Police Send Negative Messages About Australians

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Posted by Cynic | Posted in Alcohol, Australia, Police | Posted on 06-01-2011

Tags: , , ,

The Victoria police and Victoria Roads really know how to send some negative messages. Looking at their billboard ads, Australia, or at least Victoria and Melbourne, has some horrible problems, including drinking and driving. It really seems like people just don’t know how to behave properly. It’s not like other places don’t have problems with impaired driving, but the problems here just seem much more exacerbated.

Take for example some Victoria Roads public service ad billboards like these two:

3000 Police.
No warning. No escape.

3000 Police No Warning No Escape

One million drivers will be breath-tested before New Year.

One Million Drivers TestedThe second one seems basically informative. The message is well phrased and informative. It lets people know that the police will be out in force to breath-test drivers and check for impaired drivers. That’s a good thing. It lets me know that the police are out there to help keep the roads safe for me to drive on. It reassures me that during the holiday season, I don’t need to worry about whether or not I’m going to make it to my destination in one piece. It’s a positive message and treats the reader with some respect. It doesn’t assume that the reader is drinking and driving and it doesn’t assume that the reader is a low-life or criminal.

The first, however, is an entirely different story.

The first public service ad is a blatant threat with the assumption that the reader is a low-life or criminal. There’s no attempt to inform the reader at all. It’s entirely an appeal to force and fear. (See ad baculum and ad metum.) That says a lot though. It says a great deal about the police in Victoria, and it says a lot about the people of Victoria, or at least they way the police of Victoria perceive the people of Victoria.

To me, as a non-Australian, the first billboard sends a few messages to me:

  1. Australians are bad behaved
  2. Australians drink and drive regularly
  3. Australians have no respect for law or order
  4. Australians are basically criminals
  5. Blah blah blah.

Now, let’s be clear about what I just said. “The first billboards sends a few messages to me.” And those are the messages that the ad billboard sends. Why else would Victoria Roads and the police resort to threats and intimidation? Hell, the graffiti on it reinforces those messages. The graffiti seems to indicate that the negative view of Victorians by the police and Victoria Roads is fully justified. After all, who defaces public service ad billboards? Decent law-abiding people? No. Thugs do.

Breaking down the first billboard, there are a few elements that combine to form a clear message.

3000 POLICE

In itself, this is really a neutral statement, but in context, it’s clearly about these guys being out to get YOU.

NO WARNING

You only need a warning when something bad is about to happen. You don’t warn people about good things. The context is clear. Something bad is going to happen to YOU.

NO ESCAPE

This is the most insidious part of the ad. It makes the assumption that you will be caught for drinking and driving, and you will not be able to get away. YOU will be arrested. Thrown in jail.

Is this the kind of message that you want to be bombarded with? Because this billboard is all over Victoria, and there are always plenty more just like it with the same basic message:

You are a criminal, and we’re going to catch you and throw your ass in jail.

The second billboard is fine. It sends a positive message. And the first billboard could have been like that:

3000 Police for the Holidays:
* Reducing Drink Driving.
* Keeping Your Roads Safe.

(“Drinking and driving” is called “drink driving” in Australia.)

Wouldn’t that be nicer to look at? Wouldn’t that send a much better message for those of us that don’t drink and drive?

Yes, it’s wordier and could be reworked some. But with a little Photoshop magic, have a quick look here:

3000 Police with positive messageIt *IS* possible to have public service ads and *NOT* be a total douche. It is possible to send a positive message to people.

Now, the “Don’t risk it” text is really out of character there, and again, assumes that the reader is a basic thug. But that’s the core tag-line and basic mindset here. Sigh…

The truth is that the vast majority of people are basically good. They don’t get all pissed up, drive around, and kill people. It’s a very small number of people that cause problems.

Targeting the majority as though they are part of the minority is simply ass-backwards. It’s like being screamed at, “YOU ARE FUCKING GUILTY AND WE WILL FUCKING GET YOU!” Well, no I’m not and no you won’t.

I mention this not because it’s a single irritating incident. It’s prevalent throughout Melbourne. Grocery stores have warnings on shelves about shoplifting. Billboards and signs around the city scream at you that you are a criminal and that you will be caught and imprisoned. The messages cover:

  • Drinking and driving (drink driving)
  • Shoplifting and theft (shopstealing)
  • Knives and violence
  • Drugs
  • etc.

The majority of ads make the assumption that the reader is involved in them.

It shows a deep distrust of the people and a deep disrespect for the people.

How can anyone from outside of Australia possibly come away with a positive impression of the place if this is the way Australians view and treat themselves?

  • One of the best anti-shoplifting signs I have ever seen was a hand written one that said “free bracelets for shoplifters” and had a pair of real handcuffs hanging on the wall right next to it. When I remarked to the shop owner that I liked his sense of humor, he smiled and said to me “All my customers get good service and free gifts, including the ones that won’t pay.”

    • Cynic

      I’ve seen that sign before. It’s nice to have a bit of humor spun into the message. It makes things just a bit nicer. Being accused all the time is discomforting.

  • Australian

    Thank christ you are not Australian.. humourless and completely incapable of understanding the point behind the billboards. We do have a problem with drink driving and people do need to fear the consequences of being caught, so that they bloody stop doing it.

    • Far too many of these “public service announcements” are just outright nasty. They’re accusatory and show utter contempt for everyone. There’s no humour in them at all. The example above is a direct threat. Threats aren’t funny.

      It’s not just TAC either. A quick look up in a tram, bus or train and voila! More ads that pretty much accuse the reader of being a criminal and that they’re going to get caught.

      There’s a difference between communicating a message and being an asshole about it. PSAs here in Victoria go out of their way to be as douchey as possible.