A press release that wafted into my e-mailbox one recent morning commenced thusly: "When young children need medicine it isn't always easy to get them to take it, especially when they're feeling sick and cranky." Given that it arrived minutes after I'd endured a dark night of the soul with my kid, during which he wiggled and writhed his way through a seven-hour game of Guess Which Orifice Will Spew Next, I didn't feel that the video it teased, "Giving Medicine to Children," would offer much enlightenment. Besides, I had more immediate concerns, like the application of soothing liniments and the immolation of soiled bedclothes.
What struck me as interesting was the video's producer: the Food and Drug Administration. I'd been laboring under the assumption that the FDA rarely tasks itself with the production of smiley/inform-y web videos. It's much too busy ruining my appetite, and thus impinging on my civil liberties, by forcing manufacturers of Marshmallow Peeps to display nutritional information on their packaging in 26-point font.
But I digress. As it turns out, the FDA is a regular Tyler Perry, producing - or maybe I should say underproducing - a veritable cornucopia of web video. The clips do everything from warn against the dangers of awesomeness-enhancing decorative contact lenses to rail against the efficacy of no-prescription-no-problem! STD balms.
For individuals inclined to implant their own pacemakers or lance boils on a crowded subway platform, the FDA clips are a moonbeam on a dark night, a canny mix of information and insight delivered with refreshing clarity. For the rest of us, the clips are yet another example of why bureaucratic monoliths should outsource video creation to some teenage kid with an iMac. While I realize the FDA can't risk confounding or offending anyone who might happen upon materials such as these, it has to do more than recite a few bland how-tos, add some arrows or blinking graphics, and call it an afternoon.
Take "Giving Medicine to Children," the clip hyped in the press release, as an example. It kicks off with an FDA doctor (a dad, he's quick to note) stating the obvious: that administering medicine to an ailing child is like asking a feral puma to wipe its paws before entering the gazebo. That said, the doc offers a few strategies, all of which have dawned upon any parent with a degree of cognitive sentience: explain what the medicine is for, offer a popsicle or cold drink to numb the taste buds, mix medications with food if the label gives a thumbs-up, etc. "A smile can be contagious," he adds, much like the rotavirus that just liquefied the contents of your son's colon.
All the while, a few spare guitar notes chime in the background and stick-figure animations dance an explanatory tango in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. The animations are adorable: the child and parent illustrate one point (that children should have a say in where they receive their medicine) by setting up a makeshift bedroom Bedouin tent. See? It's just that easy. Your kid will be inhaling the Fun Flintstone Morphine Munchables in no time at all.
Hey, the FDA is a brand, sort of. But while the organization can justify the existence of these videos from a public-safety/preventing-stupid-people-from-performing-their-own-splenectomies perspective, it diminishes itself in the process. For an entity with such an astounding concentration of intelligence and expertise under its roof, the FDA has to come off better in its self-produced clips than a folksy neighborhood quack. Aim higher, guys.