An anti-smoking commercial made two years ago in Australia is now being shown (with a different narrator but the same text) in New York State, where it has caused a controversy. Here's the original ad:
A Rensselaer County legislator wants an investigation of the making of the ad, and its removal from local airwaves, apparently due to concern over how the little boy was induced to cry. He seems to believe that the commercial makers actually stranded a child without his mother in a train station to get the desired effect. The state department of health insists that it was filmed without causing real distress for the boy. The legislator, Martin Reid, worries that the kid was too young to feign that distress, but the politician may have underestimated the little thespian. Then again, maybe not, since the Australian producers have admitted, in the face of a controversy in their own country, that the boy's tears were real despite his mommy's presence just out of camera range. But is that all there is to this story? Do all the ad's critics object exclusively to the perceived emotional abuse of the boy, or do they object to the objective of the producers' emotional manipulation? There are plenty of commercials that show small children and even babies crying. Why is this one so objectionable? I don't think it's because people reject its anti-smoking message. More likely they resent the emotional impact the ad has on them. If they respond emphatically to the boy's fictional plight, they probably feel manipulated themselves, whether they smoke or not. While most propaganda in this country comes garbed in metaphorical velvet gloves, this ad seems to strike like a mailed fist to remind people of their susceptibility to manipulation by the media. Ironically, in this case people object because they believe that the media has shown them something real, not fake. If only they were so sensitive to media manipulation on a more regular basis. But here the sense of being manipulated is so strong that some people want to suppress the ad. Maybe, however, keeping it in circulation would remind people of how much every other ad is out to manipulate them into buying something, donating money, voting for someone, etc. If the ad could have such an educational effect, it would do a public service beyond its original purpose.