Are Australians dumb? That was the question a friend from England asked me recently when he was staying here for a month in the summer. Immediately I went on the attack with some retort of that being a bit rich coming from a soap dodger.
However he persisted and on reflection he had a point. During his stay we were flicking between the cricket and tennis on TV and he made an observation about the nature of our advertisements on TV. He actually referred to them as scare campaigns for dumb because the only thing they were advertising was danger.
In the space of an afternoon recovery session where the imprints on the couch we were making could be fossilized in years to come we observed the following ads on TV: Beware of Bush Fires; don’t leave your kids unattended near water; don’t smoke; don’t drink and drive your car; don’t speed in your car; don’t drive when fatigued; don’t do something at work that your boss wouldn’t do, there is nothing healthy about a tan; don’t leave food out for fear of food poisoning and most importantly don’t miss the start of the new season of My Kitchen Rules.
That list doesn’t include signs and ads I have seen before or since: don’t waste water; don’t carry a knife; don’t drink in public; and no ball games in the local pool.
That’s a lot of warnings telling us things we shouldn’t do. As my friend queried, do most people not already know not to do these things? The fact we as a society have to be warned about all the things that could go wrong is patronising and childish.
TV is not where it stops. The fact we need signs on trains, trams and buses to tell us, not to smoke, not to put your feet on seats, not to abuse other passengers, not to swear, and my favourite, not to graffiti, is a pretty poor reflection on what Australia has become. Do we really think the kids with a posca or spray paint are going to see the sign with a cross through a spray can, stop and say to there mates “Mate better not do our tags here, lucky we saw the sign.”
The populations of the western world for more than 40 years feared the threat of communism. We wouldn’t want a government telling us absolutely everything that we must do in society or how much milk we are allowed on Tuesdays. The fact that police in Victoria have a right to arrest you based a suspicion of drunkenness suggests that many of these fears of state control have unconsciously been accepted.
Its ironic that in a bid to have democracy we need government advertisements to tell people how much democracy they can actually have.
The fear of litigation from the public for everything is arguably the cause for many of these warnings. However I am not sure which boffin at the government thought that we better put an ad out about food poisoning risks in case some backyard barbecue conglomerate launches a class action against us for not telling them to make sure they cook their chicken all the way through.
Other countries around the world have less rules and regulations and when we travel there, we love them for it. Surely in Australia, we could drop a few of these more ridiculous warnings and let people take responsibility for themselves.
At least drop the obvious ads from TV, it is embarrassing that this is what international visitors are thinking of us when they visit. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get back to the pool my son has been in there without me for the past five minutes.