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Rhetorical Qualities of the 1969 Marijuana PSA


Over the years, public service announcements have become a genre in themselves, creating an environment where the focus on warning and prevention warrants significant exaggerations and, at times, even the presence of logical fallacies. A closer look at one of the earlier PSAs will show that a single announcement could contain multiple fallacies due to the misuse of rhetorical devices and the misplacement of priorities (CrashCourse, 2016). By putting an excessive amount of effort into convincing people that marijuana causes significant harm, the American Medical Association (1969) made its PSA especially naïve and easy to ridicule, thus minimizing its rhetorical value and making it entirely unconvincing.

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The general moral that the PSA under analysis attempts at conveying is positive in its nature. However, its delivery ruins the general impression due to the presence of multiple logical fallacies. Namely, the PSA opens with the straw man fallacy, listing the key arguments in favor of marijuana use without subverting them and, instead, representing them as inherently ridiculous (Mometrix Academy, 2018). As a result, the speaker positions himself as superior to the ostensible straw man, leading to an immediate negative response from the target audience.

In addition, the appeal to emotions, specifically, the use of epithets such as “obnoxious” in relation to marijuana makes the speech sound slightly cheap. Afterward, the narrator increases the negative effect of the effort at appealing to the emotions of the audience by stating that marijuana is “hardly a tinker toy for experimenting with drugs” (American Medical Association, 1969). Apart from being an obvious endeavor to convince without substantiated arguments, the specified statement comes across as quite pandering since it suggests that the proponents of marijuana use view it as a “tinker toy” (American Medical Association, 1969). As a result, while conveying an important message about a healthy lifestyle and the need to abstain from drugs, the PSA loses its power and appears to be quite ridiculous.

Afterward, the speaker makes the mistake of using the slippery slope fallacy by creating an exaggerated scenario in which the use of weed supposedly leads to the misuse of heavier drugs: “its use can lead to abnormal behaviors, to psychological dependence, and to abuse of other drugs” (American Medical Association, 1969). Thus, the argument that the narrator attempts at introducing to his target audience is weakened significantly (Mometrix Academy, 2018). In addition, the fact that the author does not substantiate the claims that he introduces makes the PSA take the shape of a large scare tactic instead of an honest attempt at warning the audience.


Finally, in its focus on contrasting the harm of marijuana with the positive effects of healthy behavior, the author makes another crucial mistake. Namely, the narrator uses the fallacies of a false dichotomy and equivocation by claiming that “the human brain, after all, is made for thinking, not fumigating” (American Medical Association, 1969). Suggesting that only two options are available, while also intentionally conflating the notions of fumigation and smoking.

Due to the presence of several logical fallacies in it, the PSA issued by the American Medical Association in 1969 presently produces the exact opposite effect of the intended one. Namely, it detracts from the weight of the argument and devalues the crucial message behind it, namely, that one of being responsible for one’s life choices. Therefore, the PSA at hand can serve as a perfect example of how logical fallacies such as the slippery slope, the false dichotomy, and the appeal to emotions can destroy a positive message.


American Medical Association. (1969). Commercial – American Medical Association – Marijuana PSA (1969). Web.

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CrashCourse. (2016). How to argue – Philosophical reasoning: Crash course philosophy #2. Web.

Mometrix Academy. (2018). Top 10 logical fallacies. Web.

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