HIV/AIDS Campain

Gay
A provocative public service campaign intended to help halt the spread of HIV is drawing attention because of who is delivering the message as well as for the frank nature of what they have to say.
The video, radio and online campaign enlists four celebrities to deliver candid, no-nonsense remarks that link unsafe sex and drug use to the rising rate of infection for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, among gay men. The stars – Whoopi Goldberg, Amanda Peet, Rosie Perez and Susan Sarandon – urge the audience to change their behavior for the better by loving and respecting themselves and each other.
In fact, “Look, listen, love, respect” is the theme of the campaign, which is appearing on two national cable television networks, Here and Logo, and on local cable TV systems owned by companies like Cablevision, Cox Communications and Time Warner.
There are plans to run the commercials on video screens in clubs and bars in cities around the country as well as to produce audio versions of the spots for the national Out Q channel of Sirius Satellite Radio.
The Internet is also a central focus of the campaign, which includes a dedicated Web site, and video clips of the commercials, which can be watched on youtube.com and MySpace.
Although the campaign has a national distribution, it began as a collaboration between two organizations in New York, HIV Forum NYC and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. Financial support for the ads is coming from two other organizations, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, representing the theater community, and Cable Positive, for the cable TV industry.
The campaign offers a twist on the time-honored tactic of celebrity endorsements for causes as well as for commercial purposes, both intended to sprinkle a bit of stardust on the brands or organizations being promoted.
Almost from the days that stars first began to be paid to peddle products, they also lent a hand – free of charge — to raise money for charitable organizations. The list of beneficiaries includes the March of Dimes, the Will Rogers Institute, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
More recently, celebrities have started to promote causes that are less mainstream and sometimes touch on hot-button issues. Among them are abortion rights, fighting global warming, ending poverty and preventing AIDS.
The four stars in the new campaign join other celebrities who have appeared in pro bono campaigns about AIDS and HIV including Bono, Richard Gere, Heidi Klum, Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Taylor.
“Our primary objective is to stimulate dialogue around HIV and gay men’s health,” says Dan Carlson, co-founder of HIV Forum NYC, who developed the campaign with Jay Laudato, executive director of Callen-Lorde, and Colin A. Weil, a writer, director and producer.
“HIV prevention these days is more nuanced from back in the day when it was, ‘Wear a condom, wear a condom, wear a condom,’” Mr. Carlson says.
“Everyone knows condoms prevent HIV, but infection rates have increased since 1999,” he says, adding: “It’s not an issue of education. It’s behavior, more of a commitment to personal health and to each other.”
The idea was that women could best “change the conversation about condom use,” Mr. Carlson says, “that it’s not a barrier or an inhibition or about feeling less, it’s an act of self-love, everyone’s responsibility, an act of respect for each other.”
Why women? “For gay men, we love our female icons,” Mr. Carlson says. “We felt these honest, direct, loving messages would be heard best if told by women we can see as our mothers, best friends, sisters.”
“They can tell us things we may not be ready to hear from each other,” he adds.
Another reason for women to appear in the campaign, Mr. Laudato says, is that “the message would be clouded if there were men” because the target audience may have wondered “Is he straight? Is he gay? Is he hot? Is he not?”
“We wanted people of stature,” Mr. Laudato says, “and frankly, I don’t think we would have gotten men of similar stature” because well-known actors may have been more reluctant “to talk about controversial things” than the actresses are.
To say the four actresses touch on controversial topics in their eight commercials is an understatement.
GayFor instance, in one of the two commercials featuring Ms. Perez, she declares: “Safe sex can be hot sex. I mean, trust me. It just takes a little imagination.”
One of the two spots with Ms. Sarandon begins with her saying: “You’re at a club. You just met. He’s really hot, and you go home together. Now, the moment of truth. Do you talk about HIV?”
In the other commercial, Ms. Sarandon discusses what research shows is a correlation between the growing use of the drug crystal meth (methamphetamine) and the increase in HIV infection rates.
That subject is brought up in other spots, too. Ms. Peet says, “Be a friend, say something” if someone you know is using the drug. Ms. Perez asserts, “You can join the party without losing your head.”
Ms. Goldberg may be the frankest of all. “Come over here, we need to talk,” she says at the start of both her spots. One focuses on drug use: “Do you really think doing crystal meth makes you cool? Meth makes you do dumb stuff like barebacking” – that is, have sex without a condom.
In her other commercial, Ms. Goldberg mocks the idea that barebacking is cool by countering that “fighting back” and “love and respect” are actually cool.
Mr. Weil praises the actresses for agreeing to deliver what he calls “compassionate and caring messages” that, by using women rather than men, are “not clouded by sex per se.”
Gay men are vexed by “self-image uses, self-esteem issues, isolation issues,” Mr. Weil says. “At the end of the day, they’re not taking care of themselves because they feel they’re not worth it.”
So the campaign, along with others from organizations like GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), which carry themes like “HIV stops with me,” is intended to say, “We’re all part of the problem and we’re all part of the solution,” Mr. Weil says.
That approach has generated considerable debate within the gay community, centered on the concept that ads deemed judgmental of behavior can be counterproductive because the target audience tunes out the criticism as nagging, scolding or simplistic.
Some computer users who posted comments about the campaign on a popular blog, Towleroad (towleroad.com), were quite critical.
“Everyone needs to show responsibility in their sexual behavior, not just gay men,” one poster wrote. Another poster made a snide remark about Ms. Peet’s acting abilities.
A third poster wrote: “Selecting four random women to deliver the message feels a lot like Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just say no’ campaign. Frankly, when an old woman tells me not to do something, it just makes me want to do it more.”
Mr. Laudato says he was “horrified” by some of the posts. Mr. Carlson says he was surprised by the tone the complainers took because “from my perspective, they were missing the message.”
“For many years, we’ve been told we’re not valued and our relationships were not valued,” he adds. “A more positive message might be a little difficult to hear, even from people like Susan and Whoopi, who’ve been with us for many years and come to this with a tremendous amount of credibility.”
A second round of commercials is being considered, the three creators of the campaign say, which they hope would be out for the annual series of gay pride events in June.
Mr. Weil says they are “open to a different type of cast” next time, “maybe out gay actors.”
No fair asking a catty question like, “Will they hold the casting call inside a phone kiosk?”
from The New York Times

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