Dumb ways to die, smart ways to kill (time)

"Dumb Ways to Die" is a phenomenon as both YouTube video and smartphone game. Could it make the leap to television?

Virginia Heffernan is the national correspondent for Yahoo! News, covering culture and politics from a digital perspective. She wrote extensively on Internet culture during her eight years as a staff writer for The New York Times, and she has also worked at Harper’s, the New Yorker and Slate. Her book, “Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet,” is forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.

Don't donate both kidneys. Don't swallow superglue. Don't take your helmet off in outer space.

These and other useful summer-safety tips are all-too-familiar to kids and their parents for whom the season's soundtrack is the earworm "Dumb Ways to Die," set to infinite repeat. "Dumb Ways to Die" is the cheerful Australian indie single that doubles as a train-safety campaign jingle. As of last month, it is also a game for iPhone and Android that lets you save the little Aussie Lima beans in the song's video from various dumb hazards: castrating piranhas, stale benzos, drug dealers with clubs.

Sound inappropriate for children? It's not. "Dumb Ways to Die" originated as a McCann-Erickson campaign to enliven the standard train-safety PSA. Its last verse tells about minding the gap, not following a balloon onto the train track and not circumnavigating the gates that keeps cars off tracks when trains are coming. Making this stunty tempt-fate stuff sound as moronic as poking a wasps' nest or selling your organs on the Internet has proven to be an ingenious idea. Kids and adults alike loved the ad--first Down Under and then everywhere else--and it has pushed train safety into minds that probably hadn't considered it since before the succinct British-y fun of "mind the gap" turned to t-shirt kitsch. As of today, the video is nearing 55 million views on YouTube.

Dying in a dumb way-- accidental but still quasi-suicidal, because you should know better--is a good thing to make silly. Elevator surfing in dorms kills people; auto-erotic asphyxiation kills people; drunk boating kills people. And yet every minute of every day these things strike us as larky good ideas--or at least as interesting mischief. By reminding us that they're fatal but also just mortifyingly dumb, the campaign is a winner.

The game's good too. It demands a little dexterity, and uses the full haptic range of a touchscreen phone. You tap, rub and shake your device, all while on the clock. You save the little bean dudes from death by toaster, death by psycho killer and death by slippery vomit. It's satisfying, though not necessarily educational.

In the meantime, no one seems prepared to let "Dumb Ways to Die" die. Like Angry Birds, this game has supplied imaginations with a set of genderless, raceless super-characters with some glee and chutzpah lacked by blanker pre-digital predecessors like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse. While the game is nowhere near as engrossing as the peerless Angry Birds---still unmatched in its category--the beans are good fodder. I'd like to see them on a kids' show about biology, in fact. Why do we need oxygen? Two kidneys? What does electricity do to the human heart?

Making actual programming is a long-standing fantasy of copywriters and designers. It’s usually a bust. Anyone remember the horrid sitcom based on the Geico cavemen? So it's satisfying to see the old Madison Avenue firm of McCann nail a real and durable and globally-legible pop story with "Dumb Ways to Die." Maybe it's the start of something good--or maybe not. If the transition to a bigger screen fails, it wouldn’t be the dumbest way for the campaign to die.

  • Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC
    Valeant CEO 'disappointed' in Allergan poison pill: CNBC

    (Reuters) - The chief executive officer of Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which made a $47 billion unsolicited offer for competitor Allergan Inc on Tuesday, said during an interview on CNBC that he was "disappointed" with Allergan's so-called poison pill. Allergan on Tuesday night said its board of directors had adopted a one-year stockholder rights plan to give it more time to consider takeover proposals. The Valeant offer was made with Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund, which built up a stake in the company. ...

  • Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split
    Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion, OKs seven-for-one stock split

    Apple Inc has approved another $30 billion in share buybacks till the end of 2015 and authorized a rarely seen seven-for-one stock split, addressing calls to share more of its cash hoard while broadening the stock's appeal to individual investors. On Wednesday, Apple reported sales of 43.7 million iPhones in the quarter ended March, far outpacing the roughly 38 million that Wall Street had predicted. Whether Apple can again produce a revolutionary new product remains the central question in investors' and Silicon Valley executives' minds, as the smartphone market matures and rivals like Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Google Inc take chunks out of its mobile-device market share. Many hope that the next iPhone, which sources have said will sport a larger screen with new display technology, will provide a timely lift to the company's bottom line come September, when Apple usually introduces the latest version of its core product.

  • Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC
    Buffett says abstained from voting on Coca-Cola's compensation plan: CNBC

    (Reuters) - Warren Buffett, chairman of conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway , said on Wednesday he thinks Coca-Cola's controversial equity compensation plan was excessive, but that Berkshire Hathaway abstained in the shareholders vote. Earlier on Wednesday, Coca-Cola said 83 percent of shareholders approved the plan. Critics, most notably activist investor David Winters, said the plan would dilute the holdings of current shareholders too much. As of December 31, Berkshire owned 400 million shares of the company, just over 9 percent of the shares outstanding.

  • Netflix plans to raise prices as U.S. streaming subscribers grow

    By Lisa Richwine LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Video streaming service Netflix Inc said it intends to raise the monthly subscription price for new customers by $1 or $2 a month to help the company buy more movies and TV shows and improve service for its 48 million global subscribers. Investors welcomed the announcement by Netflix, which had suffered from a consumer exodus and stock plunge after it announced an unpopular price increase in July 2011. Chief Executive Reed Hastings said Netflix had improved its selection of TV shows and movies and added original series like critically acclaimed Kevin Spacey thriller "House of Cards." With added revenue from higher prices, "we will be able to license much more content and deliver it in very high quality video," Hastings said on a webcast. Netflix has "room to raise prices," FBN Securities analyst Shebly Seyrafi said, because "they're still seeing a lot of demand" for the service.

  • U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows
    U.S., euro zone activity up; China decline slows

    By Rodrigo Campos and Jonathan Cable NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. manufacturing sector expanded in April and the euro zone private sector started the second quarter on its strongest footing since 2011, while the pace of decline in Chinese factory activity slowed, surveys showed on Wednesday. Financial data firm Markit said its preliminary or "flash" U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index dipped to 55.4 in April from 55.5 in March. Economists polled by Reuters expected a reading of 56.0. Earlier on Wednesday, data showed China's HSBC/Markit flash PMI for April rose to 48.3 from March's final reading of 48.0, but was still below the 50 line separating expansion from contraction.

  • Teck Resources to cut five percent of its workforce as profit drops
    Teck Resources to cut five percent of its workforce as profit drops

    (Reuters) - Diversified Canadian miner Teck Resources Ltd said it would cut about 600 jobs, or 5 percent of its global workforce, after a sharp fall in earnings and revenue in the first quarter. Teck's net profit fell 78.4 percent to C$69 million ($62.62 million), or 12 Canadian cents per share, in the three months to March 31, from C$319 million, or 55 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier, mainly due to weak coal and copper prices. However, Teck said the outlook for zinc had brightened and it would restart its Pend Oreille zinc mine in Washington state. Teck said it would continue to delay the reopening of its Quintette coal mine in British Columbia, which was expected to produce 3-4 million metric tons of steelmaking coal annually, until market conditions improve.

  • Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture
    Ahead of earnings, Caterpillar dealer data paints mixed picture

    (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc released unaudited dealer sales data on Wednesday that showed a deepening deterioration in global demand for its mining equipment but a continued, albeit modest, rebound in sales of construction equipment as well as reciprocating and turbine engines. The world's largest maker of construction and mining equipment said global dealer sales of its yellow earth-moving machines fell 12 percent year-over-year in March, after falling 8 percent in both January and February. Equipment demand from mining customers was especially weak, Caterpillar said, with global dealer sales of those high-margin products tumbling 46 percent in March after falling 37 percent in both January and February. The downturn in demand for mining equipment was especially dramatic in the Asia-Pacific region, where dealer sales slumped 65 percent in March after falling 55 percent in February and 53 percent in January.

  • Ford to name Fields as CEO soon, replacing Mulally: source
    Ford to name Fields as CEO soon, replacing Mulally: source

    By Ben Klayman DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co will soon name Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields as successor to Chief Executive Alan Mulally, a person familiar with the plans said on Monday. Mulally, the 68-year-old executive credited with reviving Ford's fortunes since taking its helm in 2006, will step down before the end of the year, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing the company's plans. Fields, 53, was named COO in December 2012 and has been seen as Mulally's successor. Bloomberg earlier reported that Ford may make an announcement as early as May 1.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...