Let’s look at the history of The Incredible Crash Dummies, and how they are enormously relevant today.
Cars are amazing. Much like the common copier, a car is a normal part of daily life for many people, but something that would be impossible science fiction a couple centuries back. An automobile is a device that an individual personally owns, and allows said individual to turn a trip that would previously take weeks into a handful of hours. Want to transport groceries from the market? Go on a road trip? Steal a couch from your neighbor? A car makes it all possible!
Cars are also rolling murder machines.
Automobiles are terrifying. They are gigantic hunks of plastic and metal that we routinely hurl through our neighborhoods at speeds that could turn a human being into bloody chunks. Statistically, automobiles are one of the leading causes of unintended death and injury in the United States, with 37,595 motor vehicle deaths in 2019. And, while the US has experienced less motor vehicle death since 1999, there has been an alarming trend of that number ticking back up since 2009. Did we lose some driving skill points with the Obama administration? Are people returning to more reckless driving after watching Gerard Butler’s Gamer? Can we blame “self-driving” cars that have demonstrated a Christine-esque bloodlust? The world may never know. What is important is that cars are helpful and an incredibly likely way for you or a loved one to die/be seriously injured.
But maybe it won’t be so bad if you wear a seatbelt. I learned that from some dummies.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a US Federal Agency that is ultimately responsible for vehicle safety standards. Like many American institutions, it is three lobbyists in a trench coat claiming they are working for the public good (and they’re totally old enough to buy beer, too, mister). The NHTSA was founded back when America had a three company monopoly on the very concept of cars, and has often been responsible for legislation that punished companies both foreign and domestic for attempting to gain a foothold that might make Henry Ford cry. Look up some details on the Citroën SM sometime if you’d like to see how the safest car ever™ can apparently be torpedoed by headlights. But, even if their motives are suspect in many situations, people at the NHTSA are firmly in the business of safety, so we have those proud men and women to thank for less cars immediately immolating their passengers. Oh! And seatbelts! The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was practically founded to get seatbelts around your tummy.
Legislation made seatbelts mandatory on all cars produced after 1966. Then Reagan (naturally) dropped ‘em in a fit of deregulation. But they came back shortly thereafter, as the Supreme Court sided with insurance companies that wanted seatbelts in all cars (for altruistic purposes, I’m sure). New York then became the first state to require seatbelts to actually be worn in 1985. From there, other states quickly followed suit, and now New Hampshire is the only lawless hovel in the USA where seatbelts are optional. But as important as laws are, they are only as good as their enforcers. A seatbelt law is great for pulling someone over for the slimmest of reasons, but there were also many cops that, having grown up in a seatbelt-less environment, thought the law literally wasn’t worth enforcing. Seatbelts were and are a greater good for society and vehicle passengers… but they were kinda uncomfortable, and nobody likes being told what to do. It’s impossible to say if it’s bad or not.
Enter the crash test dummies.
In 1986, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began running public service announcements featuring crash test dummies. Where did they come from? Well, in 1869, Mary Ward was killed by a steam-powered car. 60 years later, someone decided to look into that, so Wayne State University of Detroit started seeing dead people as test cadavers in controlled car crashes. Unfortunately, measuring what the heck was going on was practically impossible with the tools available in 1930, so things were rough. But it did work in some fashion, as much of what we know about car design safety and bodies being ejected through windshields comes from this era. Look it up! It’s in The Journal of Trauma! Which is a real thing! There were also animal test subjects for a time, too, because humans are the trashiest animals of all. But at some point in there, people stopped strapping corpses and bears (!) into cars, and the crash test dummy became standard. The dummy was apparently first used in 1949, and technology on assessing exactly how damaged a dummy could be by a crash gradually progressed as the decades passed. And, as the crash test dummy became an iconic part of car crashes, someone had the bright idea to stick those dummies out in front of a camera. Vince and Larry (voiced by Garfield!) were born, and their slapstick hijinks lasted as long as a normal commercial, and they taught everyone “you could learn a lot from a dummy”.
And, while it is hard to measure the success of the Crash Test Dummies campaign, they were apparently effective. The dummies were ubiquitous in the old days of limited television channels/entertainment options. It seems certain that they aired these PSAs in conjunction with family-oriented programing, so if mom, dad, grandma, and Jimmy Jr. were sitting down to watch Head of the Class or Designing Women, the Crash Test Dummies would be a part of the experience. And they were entertaining! If you heard Vince and Larry talking about mundane-but-inevitably-fatal tasks like crossing the street or driving down to the store, you kept your butt in your seat, and watched the carnage unfold. At the time when the official campaign was retired in 1999, seatbelt usage had risen from 21% to 67%. Was this because people had learned a lot from these dummies? Or was it because children loved the toyline?
Because who could say no to this weirdo?
(Bomb Man and Tron Bonne provided for scale)
The Incredible Crash Test Dummies was an action figure line that combined the two things boys like most: vehicles and wanton destruction. Every Crash Test Dummy vehicle was built to be driven, destroyed, and then immediately rebuilt. And these were not Lego-esque construction toys, they were cars with crash-apart windows, crumple zones, and other fun features designed to break (and instantly unbreak). Everything scaled very nicely with other toy lines (if you want to see a GI Joe live through a generally harrowing experience, go nuts), and the actual figures had neat features, too (Vince and Larry can really go to pieces at the drop of a hat). There were even “little buddy” style figures, like the cat, dog, and crash test child that parents demanded be banned. So there’s a collector’s market, too! Hooray! They were never on the same tier as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, but the Incredible Crash Test Dummies must have had enough of a fanbase to sustain three different seasons of toys.
Oh, and a few videogames. They… existed.
Technically, today’s chosen game is The Incredible Crash Test Dummies for the Super Nintendo. This version was ported to the Sega Genesis, Amiga, and other systems that did not have the wherewithal to host Chrono Trigger. There was also a Nintendo Entertainment System version, and that more or less played like a primitive sports title/minigame collection, and it was ported to the portables of the time. What ties these two versions together is that they were all absolutely terrible games. The NESalikes at least consistently reminded you that you were playing with crash test dummies, and practically every event involved some kind of slapstick carnage. The SNESalikes, however, were simply 16-bit mascot platformers (from the people that brought you B.O.B.), and were practically indistinguishable from the rest of the poorly considered dreck of the time. There is the charm point of the dummies losing their limbs as they lose health, but that doesn’t impact the gameplay nearly as much as you would think. Beyond that, there is a P-Balloon-esque powerup that encourages some limited flight-through-inflation… and that’s about it. This could easily be Swift the Tenrec racing against the nefarious Dr. Walrus, because no one would notice the difference if the Incredible Crash Test Dummies license was missing from The Incredible Crash Test Dummies game.
But there is a plot to the SNES version! And that plot is surprisingly germane to today’s point (we’ll get there eventually).
The Incredible Crash Dummies toy line initially featured Vince and Larry, the same dummies from the public service announcements. However, shortly after the toys were initially produced, parents began protesting the toy line, and networks stopped airing the PSAs. The reason? It was assumed that the PSAs were now serving the dual masters of public health and turning a profit. Every ad that told you to buckle your safety belt was inadvertently also informing children they could go buy The Incredible Crash Test Dummies merch down at K B Toys. This was seen as a bad thing by the public at large, so the toy line was made more distinct from the PSA characters. Vince and Larry kept on informing the public of the dangers of hugging windshields, and colorswaps took over as Slick and Spin. From there, Slick and Spin gained Pro-Tek Suits, as they had to combat their new enemies: the Junkbots! And those Junkbots barely looked like Crash Test Dummies! How convenient! This prompted a Saturday Morning Special/VHS Tape that told the (computer generated) tale of how the Crash Test Dummies must stop the nefarious Junkbots from stealing a really kicky vest or something. This same story/conflict became the plot of the Super Nintendo game, and now you too can battle the Junkbots and all their rad playsets and toys. And never shall a Junkbot interact with Vince and Larry, else the safety of Crash Test Dummies implode. In short, whatever initial plans for The Incredible Crash Test Dummies line ever existed were seriously derailed the minute it seemed like the toys might endanger the successful PSA campaign.
And I am just trying to understand a world where a capitalistic campaign to make money off children is derailed and modified for the sake of public safety. Christ, I cannot even imagine that anymore.
You want Angry Ranting Goggle Bob? Sure, let’s do this. I lived through a number of significant events in recent American history. I remember when we were first supposed to hate Iraq, and I remember when we were asked to do that all over again a few years later with a similarly named president. I remember when 9/11 happened, and we were told to “never forget” the deaths of 2,996 people. I remember friggin’ freedom fries. And why do I mention any of these tragedies? Because they became focused, national campaigns demanding compliance. There is not a single person on Earth that ever heard of a law renaming a condiment due to political pressure, but, somehow, for six months, all the local restaurants employed servers that asked if you wanted “Catalina dressing” instead of “French”. Forget the crash test dummies, I have seen ridiculously successful advertising campaigns that benefitted only the US Government my entire life, and the public at large doesn’t even recognize such as propaganda. Or, put another way, next time someone shouts “America is Number One!” go ahead and ask them to name their sources. And, no, “freedom” is not an answer.
But this is not to say the United States of America is terrible! It is simply an affirmation that when the federal government wants something to be the standard for the country, they don’t need to make a law. All they need to do is pump the ubiquitous media with interview after interview about how something is our “enemy” or some ambiguous-but-vital goal is “impossible if we don’t all work together”. We all need to go to the mall right now, or the terrorists win.
Yet, now that there is a public health emergency that is likely to cause us to confirm how many people over a million you need to see dead before you start using a plural, the government cannot get its messaging straight. Killing Middle Eastern people was the only way we were ever going to ever be happy again, but getting a vaccine? Put that in the maybe column. Wear a mask? No, that might offend some customers that think this Applebee’s staff is somehow dirty. Actually close some goddamned stores because the risk of a localized outbreak will have a greater impact on society than Cletus buying his 256th Funko Pop? Never! Our government has never had a problem taking a bold, unwavering stance on the subject of massive, coordinated death, but when it comes to public health, everybody is shrugging and claiming personal choice is important. Nobody was talking about “personal choice” when the local donut shop was being vandalized every week after 9/11, Joe!
And this pisses me off after the last two years: Where are the Crash Test Dummies for COVID? I understand that Lorenzo Music might not be available for dubbing, but can we get a few decent voice actors to voice the… I don’t know… Mask Buddies? Some kind of ad that runs between Hulu reruns that promotes public health in the slightest bit? And not some “we’re all in this together” commercial to get you to go to Starbucks? The original Incredible Crash Test Dummies were a successful PSA and toy line! And videogame! That was awful! But still! You can do this! You can save lives and make a couple of bucks! I know you can do it, America! You have literally done it before!
Listen to this dummy. You could learn a lot from the past.
FGC #620 The Incredible Crash Dummies
- System: There was a full system breakdown during the article, so I will just reiterate that we’re focused on the Super Nintendo version today. Will I look at other ports? Absolutely not.
- Number of players: This really should be two players, as Crash Test Dummies come in pairs. But no dice. Sorry.
- Level Up: Your main offensive ability is jumping on your opponents, ala Super Mario Bros. But! You can also throw a limited-ammo spanner of some kind as a projectile. And it gets better as you defeat more bosses! Or… it is supposed to… or… something… as it mostly just gets “stronger” by flying in loop-de-loops or other bizarre patterns. Like a lot in this game, it is a choice.
- Favorite Boss: It is hard to say how much this was influenced by the already toyetic movie, but it seems like the bosses were exclusively chosen to sell the vehicles offered by the toyline. And I’m okay with that! I have been fighting the Technodrome for years! The final boss is the best, as his morphing truck adapts the whole “build whatever” aspect of the Junkbots canon. Oh, but all the bosses are absolutely terrible to fight, because of horrendous hit detection, so you won’t ever see the final boss anyway.
- Bonus Time: Every boss is immediately followed by a Turbo Tunnel-esque bonus stage wherein you are forced to ram your dummy into a wall with as much speed as possible. For this being the “bonus” of playing an Incredible Crash Test Dummies videogame, you would expect they would maybe put a little effort into parts flying everywhere, or possibly our favorite dummy saying something cute as he is ejected. Nope! Just dumb explosion graphics. Lame.
- Stage End: Every level ends with a spinning “Next Zone” sign, and your dummy rolling into a ball to eject off to parts unknown. That seems weirdly familiar for a 16-bit platformer….
- Goggle Bob Fact: So I made reference to a local donut shop being vandalized during the article. This is seriously in reference to my college days. Immediately after 9/11, the local donut shop was run by a Pakistani dude who actually did have his 24/7 coffee/donut shop vandalized, like, all the time. This led to the situation wherein my friends and I, completely unaware of this, showed up one night at 3 AM for coffee and donuts, because we were, ya know, bored college students. The owner had a bat at the ready when we arrived, because he assumed we were there to rob and/or vandalize the place (admittedly, we did have multiple tall people with a post-Matrix inclination toward trench coats). It was a confusingly tense situation! Mostly because half our party was high as hell, and had a really hard time understanding what was happening! After we explained that we mostly just had the munchies, the guy calmed down, and we all had coffee and donuts and talked about how much it sucks that so many people were so reactively racist all of a sudden. And I want to say that, barring the premiere of the Justice League cartoon/Gamecube (we were nerds), we came back there and hung out with the guy every weekend that semester. After a few months, hostilities seemed to die down, he stopped personally working the night shift, and we went back to dealing with whoever was making minimum wage for corralling geeks on the graveyard shift. But the point is: don’t let anyone tell you the time after 9/11 was a time of “national unity”. It was only a time of national unity for people that didn’t have to protect their businesses and homes with baseball bats.
- Did you know? Yes, actual bears were used as crash test dummies at one point in history. This is inhumane and marginally insane (do you know anyone built like a bear? … I mean… a real bear). But it did mean that, for some short epoch, bear was driving. And how can that be?
- Would I play again: No. This is… No. B.O.B. might get a play first, and that’s horrible.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Legends: Arceus! Completely random that yet another Pokémon game appears on this blog! Maybe a Castlevania will be next! Anyway, please look forward to it!
I love the Crash Test Dummies ads so much.
Using comedy to promote safety was brilliant. Ending up horribly brutally maimed barely phases Vince and Larry since they’re like dummy robots or something, but what happens to the dummies and their vehicles effectively shows just how horrible traffic accidents can be…especially if you don’t buckle your seatbelt. Educating people on safety can be fun, it doesn’t have to be boring or depressing!
We could definitely use a “Crash Dummies of COVID-19” but I have my doubts that what worked on ’80s television would work as well in today’s Internet connected world. At least, not on the TV set; social media would definitely be the route to go.