That Shocking Australian “Stay in School” PSA Is Probably a Fake

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 31 2014 4:00 PM

That Shocking Australian “Stay in School” PSA Is Probably a Fake

Australia has a long-held reputation as a country of beach bums. The national stereotype is one of sun-kissed youth with tousled hair, surfboards, and endless hours to goof around under the sun. And a new, viral public service announcement, “Set Yourself Free,” does nothing to contradict this image—at least until the bodies start piling up.

The commercial, released this week, shows two teenaged couples playing hooky for a day, shedding their school uniforms and climbing into a Volkswagen van. They drive to a pristine beach to wrestle in the waves while drinking beer. Life is good. And then one of the girls steps on a landmine—as one regularly does in Australia—and the breathy indie music is truncated by a sharp explosion and shower of gore. “This is what happens when you slack off,” the ad warns after her friends have been dispatched in a similar fashion. “Stay in school.”

Advertisement

As deterrents for skipping class go, severed body parts and a lingering mushroom cloud are pretty extreme. Could this gruesome video possibly be a real PSA? The end of the commercial claims that it’s “brought to you by” Learn for Life Foundation of Western Australia, described on the website as “a non-profit organisation promoting the importance of education for people of all ages.” If that sounds a little vague, well, so is the rest of the Learn for Life Foundation: The website features stock images of smiling people, and no contacts, explanations, or further details beyond the single video and a link to its directorial team, Henry & Aaron.  

Henry Inglis and Aaron McCann are a filmmaking duo from Perth with a history of producing unsettling advertisements. They also happen to be comedians, if you didn’t get that “Set Yourself Free” was meant to be funny. McCann characterized their style as “violent with a WTF factor” when we spoke yesterday: “Two comedians can’t really do ‘normal’ and ‘safe’,” he said. He was cagey as to whether or not "Set Yourself Free" is an elaborate prank. The commercial was always intended to be educational, he said, though “in terms of the Foundation, we’d like to leave it open to interpretation. [It’s] hard to keep intrigue in the internet age.” It’s probably a good bet to assume that Inglis and McCann invented the Foundation for the sake of the joke. 

Even if it wasn’t commissioned by a legitimate nonprofit, “Set Yourself Free” joins a small but growing canon of public service announcements from Down Under that are steeped in gallows humor. “Dumb Ways to Die”—a safety campaign designed for Metro Trains in Melbourne—won major industry awards, and recently passed 70 million views on YouTube. (It also spawned a strange gaming app where you can swat hungry piranhas as they try to eat a character’s private parts). For Australians, it seems, black comedy is the key to getting a message out—and, judging from the viral success of “Dumb Ways to Die” and “Set Yourself Free,” there may be something to that approach.

Lance Richardson is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter, or visit his website.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The First Case of Ebola in America Has Been Diagnosed in Dallas

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Mad About Modi


Why the controversial Indian prime minister drew 19,000 cheering fans to Madison Square Garden.


Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Don’t Panic! The U.S. Already Stops Ebola and Similar Diseases From Spreading. Here’s How.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.