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I’m not saying Tamerlan Tsarnaev had a point about decadent American society, but, well, this:
San Francisco may have banned the exposure of genitalia, but that’s not stopping the Department of Public Health from bringing back its giant Healthy Penis. Yes, the beloved six-foot-tall mascot for safe sex is literally coming out of the closet and will be back at parades and other city events – and this time he comes with free penis-shaped stress toys!
These are costumes. Worn by city employees. In parades. To promote “awareness” of sexually transmitted diseases. Okay, deep breath:
The health department sparked some controversy when it debuted the three characters, all penises but in different hues, back in 2002. But the penis costumes – worn by health department staff and aimed at encouraging gay and bisexual men to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases – became popular and have been copied in San Jose and Cleveland.
I’m not sure what the “controversy” could have been about, considering it’s an initiative within the city of San Francisco. Not girthy enough? Insufficiently tattoed or pierced? But I do find it interesting that the giant penis costumes have been copied in San Jose and Cleveland. When your innovation finds purchase only in San Jose and Cleveland, perhaps it’s time to rethink it.
And another thing: if the goal is to prevent disease — which seems like a useful goal for something called a Department of Public Health — then shouldn’t they be using a Diseased and Pockmarked Penis costume rather than a Healthy Penis costume? After all, when the anti-smoking guys want to spread their message, they use images of a diseased lung. This is what smoking does to you!
In other words, they stigmatize the disease. They make it something you’ll change your behavior to avoid.
The Healthy Penis crowd have a different idea:
Susan Philip, director of STD prevention and control services for the health department, said estimates of HIV incidents in San Francisco are declining – but that gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia are on the rise. That’s in large part, she said, because many men choose to have sex with people of the same HIV status as themselves to forgo using condoms. It means they’re not protecting themselves against a host of other STDs.
It’s a serious subject, but Philip said she hopes the funny, eye-catching campaign can bring some attention to the problem.
“It is a light hearted, fun way to talk about an important health issue,” she said. “It sticks with people.”
I’ll let that last sentence pass without comment.
But the idea that it should be “fun” and “light-hearted” suggests that the people behind this are a little less interested in having an impact and a little more interested in cavorting around in a giant penis costume.