Posted by: Paul | 09/01/2009

A Gory Warning Will Stick

Should the makers of this “don’t text while driving” video have toned down the violence? That’s what some critics contend.

“I don’t think you need to show the car crash,” W. Kip Viscusi, a professor at Vanderbilt University who has studied risk for decades, told the New York Times. He’s referring to the fact that you see not only the bloody after-effects of the crash, but bodies flying around during the crash itself. “The shock aspect ultimately may obscure the texting risk message,” he added.

I doubt it. As the film-makers note, young people themselves who screened early cuts of the video recommended that they amp up the violence. Why? Because, like it or not, it helps make a lasting impression.

I remember seeing anti-drug films when I was in junior high in the late 1970s. They weren’t remotely gory, but I remember distinctly two disturbing examples that the narrator mentioned in one film about the more extreme narcotics out there (brace yourself): 1) one person so high that he couldn’t feel any pain pulled out all of his teeth with pliers, and 2) one woman was so completely looped that she, well, cooked her baby.

I don’t remember anything else about the films, but 30 years later, I can certainly remember that. (And that was just from mere words. If the film-makers had dramatized those examples, we probably would have passed out.) Whether these gory images were true or just stories meant to scare is beside the point. The point is, they obviously sunk deep into my memory and affected my attitude toward illegal drugs.

True, I was hardly someone predisposed toward drug use. But some people in the intended audience for that film surely were. And who’s to say they weren’t dissuaded in part by the film? And if they were, you can thank the writer who included those examples.

The same dynamic applies today. I find it hard to believe some lives won’t be saved by the texting-while-driving video. Yes, some teenagers will still text while behind the wheel after they see it. But if they do, you can’t say they weren’t warned — as clearly as possible.

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