In the video, a factory worker in a plaid shirt walks up to a series of large metal plates. He wanders up to one and inspects it, placing his hand on its edge. After a cursory look he moves his hand to another edge of the plate, and slides his palm along it.
Suddenly, he lets out an artificial sounding scream; his hand has been crushed. Blood gushes from his fingers as he clutches at them with his free one. "It's not a joke, this is for real," a woman sings slightly haltingly, like she's thinking up the words as she goes along. And then, a cruel pun: "Your life is in your hands"
This is not a snuff film. This is "Think About This." And as you'll see below, it's pretty gory.
"Think About This" is a video produced in 1999 by ERI Safety Videos. It's a gory, slightly surreal workplace safety video set to a warbling song about safety awareness, a highlight reel of the gruesome consequences of industrial accidents. One by one nameless workers lose life and limb, intercut with video of hearses, mourning families, and the voice of a doleful singer. There are outsized sound effects, like slowed down screams and tellingly cinematic explosions, and a lot of Impact typeface thrown up on screen to underscore the seriousness of the content.
"Think About This" has a small but devoted online following, enough that when I emailed Jennifer Hill, the Senior VP, Sales & Marketing at ERI, she immediately knew what video I was getting in touch about. It's racked up tens of thousands of views on YouTube; it's made an appearance in a lengthy thread about OSHA on the SomethingAwful forums, and been used as a workplace safety "reminder" on Fark.com. Its lyrics have been aggregated by karaoke websites, and one fan even created a "HIP HOP REMIX" of the song:
Based in South Carolina, ERI Safety Videos is, as its name suggests, a safety video company. They've been making videos that range from cautionary true stories to mechanical instructions to bomb threat procedures for several decades. Nowadays, the company's videos run towards the inspirational, or at least the positive, like this safety-themed parody of A Christmas Carol, or this video that compares safety procedures to climbing Everest. (Interestingly, a preference for these coincides with Bush-era OSHA rollbacks.)
In the 90s, Hill says, that wasn't the case. At the time, many of ERI's customers "liked safety training vides with 'shock value' – they wanted to show their employees what could happen if they didn’t follow the safety rules." As such, ERI spent a long time best known "for the High-Impact videos, which recreate accidents and use lots of fake blood."
"Think About This" is just that, par excellence. And while it may appear to be a cohesive safety video, it's actually a meeting opener, a five-minute compilation reel you'd play at the start of a safety meeting as a sort of teaser. In this case it's stitched together clips from several different ERI videos overlaid with moving text and the ghostly song. It was produced in 1999, when ERI had found the meeting openers quite popular and decided to try making one as a music video.
The video sold fairly well (it remains in ERI's catalogue, for $149), and one of ERI's distributors even made the "Think About This" theme song the hold music for their phone system. And for almost any other safety video the story would've ended there, but in 2011 someone put "Think About This" on YouTube.
It's hard to tell exactly when the small fanbase began to grow. Hill says ERI first heard the video was online when they were alerted of a copyright violation in 2012. But even that wasn't the first upload: That video, uploaded in June 2011, contains the description "A Hilarious safety video that used to be on Youtube but was removed." Someone else had gotten there first.
Normally ERI has their videos taken off YouTube, and according to Hill that's what they had planned at first. But they decided to let "Think About This" stay up because, to nobody's surprise, "the majority of the audience watching it on YouTube was not [ERI's] standard customer base."
It's difficult to articulate what's appealing about the video. Some people are probably interested in it purely for the campy gore, or as melodramatic and absurd unintentional comedy."The song/special effects combo seems to have a powerful effect on people," Hill offered. "They either love it or hate it, but they can’t seem to look away once it starts."
Maybe that's because it's difficult to figure out how it works. It's a safety video, meant to scare workers into wearing the right gear and following procedure. Taken as a whole, with all the safety video clips, the text, and the music, "Think About This" makes you feel like safety is functionally impossible, so you better hang on to what safety you can—maybe not such a foreign feeling for someone using the internet in 2015. By bludgeoning whoever's watching it with repetitious, confusing, gory, and often funny scenes, it just causes of a sort of mental surrender.
Sure, fine. I'll think about this.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org