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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Risky behaviors and media double standard?

The death from lung cancer of journalist Peter Jennings has produced a window of opportunity. Though Jennings quit smoking twenty years ago, the damage to his body had apparently already been done. CNN seized the moment to run smoking prevention reports. Turns out the best way to avoid lung cancer is to never take up smoking.

Recently, the media has highlighted other high-risk behaviors, such as dusting. Turns out the best way not to die of computer keyboard cleaner is to never deliberately suck it in.

In 2003, 14,000 Americans died of AIDS. Of all new infections, 70% are male. Maybe the best way for a young man to avoid HIV is to refrain from anal sex with another male?

As a society, we've done pretty well across the years in proscribing particularly risky behaviours. Why do we forbid Joe Camel billboards in front of elementary schools? Because it's disturbing to see a cigarette dangling from the lips of an 11 year-old girl, her future going up in a whisp of smoke. Why do we get out the word about the dangers of sniffing glue or other household products? Because it's heart-breaking trying to wake your kid up for school, only to find him dead next to an empty can of aeresol.

So how should we respond when it comes to risky homosexual behavior? As concerned parents, do we still have the courage to say to our boys: "It's not healthy. It may kill you. You don't want to go there." Such a stance taken publicly may even call down the wrath of the PC police at your neighborhood school, but whoever said parenting is easy? It's far easier to bite our collective tongue, to titter along with the latest gay recruitment sitcom. As for the big news outlets? Less disruptive to go with the pro-gay script than connect the dots on this public health issue. And don't count on the major blogs to break ranks. Seen their pro-gay ads lately?

It's hard not to notice the relationship between what's OK for the media to say and current trends in tort law. Big Tobacco? Got sued, and how. Now Phillip-Morris and friends extol the dangers of youth smoking, and so do journalists. McDonalds? Allegedly, they're making our kids fat, so a lawsuit later, they've added lots of salads. Not surprisingly, the award winning documentary Super-Size Me piggy-backed on news of the lawsuit. Who knows? Maybe a hungry attorney will sue broadcasters for airing something like Boy Meets Boy, thereby recruiting someone's son into the gay lifestyle, resulting in his eventual death by AIDS. It will be interesting to see how the media spins that story.


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