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No Offense

April/May 2002

Article: No Offense

A press conference to unveil a groundbreaking new government-funded public health campaign is about to begin beneath a shrouded billboard in some anonymous burg in the United States. Let's listen in.

Speaker: "We are gathered here to witness the debut of a fabulous media campaign to warn members of the public about the danger of HIV infection. This campaign is unlike any campaign ever attempted in the history of public health. I know you media folks will want to cover this event on tonight's 6 o'clock broadcasts, and I want to unveil this puppy and let it start preventing unnecessary HIV transmission and start saving lives, so let's cut to the cheese, as they say, shall we?"

Inspiring music swells. The speaker tugs a cord, bringing down a shroud covering the billboard. The crowd emits a collective gasp. Someone faints.

Speaker: "Well, there it is, ladies and gentlemen. Ain't it a beaut? Now, I'd be happy to respond to any reactions you might have. Yes, you, wearing the gray fedora and an incredulous expression."

Reporter No. 1: "Is this some kind of joke, buddy? I don't see no 'billboard' here."

Reporter No. 2: "Me neither. Why, you can see right through it. That's the WalMart on the other side."

Reporter No. 3: "Yeah! What gives? This ain't no billboard -- it's just a billboard frame surrounded by a bunch of self-important yahoos."

Speaker: "Groan. Look, while you all struggle with this bold new innovation in HIV education, my aides will pass out videocassettes featuring 30-, 60- and 90-second public service announcements: the broadcast companion of our innovative new campaign."

Reporter No. 1: "Wait, don't tell us..."

Reporter No. 2: "I bet that these videos..."

Reporter No. 3: "...are all blank!"

Speaker: "All right, which one of you guys leaked?"

Reporter No. 1: "I don't get it. Empty billboards? Silent public-service announcements? How can these things possibly prevent HIV infection?"

Speaker: "Sheesh. What beat do you guys usually cover -- Little League? Obviously none of you have been keeping up with contemporary trends in HIV prevention marketing."

Reporter No. 4: "Well, I have. I know that some campaigns have been recalled by the federal government because they are considered 'provocative.' I know that explicit images and language about HIV are often deemed to be in bad taste by conservative critics. I know that many public health educators who depend on government funding for HIV prevention education are grappling with the challenge of educating the public about protecting themselves amid an increasingly harsh, unforgiving climate."

Speaker: "Exactly! Our campaign of negative space artfully dodges those issues. You see an empty billboard shell. Well, I see a public health message that absolutely no one can find offensive -- not even the most reactionary ayatollah in the least liberal state of the Union. Not only that, but this campaign can apply as well to any social ill as it does to HIV or another STD. Its message could be said to be prevent unwanted teenage pregnancy. Road rage. Canine halitosis."

Reporters: "But will it prevent a single HIV infection?"

Speaker: "Who knows?! We do know is that no one's feathers will be ruffled by this billboard. That no one will denounce this campaign on the floor of Congress or at the PTA. And that it will stand an excellent chance of being re-funded.

"Oh, I almost forgot the best part. This billboard is immune against graffiti!"

Paul SerchiaPaul Serchia is the editor of Positive Living. He can be reached by calling (213) 201-1362 or by e-mail at

Back to the April/May 2002 issue of Positive Living.

This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.
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