Segerstrom: Stop for trains and other good ideas

My brother often calls me when he’s on long road trips. Given that he lives about three hours from the nearest city, I get these calls more often than you might expect. On a trip to the big city last week, he called me and described something that made him question his hearing and the assumption of evolutionary progress. A public service announcement had aired multiple times on his drive informing listeners not to park their cars on railroad tracks.

The fact that air time was purchased, a voice actor hired and a committee convened to disseminate such a reminder means a lot of things, but a few stood out:

  1. Enough people have been injured or died from getting hit by a train because they had parked their car on the tracks that it was considered a priority message to get out to the public.
  2. The message was framed as a reminder as if the information in it was not self-evident and vehicle operators are in real danger of forgetting the fact that train tracks are not a safe place to park their car.
  3. Somebody, or somebodies, decided that the ad budget for this region would best be spent on reminding people of the danger of parking one’s car on train tracks. As if this they could think of no graver dangers facing our public and society.

While the danger of getting hit by trains is real, it should come as a surprise to no one. Consider this video from Operation Lifesaver, an organization dedicated to preventing injuries and fatalities caused by trains, and try and keep in mind this is not a parody but an actual ad paid for by an organization that gets more than a million dollars a year in grants.

The examples used in this video prove the point that this PSA is sharing knowledge that could hardly be less obvious. The assumption that people don’t understand that standing or parking on railroad tracks sure seems like a damning sign that Mike Judd’s “Idiocracy” is already upon us.

I mean, this guy is our president. 

Did you know Donald Trump went on WWE?

Personally, I don’t have that ugly a view of our society. I assume that most people who get hit by trains probably knew they were doing something dangerous and were either suicidal or made bad split-second decisions to try and risk a last minute crossing. However, I do think there are a lot of public service announcements we could be making.

Maybe we could start by keeping it in the train industry. Here’s a script idea for a different train-related PSA:

“Hello, this is a soothing generic voice alerting you to the danger of living, working or just plain being near train tracks. Rail cars traveling through your community and are often carrying extremely explosive crude oil. In the case of a derailment of one of these trains, you are considered to be in immediate danger if you are within one mile of the tracks. Another common side-effect associated with these trains is the pollution of local water supplies when they spill.”

Here’s another PSA campaign for one of the most serious public health epidemics facing our nation:

“Regularly consuming fast food may be hazardous to your health. Common side effects include diabetes, heart disease, obesity and in more cases than we are comfortable admitting, death. You will also likely experience bloating, gas or diarrhea. Fast foods are also primarily sourced from factory farms that rely on poisonous pesticides and should be avoided if at all possible.

Also, sorry about all those ads targeting children in low-income and minority communities. All the little plastic toys in our meals will never make up for health risks they take when eating our food.

We regret to inform you that these unhealthy options are also the cheapest calories available because of federal subsidies to producers and the labor practices of the industry, which ensure most of their employees remain in a constant state of poverty.

And finally, here’s one about very expensive free speech:

“We interrupt you from your regularly scheduled programming to let you know that corporations have the same rights as individuals. There should be no limit to their ability to freely speak by pouring boatloads of cash into political campaigns.

Also, this is a friendly reminder that we don’t want to see our corporations fail. That’s why we subsidize their businesses with low tax rates and offer them bailouts of taxpayer money in case they decide to gamble with our life savings. Because, after all, when a few corporate executives amass great wealth the general population may someday enjoy the golden showers of trickle-down economics.”

All of these PSAs are about important issues in which, rather than warn or protect us, the government enables the corporations behind these industries to put us in danger.

According to a 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office, the federal government spends nearly a billion dollars a year on advertisements and public relations, with the Department of Defense accounting for about 60 percent.

So, please remember, don’t linger on train tracks and don’t expect the government to be on your side. Their loyalty is too expensive for most of us.

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Carl Segerstrom

Carl Segerstrom