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Why I'm still mad
at MADD

Why I'm still mad
at MADD

Jerome_cleary

A casting call credited to Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada proposed equating same-sex kissing with drunk driving--and incest. MADD insists it wasn't their doing. What is the truth?

I wrote an article titled "Why I'm Mad at MADD" for The Los Angeles Independent just before Memorial Day weekend. It went up online on their Web site (laindependent.com) and was on newsstands the following week, in their June 8 issue. There was an overwhelming response since I included info on whom to contact at MADD Canada and at the Screen Actors Guild. I received many e-mails and I did additional research, which revealed a lot. Many Web sites and blogs picked up my article also, and there was a lot of debate online and in e-mails.

Was it a hoax, a rumor, or the truth?

Here's the original article and an update below:

It's hard to understand that it is 2006 and that our world's awareness at times can seem enlightened and at other times shockingly offensive and archaic.

I stumbled across a casting notice for a Public Service Announcement for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers Canada. This is what I read:

"Casting Notice: GUYS WILLING TO KISS ANOTHER GUY, 18 to 21, all ethnicities but leaning towards Caucasian. Everyone must be willing to kiss another guy passionately for about 10 seconds. Everyone will have to make out at the callbacks. They should seem like very regular guys. They should seem very hetero, so it is unexpected to see the guys making out. BASIC SCENARIO: Three friends completely stoned out of their minds sit in a car vegging out. The two guys in the front seat begin making out.

"After a few moments they pull away from each other, and one says: 'Wait a minute...we're not gay.' A superimposed image comes up on the screen that says: 'DRUGS SLOW DOWN YOUR REACTION TIME.' Then another superimposed image comes up on the screen: 'IF YOU'RE HIGH YOU CAN'T DRIVE.' Then cut to the guy in the back seat who says: 'Not that there's anything wrong with that...and like, aren't you guys brothers?' "

End of PSA.

So let me get this straight, no pun intended: MADD has hired an ad agency to come up with a cutting-edge new PSA to stop people from drinking or doing drugs and driving. And, coincidentally, making out with someone of the same sex now infers that homosexuality is just as bad as being drunk or high on drugs and being in a car driving? And also that this leads to incest too?

There is so much wrong in this description of the PSA that MADD is going to film. I am trying to imagine that this was reworked several times, and out of the meeting of the minds this is the best PSA scenario everyone could come up with? This PSA is supposedly going to air only in Canada.

I also wonder: Does MADD think this is an effective PSA? If MADD does think this is a brilliant idea and a great PSA against drunk and drugged driving, then something has seriously happened to this organization's thought processes.

Would anyone watching this PSA think, Oh, my God, I better not get high on drugs or drunk anymore or I will become a faggot, and that is far worse then getting high or drunk and driving a car and possibly killing someone?

It never ceases to amaze me that just when I think that we are moving upwards, something happens that drags us all back down.

The PSA for MADD was put out as a casting notice to a well-known commercial casting director. The casting office put out the casting notice to agents; agents submitted their clients. Auditions were done along with callbacks. The PSA was filmed and shot in Los Angeles.

Update to this article: I have received permission from the people below to reprint their e-mails to me. Here is an e-mail I received from a very passionate talent agent, Ann McCright:

"I too was shocked to see such a casting notice go out. I am a licensed Talent Agent who also was involved in the grass roots of starting MADD during the '80s.

"The world can be assured this is not the message nor the issue why MADD was started. My own reason was that my 17-year-old son was hit by a drunk driver in 1982, resulting in a paralyzed right arm and many injuries that required surgeries over the next 6 years. And August 22, 2004, his wife was killed on a beautiful Sunday morning at 7 a.m. Leaving two 9-year-old beautiful twin daughters for him to raise. Our relationship with drunk drivers started 25 years ago and will affect this family the rest of our lives. Before you start to feel sorry for our family, let me assure you there are too many CRASHES that are happening to the same family over and over and over again (within the last 25 years). That's where this message should be. Unfortunately, the message of wrongful drinking and driving has been obscured by this so-called PSA test (as per Ad Agency).

"MADD has nothing to do with gays or straight guys wanting a job so badly that they are willing to get on a commercial and kiss. After all, it's only acting?!!! Right? MADD has nothing to do with someone at an Ad Agency making wrong choices. (Same thing a drunk does when making a decision to drive drunk.) My Momma always reminded me that two wrongs don't make a right. This is where we are.

"I have messages from MADD Headquarters, which I immediately contacted, and the answer from the Canadian Ad Agency. But, it still doesn't ring true, because the Casting Director did hold the casting and said the Ad Agency changed it during the callbacks. We all want the correct and truthful answer, even if it is for different reasons.

"I always will fight to keep MADD's pure message out in the world: DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE--it kills innocent people, it tears up families for life, the drunk driver will go to jail for Second-Degree Murder (15 to life). That is, if you don't kill yourself.

"If you drink and drive--get immediate help--you are an alcoholic. I've been around you for 25 years and I finally get it. I'm tired of telling you not to drink and drive--let's face facts--you can't be trusted to make good decisions. You are an alcoholic and need help. Stay off the streets where my loved ones are!

"That is the real PSA!

"Thanks for listening, Ann McCright"

I called Ann McCright last week and she told me that in her call to the casting office it was confirmed that the commercial was cast and filmed and it was a done deal. My research revealed the same information: The PSA was real and cast and filmed in Los Angeles.

Here's an e-mail from Gene Dante from Boston, now in New York City (genedante.com). Gene got this e-mail from Sofia Melios at MADD on June 15:

"Thank you for your support on this. MADD Canada has also written a letter they will send to the editor. I also wanted you to see this letter of apology from Saatchi & Saatchi, the ad agency that came up with this idea as a way to internally test what this idea would look like. They say it was never meant for the public to view. It is pasted below."

Then came the e-mail written to MADD Canada's CEO, Andy Murie, on behalf of the ad agency, Saatchi Canada:

"On behalf of Saatchi Canada I would like to apologize for the press you received in The L.A. Independent. The facts of the story were wrong. The spot was not being created to go to air and you had no awareness of the creation of this spot under the name MADD.

"Saatchi & Saatchi was working on their own in an attempt to test areas that were more relevant to a younger target group. One of the areas was the spot described in the article. Sometimes it is better to see concepts shot in a rough form in order to see if there is any merit in their application.

"When it comes to advertising to a younger target, pushing the boundaries is what we have to try to do, but it should never be at the expense of an individual or any group.

"It is unfortunate that news of this spot got out since the likelihood of it advancing was improbable.

"I encourage our teams to always be thoughtful of all of our clients in a proactive fashion. It is regrettable that on this occasion our actions had a negative effect. Again, I would like to stress how truly sorry we are for that.

"All action has been terminated on this spot. Should you have any comments or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me at the above number.

"Sincerely, Brett Channer CEO/Executive Creative Director"

So I had called the CEO of the ad agency above, and he was not available for a week, I was told. I guess he needed some time off from this scandal. So I spoke to his assistant. She told me that she did not want to speak on the record and that she would speak off the record. I said that was fine. But when I asked her simple questions, she responded, "No comment." Which is really confusing since she asked to speak off the record and I was not going to print her responses.

I called the CEO of MADD, and he was not available either. Maybe he is taking a respite with the CEO of the ad agency as the scandal grows. I got a call back from a PR person who, when asked simple follow-up questions, responded: "I will have to get back to you on that." I then received a phone call telling me that the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi would be able to call me that day. But after a week there were no calls from the CEO and no calls back from the PR person either. I guess they are all still trying to get their responses and story right.

I called SAG in Los Angeles and in New York City, and they said they are still doing research on this and would be getting back to me. Didn't happen. Nor did the director who filmed this PSA return my messages.

As many people know, over the past two decades many TV and film productions have moved from Los Angeles and other U.S. locations to Canada since it's less expensive to film there. If this was truly just a "test" that an ad agency wanted to do, then why would it not be simpler to film it with an inexpensive mini-DV camera a block down the street in Toronto? Why cast and film in Los Angeles?

And it's really hard to believe that Saatchi & Saatchi would not have to get any budgetary approval from their client to cast and film a PSA in Los Angeles. An award-winning, well-known commercial director from Los Angeles was hired and filmed this so-called little ad agency secret "test."

From my viewpoint, this stinks all around. At any job it's common knowledge that when your client gets hit with a problem or scandal or something negative goes down, the first thing you do is "take the hit" for your client. In this example, the ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, responded with an apology letter to their client, MADD Canada, confirming that MADD knew nothing about it. This would seem to be impossible, since a lot of money was spent to hire the L.A. casting director, the production company, and the director for the L.A. shoot. With the kind of budget and money involved, it would seem impossible to not have obtained budget approval by Saatchi & Saatchi's client, MADD Canada.

Are we still supposed to believe this was just a "test"? Puh-leeze!

Judge for yourself.

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