As I was writing what I thought would be an objective post in which I would not take sides on whether the ad was an effective or ineffective ad, I found myself admiring the willingness to shake up the status-quo and the use of shock tactics to wake up gay men - and particularly young gay men - out of the complacency that seems to have settled over the community when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
I've seen a lot of the leading gay bloggers write non-committal posts asking readers to express whether they find the ad effective or ineffective. But a few have taken sides.
On the pro side:
- Tokes Osubu of Gay Men of African Descent (GMAD)
- HIV positive blogger extraordinaire Mike Tidmus
- Legendary LGBT and HIV prevention rights advocate and playwright Larry Kramer
- Dan Savage (sorta-pro) "The Scare-Mongering, Diseased-Anus-Mongering HIV Prevention Ad That's Pissing People Off"
Expressing outrage about the ad were:
- The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) which released a joint statement calling for the ad to be withdrawn
- Openly gay NYC councilmember Danny Dromm and the South Asian Lesbian and Gay Association (SALGA) as expressed on this NY1 video
- Rod Townsend at This Is FYF
- Trevor Hoppe at Trevorade
Tonight, though, there is a great opinion piece by POZ Magazine copy editor Trenton Straube which nails exactly why the ad has drawn such divergent reactions as well as why the hunger for a frank discussion of the issues that lead to HIV transmission among gay men in this day and age still do not excuse the use of scare tactics for the sake of it.
From his essay:
Personally, I oppose sugarcoating reality--if the facts are scary, then so be it--and I suspect that most people, especially young men who have sex with men, are oblivious to the accurate statement "It's never just HIV." Let's tell that truth. It's important, especially in light of the bareback pornification and sexualization of, well, most everything nowadays, and in light of the growing believe that HIV is a manageable disease (surely, all the recent news about Truvada as a pre-exposure prophylaxis will convince some folks that high-risk behavior isn't so high risk after all).Read the entire piece here. It's certainly worth it. And my easily impressionable mind is back on the 'no to the NYC DOH ad' column.
However, let's talk about the PSA's tone and presentation. This 30-second horror show is one thunderclap away from parodying those "Gathering Storm" ads that warned about the impeding dangers of marriage equality. Such melodramatic delivery overshadows the important message. I get that the campaign is in line with the city's other fear-based PSAs against smoking, which relish in images of clogged arties, diseased lungs and amputated fingers.
But do we really need to see a mutilated anus in association with HIV and men who have sex with men (MSM)? The ad does more to stigmatize anal sex than people living with HIV. Cigarettes and HIV aren't synonymous and the two shouldn't be treated identically in a campaign. As other online commentators pointed out, smoking, unlike sexuality, isn't part of your intrinsic identity as a person. Sexuality subjects you to discrimination in terms of human rights, religious equality, loving relationships, etc.
- Sean Strub vs. Larry Kramer: Fearful HIV NYC Ad (Petrelis Files)