If you take the Metro frequently in Los Angeles and have gone the distance to follow L.A. Metro on social media, it’s possible that you’ve seen the new Metro PSAs featuring Super Kind, a Japanese speaking superhero who schools a coarse monster named Rude Dude on how to appropriately behave on the train. This involves a magical girl style transformation, a musical number, and, in the case of the clip below, an act of candy suction that verges into the horror genre.
First of all, wow, Los Angeles. Second of all, that’s not Kale. But most significantly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a state-funded PSA with such an entertaining aesthetic. Who is that girl playing the drums? I wish I was as happy as her. Videos from UK record label PC Music, known for their brand of bubbly, possibly satirical commercialism, immediately came to mind. To find out how this even happened, I got in touch with the director of these shorts, web video producer Mike Diva.
“Some people in the metro marketing department saw my stuff and thought I would be good for making their metro manners PSAs a little more fun and exciting” Mike explained to me over the phone. “I love Japanese commercials. They just don’t hold back with their humor and their craziness—that whole sailor moon vibe and futuristic J-Pop stuff.” There was an audition process for the role of Super Kind, but Mike ended up casting his friend, YouTube personality Anna Akana, for the part. Akana’s viral advice videos which include topics like racism in the dating world, as well as makeup tips, have earned her nearly two million channel subscribers.
It was interesting to see Japan as the primary cultural influence here, considering Japan is known for its well-streamlined mass transit stations. “I’ve been to Japan, and it’s definitely way different,” said Mike, comparing it to L.A. The Los Angeles metro is not known for being well streamlined. As a heavy L.A. mass transit user myself, it can often be frustrating when a train is too far away, or a bus runs infrequently or off schedule. Also, let’s be real, a lot of trains and buses smell like pee. And while this pee is the result of larger systemic issues which aren’t all on the Metro department to solve, the quality of these videos did give me pause, wondering what kind of budget these PSAs had. Mike says that his production company is very good at stretching funds. “Let’s just say it was a lot cheaper than you’d think,” he said. And when you take into consideration the dollars necessary to build the new trains Los Angeles sorely needs, even a seemingly large PSA budget seems less significant.
So my only actual problem with these videos is that Super Kind isn’t that kind. In one clip she stops Rude Dude from blocking the aisle with his bike by turning it into confetti, effectively destroying it. I reached out to the L.A. Metro for comment. “The goal is to introduce [passengers] to some of the basic Metro Customer Code of Conduct guidelines in a way that is fun and positive, not punitive,” said Metro communications director Dave Sotero via email. But some of Super Kind’s actions are incredibly punitive. In a PSA about taking up extra seats, Rude Dude uses an extra spot to hold some pineapples, and Super Kind responds by throwing his pineapples off the bus. Who’s to say Rude Dude wouldn’t have moved those Pineapples for another passenger?
While talking to Mike, he insisted with slight frustration that the original clip was much more extreme, with Super Kind obliterating Rude Dude and damaging Metro property in the process. “She would end up doing way more damage than Rude Dude,” explained Mike. “That was supposed to be the joke.” Mike says the mayor’s office swiftly vetoed that joke. And while I walked away from these clips feeling way more sympathetic for Rude Dude, I’m not sure the re-shot PSAs present a clear perspective of who is in the right.
In Super Kind’s defense, it would seem unlikely that Rude Dude would stop his behavior if she had merely wagged her finger at him. Anyone who’s ridden the metro knows that the last thing an unruly passenger wants to do is listen to someone else’s opinion. And it’s worth admitting that the transit behaviors that bother us can be a matter of taste. If Rude Dude had been manspreading or having an unsolicited acoustic guitar jam session for all on the train to hear, I would be much more likely to side with Super Kind. And while I initially interpreted Super Kind as an authoritarian law officer in the vein of Kaijumax, Dave Sotero also assured me that Super Kind is not supposed to be a Metro employee, but rather a J-Pop star who takes matters into her own hands.
Mike, and by extension, his videos, seem reasonably aware that this is less about actually promoting proper train etiquette and instead about trying to make mass transit use hip and popular.
It’s a worthwhile effort, considering the city’s legendary traffic and pollution. “They’re trying to not only educate people about proper metro etiquette but also make the metro seem cooler, because it’s overlooked by people in my age range and under” explained Mike. It’s a good attitude to have, and it would be nice if more municipal services could be this artful. It’s also a good attitude to have because I doubt anyone thinks videos like these are going to stop people from choosing to be obnoxious on public transit. That would require a complete overhaul of American values, our attitudes on mental health, and our economy. As grouchy train passenger, Michal Kamran put it so eloquently on Facebook: “Nothing will stop that one sunflower seed guy.”
Media guru Johnnie Martin discusses all the KaPOW that’s fit to print in the weekly comics column Near Mint. You can find him on Twitter @TopNotchGaymer.
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