Believe it or not, the anti-drug sentiment and the attention given to keeping kids off the stuff was a lot more intense ten years ago than it is even today. While it's tough to imagine that we've got less gray-gummed junk shooters and cackling stoners nowadays, there's no denying that the powers up above felt that this was a much larger concern back then. Whenever I find a video with shows that were taped-off-television from the early 90s with the commercials intact, I'm amazed with the frequency of the 'Just Say No' public service announcements. In truth, you couldn't watch a single episode of your favorite cartoon without being reminded of pot's inner evils at least six times. Last September I did an article about some of these PSAs, (click here) but those were just the tip of the smoke-stained iceberg. To reiterate something I mentioned in that article: I find these PSAs to be generally commendable, but almost completely ineffective. They donít exactly make an addict immediately seek residential addiction treatment after watching them.
My main problem with 'em is pretty simple - the spots rarely reflected any kind of real life situation. In most cases, drug dealers are personified as bogeymen, and their wares likened to the devil's apple. If every person who ever offered me a drug had a gargoyle head and a vocal interest in killing my family, I'd have the kind of toxicology report that'd make scientologists swoon. Of course, it doesn't work that way. These PSAs typically overstated, even romanticized the evils of drugs to the point where even the most sheltered Swiss white boy wasn't gonna take them seriously. I guess the people behind these things finally realized that, and where do you turn when all else fails? The friggin' Ninja Turtles. Hey, if Donatello can't convince you that 'drug dealers are dorks,' you're probably too jaded to get through your awkward years without overdosing anyway.
So here's the setup: our green heroes speak to a group of classroom kiddies via satellite. To show the children how to deal with drug dealers, they cut away to simulated drug-pushing scenes while asking the classroom how they would handle the situation. It all sounds so simple, but whomever scripted this tripe had a pretty distorted view on how most kids ended up smoking their first joint. Let's see how the action unfolded...
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Little Joey, probably a third grader, is shown innocently piling textbooks into his locker. Joey's a good kid - he don't smoke no crack. Still, even the most virtuous of souls have to face the perils of peer pressure at some point in their lives. Joey is confronted by the school's resident bad seed, Billy the Pothead. It's easy to recognize Billy as the villain right off the bat, because he's wearing the evil leather jacket. Joey, meanwhile, soaks up the holy light with his Kevin Arnold brand of plaid flannel. The battle lines were drawn, but we're still not sure what terrible misdeeds are hiding up Billy's cowhide sleeve.
"Hey, Joey, I've got something you've just gotta try!"
Yes, Billy breaks out a handful of joints right in the middle of the school halls. Wow, talk about realism. If the only time kids had to turn down a drug offer was when the principle was three feet away, today's youth would never get into Cheech and Chong movies. Billy obviously forgot to read the manual when he got his first pound of retail weed - never casually wave around your wares on school grounds. Though I've gotta admit, his stupidity is greatly offset by the graciousness of actually pre-rolling the marijuana for his cliental. There must be some stiff competition between the dealers in that school.
Though Joey knows better, he holds out hope and asks Billy what those things are. His gut tells him that they're bad drugs he shouldn't smoke, but a small part of him wants to believe that Billy's just got some Lucky Strikes candy cigarettes. No such luck, evidenced by Billy's reaction: "It's pot! You know... marrrajuaaana." Okay, I understand that elementary school isn't riddled with particularly experienced dealers, but this is still a little too much. I kept waiting for them to paint crude devil horns over Billy's forehead. Despite all that, I don't think this charmer has the kind of instincts needed to be a successful drug dealer. There's gotta be someone who looks a little more up to the task of smoking pot than this Joey kid. I mean, how old is he? Seven? Eight? I know some kids start young, but this guy probably wouldn't strike a match, much less spark a joint. The school must have some serious underpopulation issues if this is the kid Billy chooses to peddle ganja towards.
At this point, the PSA loses all sense of reality. Billy, in typical drug dealer fashion, begins pantomiming a chicken to illustrate what a little sissy boy Joey's being. Now I'm no authority on urban culture, nor have I hit the kind of dire straights people who deal with dealers on a daily basis usually fall into. But, I've known my fair share of 'em, and I don't think I've ever seen a single drug dealer imitate a chicken when I didn't want to try their stuff. Billy's definitely part of a new breed of pressure salesmen.
Now that the battle lines are drawn, we find ourselves amidst a troop of ugly children in a classroom. They've just watched Joey face a tough situation - should he or shouldn't he? Fortunately, the Ninja Turtles are there to guide everyone towards the light...
The Turtles pop up on the screen and start talking about the dangers of drugs. It's pretty surreal to see, and ironically, the PSA would be fairly entertaining to watch while high. This whole thing might've been a colossal inside joke meant for the entertainment of young stoners. Look at the facts - the kids are sitting there having a conversation with animated mutant reptiles who wear eyemasks and eat tons of pizza. If you watch this with the volume turned down, it'd seem like the kind of thing that'd advocate drug use. After all, look at how the Turtles have to live. They're heroes, yes, but they're heroes blacklisted from society. They've gotta live down in the dirty sewers with some militant rat who forces them to practice martial arts kicks on brick walls. If these guys aren't prime candidates for casual tokers, I don't know who is. Still, they love children and don't want them to mess up their lives by smoking pot.
Hey kid, try some Ritalin. It's legal.
The Turtles and the children discuss and debate how Joey should respond. One of the kids says he should find a teacher, while Michaelangelo suggests that he should 'find a pizza.' Mikey was always good for alleviating the emotional weight of trying moments. Finally, everyone agrees that Joey should stop thinking so far in the future, and deal with the now. Their solution is simplistically brilliant: Joey should just 'get out of there!'
Now folks, this PSA is famous for reasons that go above and beyond a mere anti-drug sentiment. Anyone who's remembered the commercial while reading this probably knows exactly what I'm talking about. Somehow, in the midst of all this 'Just Say No' hooplah and three-year-old drug dealers, we're handed what's now considered the definitive comeback line of the century. Forget the lessons learned, forget the marijuana, forget the Turtles. This is what it's all about. Remember how Evil Billy was calling Good Joey a chicken? Well, nobody likes being called a chicken. Not me, not you, not Joey, not Marty McFly, not anyone. But how do you get past the infamous 'chicken insult' without giving into temptation and proving your courage by doing something stupid? Simple. You just need a great comeback zinger. Friends and compatriots - I think Joey has just mastered that fine art. Here's his response:
I'M NOT A CHICKEN, YOU'RE A TURKEY.
I'M NOT A CHICKEN, YOU'RE A TURKEY!
I'M NOT A CHICKEN... YOU'RE A TURKEY!!!
That's right. "I'm not a chicken, you're a turkey." The line that defined a generation. The comeback that's saved millions from peril. These are words that hold little substance on their own, but come together to form one hell of a showstopping quip. Billy backs off immediately following this, obviously stunned into submission by Joey's artful command of the English language. Plus, he's now faced with two awful truths. Not only is Joey not a chicken, but Billy himself is a turkey! Why oh why couldn't I have come up with something that phonetically perfect when I was a kid? I would've never had to eat rubber cement after that terrible dare in first grade. Joey's gone from zero to hero with a scant seven words, impressing and influencing the entire damn universe to believe in the powers of good now and forever more.
FRIENDS, WE ARE NOT CHICKENS. THEY ARE TURKEYS.
The Turtles end things off with their usual 'Cowabunga!', but the line seems pretty substandard after Joey's holy offering. Donatello reminds us that drug dealers are dorks, and that we shouldn't even talk to them. It's an admirable thing to say, but the lesson is lost in a sea of excitement because Joey taught us how to deal with being called a chicken. I still can't get over it. 'Turkey.' It's so obvious...how did we all miss that for all these years? So many regretful occurrences could've been easily avoided had we just heard this verbal assassination earlier in our lives. Oh yeah, and don't smoke pot. Not unless you want to be a you-know-what. All in all, the commercial was a success. Turtle power overcame Turkey power, and Joey can live his life free of the mental duress that comes along with doing drugs. This is probably the most important thing you'll ever read, by the way. Just so you know.