lost weight.] “Keep a healthy weight. If they can do it, so can you!”
- “Hong Kong is our home. Cast your vote.”
- “Quit now. Call the smoking cessation hotline.”
- Something about government subsidy for replacing old buses and trucks
- Always arrange travel insurance before your trip.
- “If you drink, don’t drive.”
- “Sleep and wake early, eat vegetables and drink water, start your exercise journey, don’t worry and be happy, make this a healthier city.”
- Something about government outbound travel service
- “Join hands to maintain the cleanliness of public swimming pools.”
- Energy saving begins with us.
- If trapped in a lift: stay calm. “Stand still, crouch down, sit down, stay calm.”
- “Safety first. Don’t carry out unauthorized building works.”
- Something about the transport subsidy scheme
- “Invest carefully. Signing means responsibility.”
- Enhance building efficiency.
- Construction industry council. Join tunneling work.
- Contact the Communications Authority if you have problems with internet broadband or television content.
- “Be cautious when purchasing columbarium niches” (a place to store your ashes).
What does this mean? What is the significance of the fact that over fifty-percent of television ads consists of PSAs? Does the government consider members of the general public to be idiots and dunces, unable to think for themselves? Will a cheesy ad actually influence a demanding and ill-mannered boss to begin treating her employees with respect and understanding by “adopting reasonable employment terms”? In a culture that honors the family and reveres the wisdom of parents and grandparents, the government is certainly stepping into this role by throwing plenty of common-sense teachings at us. (After all, aren’t the concepts of eating plenty of vegetables and drinking enough water tenets to be taught in the home?) And why are the government agencies and public organizations being so bossy anyway? Do I really need a reminder to refrain from handling bird droppings?
Well, I need to wrap this up and get to bed early, so I can wake early to eat a healthy breakfast. Don’t worry—I’ll keep my mobile phone and apartment keys nearby, in case of fire.