Eric Leven

Scare Tactics, How Dare You, You're Wrong and That's Not Going to Work

Filed By Eric Leven | March 29, 2008 1:59 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: psa, safe sex, sex ed

One of the wonderful things about working freelance is you get sporadic time off throughout the year. What was going to be a long weekend out on the West Coast snowboarding in Mammoth during gay ski week has turned out to be an extended stay in Los Angeles where I have nothing better to do than keep producing the ideas that have been rolling around in my head.

Two years ago I made a somewhat jarring, somewhat controversial (although I had no intention of it being so) advertisement that deals with second guessing the choices of your sex life when you find yourself at the STD/HIV clinic awaiting the results of your next test. The ad was both well-received as well as criticized for its level of "fear campaigning."

In the writing, producing and directing of the ad I never once sat down and said to myself, "Ok. How can I scare people?!" Never the case. Not once. I took an experience as a modern, sexually active, sexually positive gay male and translated it to film with the hopes of encouraging others to slow down, think before they act and take their sex lives seriously and responsibly.

"Don't let this be your second date" is more or less the tag line for the piece and that's simply all I meant. Know what you're doing comfortably and confidently and be in control of your sex life before you wind up in a testing chair uncertain of a test result which will set a new direction upon your life. If "fear" was a part of my being honest, then what can I do?

It's a situation I've been through, and it was scary as hell and I'm not going to tip-toe around that issue. I needed that feeling to encourage myself to learn from the past to be healthier in the future. If you want to call that a scare tactic or fear campaigning- so be it. It's simply a catalog from my honest gay life.

Now, with the power of YouTube and online viral videoing, I don't have to ask permission of anyone to make a certain ad, I don't have to go through the bureaucracies of distribution to air my piece, I don't have to use straight people or straight tactics to get at the core issues of gay life and the gay lifestyle, and I certainly don't intend on doing so.

So here I am. In Los Angeles about to begin production on my next ad and in pitching the idea to friends, activists, filmmakers and gay folk of all different ages and cultures I have received wonderful, positive and supportive encouragement as well as the dismissive "you don't know what you're talking about," "that's a scare tactic," "you're wrong," "Why bother?" and the always fist-clenching, but totally expected eye rolling.

The truth of the matter is - I'm just going to push on. I love gay men and I love gay sex. I love being gay and I love having sex. Never will it be an intention of mine to scare gay men out of having sex. I want gay men to have sex. I want gay men to enjoy sex and I want gay men to know that sex can exist in its most hottest and passionate forms when you feel as though you know what you're doing and are in control of what you're doing.

It will always be an intention to be as honest and forthright as possible and if fear comes into play while I try to translate certain realities of mine and maybe other's gay experience then all I can say is.... So be it.


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I wouldn't be so concerned about any scare tactics here, it's the unintended fear factor I'd worry about. While depicting all the concerns running through this hypothetical guy's mind, it creates the image of getting tested as a horrifying experience and might discourage folks from getting tested. I mean, didn't they have alternatives to a blood draw two years ago? I got my first test around then and it was a swab over my gums.

Then there's the difficult issue of how to balance between humanizing people with HIV and treating HIV seriously. I don't think you totally missed the mark there, but still, it worries me to see comments like the one by everything17

i'm hiv positive and this ad makes me feel worse about my status.

But like dsakladatgnudotorg suggests, this might make an excellent second date if the idea was to get tested with a new partner before becoming sexual (I've done that before). In fact, I quite like the idea of making testing feel easy and unintimidating, then institutionalizing it as a standard dating practice.

Anyway, good luck with your next ad.

Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines Tobi was: is the message here that people shouldn't get tested?

I appreciate your honesty in the situation, and if it were an artistic take on HIV, it'd be great. But the scariness of the ad seemed to revolve around the act of getting tested, not the decisions the boy was making before since we don't know what they were.

I still liked the ad a lot. I was in Lyon last week and I went to the traveling Keith Haring exhibition there, and there was one painting that stood out, a man with a big penis and the head of a tank with three dead men in front of him. It was from the late 80's.

It had a big impact on me, and I'm still looking for a pic of it online to do a post on that exhibition. I have an understanding of what Haring was trying to express, and to me, growing up in a sex-negative culture and a post-AIDS epidemic ("post" as in after the start of the epidemic and some interpretation of it, it's definitely not over) era and getting that "sodomy = death" message from various corners, the hopelessness, the feeling like there's nothing to be done to prevent pleasure from killing me, the distance from others (both physically and in the "It's my decision, dude. No, seriously, I said I wouldn't bareback. Stop asking. No. Do I have to leave?").

It feels like an absurd process sometimes since there's no risk-free activity - even a hand job can have some risk, you know, what if there's a paper cut on my finger that I didn't notice and some precum gets in there, what if he cums on my chest and there was a pimple that just burst....

Anyway, before this comment gets too long, that's why I liked the ad, especially the fact that the boy was alone there at the clinic, because those decisions that we make are alone and the consequences are for us alone and STD's separate people and make me feel alone, even though my few experiences getting tested have been in crowded clinics with harried nurses and doctors.

I'm looking forward to the next one and good luck, Eric.

You seem to focus a lot on your intentions in this blog entry, but there's always a space between what you intend as a speaker, artist, or polemicist and what the audience is going to take from your work.

Getting AID's should be something that is on everyones mind when they go out and participate in risky behaviors. As the epidemic in Africa should prove to pretty much anyone, AIDS is not just a gay disease.

From some of the statistics that I have seen, in this country AIDs is growing in the urban black community among heterosexual men and women due to the lack of education about the disease.

The ridiculous right may point their fingers and pronounce their tripe all they want, but AID's is no respecter of sexuality.

Of course, the one segment where AID's has not been as big a risk is among lesbians, as long as we stay away from guys.

Gives more meaning to the phrase, "I would rather fight than switch".

I remember when Michael Crawford first posted your PSA. I wrote him immediately and asked who had made this brilliant video.

It's not fear-mongering when it's true. Too many of us DO end up with a 2nd date at the STD clinic - only sadly since HIV tests don't really work that fast, usually there have been a few other 1st dates in between.

Keep up the good work, Eric. I'll be cheering you on. That's some of the best HIV prevention work since the old days when there were actually posters in the streets.

today, in many urban communities, HIV is epidemic. (and that isn't restricted to gay, black, or hispanic communities) i think we all have to ask ourselves why this is happening. the virus is not airborne. the reality is that individuals who have been infected continue to have sex with others. this occurs both before and after they are aware of their own infections. in some instances the partners are warned of the risks, in others they are not. it is unspoken - any time you have sex with someone you assume the risk of contracting the virus.

understanding that risk, to completely avoid HIV you would have to completely avoid sex. this is not a great option. sex is fun, it feels good, it brings people closer. in some instances, sex even provides income for food and shelter. these are all good things...but are they worth the risk?

true, the results of HIV are not as disasterous as in the 80's, but there are definitely consequences. the daily medical cocktails become an essential part of life, dragging along all of the accelerated health problems and risks. of course, those infected develop a dependency on clinics and health care systems that will provide the medications. in a world as uncertain as the one we live in, this dependency is a frightening reminder of personal mortality. HIV is a heavy burden on top of all the other burdens that we face in everyday life.

monogamy, and safe sex techniques are restrictive to a sexually adventurous lifestyle. the only thing that is a sure bet is abstinence, which most find completely unacceptable. however, if you don't want to carry the burden of being HIV positive, you have to make choices for one of these options. or sit someday in a clinic, wondering with deep concern on what the results are going to be... so the question is in every instance, "is this going to be worth all that?"

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 29, 2008 11:40 AM

I think it is important to remember that no single message will work for all gay men. Some guys will respond to fear-mongering (which I do not think Eric engages in.) Some guys will respond better to prevention campaigns emphasizing the sexual possibilities of safer sex. Some guys will respond to the "we're all in bed together" community message.

I think that Eric's first PSA was amazingly good and if AIDS organizations were to pull their heads out of their asses they would be fighting to see who could hire Eric to help create new multi-media HIV prevention campaigns.

Eric, we need the kind of thoughtful and bold work that you are engaging in. People will argue the merits of your work and the effectiveness. That's just part of the game. Trust your instincts and continue to to amaze us.

Eric, I dig the video, as well as the tag line.