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How the Government Connects through Pop Culture: From Comics to Memes

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“Astronaut Baby.” Joseph Galbo, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Sept. 3, 2016.

From falling furniture to forest fires, the U.S. government works daily to get out information to consumers and citizens on the best ways to be safe and prepared. In a society with overwhelming amounts of media, however, how do you get information on these topics to the people who need it most? You make it go viral.

Government agencies have been working for decades to bring information to consumers through standard venues such as press releases, newspapers, radio and television stories and public service announcements (PSAs). They have also been working for decades to bring information to people through pop culture. Did you know that many government agencies have published comic books?

In the 1960s the U.S. Department of Agriculture published their comic book about their character Smokey Bear. Smokey famously warned us, “Remember–only you can prevent forest fires!” Agencies have also used comic books to relay information about government programs and initiatives. Here, the Army also uses a comic book to provide information about their medical services.

The True Story of Smokey Bear, no. 1, 1969, 3rd printing.    
The Provider. v.1, no. 1, 199?.











In a recent addition to the genre, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created their own online comic, Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, in which the main character learns an important lesson about always being prepared–whether it’s for storms or, you know, the zombie apocalypse.

Detail from Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011.

In addition to their own creations, government agencies have teamed up with well-known superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Spider-Man to get out important messages. Here the Teen Titans warn against drugs as a part of the President’s Drug Awareness Campaign, and Spider-Man teams up with the Fantastic Four to warn kids about the dangers of alcohol as a part of campaign by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The New Teen Titans, no. 2, 1983.
Detail from back cover, The New Teen Titans, no. 2, 1983.











Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four in Hard Choices, 2008.
Detail from back cover, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four in Hard Choices, 2008.











Among those agencies that have published comics in the past is the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). It is CPSC’s job to keep the public safe from the risks of various consumer products. In the past they have published comics about the perils of poison and the virtues of fire safety. In Sprocket Man, the title character teaches us about bicycle safety.

Sprocket Man, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2004.
Detail from Sprocket Man, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2004.











While comic books are enjoying a renaissance period of popularity right now, the largest market for pop culture these days is the internet. And the CPSC knows it. In 2016 CPSC began creating memes, funny images that are passed around the internet, posting them to popular social media sites such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. The altered stock photos have goofy images and important messages. Most importantly they have that quirky quality that does so well on social media, making those important messages of safety go viral.

“ATV Safety – Ted Dinosaur With Feathers.” Joseph Galbo, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Aug. 11, 2017.
“Saint Patrick’s Day – Joy.” Joseph Galbo, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Mar. 17, 2017.











Earlier this year, CPSC contacted the Library to see if we would be interested in collecting these memes. This collection demonstrates such a great effort by the government to reach the public through new communication methods that we jumped at the chance to preserve it. Some of those memes are now available through the Library’s website, so take a look!

Do you have a favorite government PSA and how did it reach you? Tell us more in the comments! And visit us in the Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room to explore more of these comics and memes.

Read More:

“How a Government Agency’s Offbeat Twitter Memes Landed in the Library of Congress.” Rolling Stone, Oct. 10, 2019.

“Holy Social Marketing, Uncle Sam!: Government Issued Comics.” University of Iowa Libraries, accessed Dec. 4, 2019.

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