At first, I thought I sort of liked the new ‘The Situation’ - Bristol Palin abstinence PSA, and not even ironically. My expectations, cultivated by a longtime familiarity with abstinence-until-marriage campaigns that were authoritative and explicit about the fact that sex will ruin my whole entire life, were low. Understandably.
So, right. The Candie’s Foundation releases their new ad campaign, starring politico teen mom Bristol Palin, whom I loathe, and The Jersey Shore's Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino. What happens in this video? The rundown is that our young heroes are mingling behind the set of what I assume is Dancing With The Stars. The Situation sees Palin from behind, and not knowing who she is, tries to pick her up with some bad lines, which I refuse to reproduce in this blog space. Palin does a quick spin, which maybe she learned from Dancing With The Stars, and affectionately mocks The Situation's lousy attempt at getting her to have sex with him.
What develops from this point on is a conversation about sex, except with different uses of the word 'situation' in lieu of the usual 'abstinence,' 'sex,' 'pregnancy,' or the classically vague, doom-ridden 'consequences.' Bristol Palin tells The Situation that she's definitely not going to have sex with him because she doesn't have sex with anybody (anymore), but that she hopes in general when he is sexually active he is safe. The Situation, in turn, ushers in latex evidence to prove that of course he practices safe sex. Palin seems satisfied by this, there are more exchanges revolving around situatedness and, all in all, things are remarkably cordial.
This cordiality was what first surprised me about the Candie's ad. I don't think I've ever seen an abstinence ad in which there was such a casual exchange between two people with different views on sex. It seemed to lend credibility to a position on teen sexuality that differed from its own, and sent the message that these differences were OK.
And then I got to thinking. It all, suddenly, was a little too casual. Eerily so.
This appearance of tolerance–and an appearance is all it is–is exactly what makes this ad even worse than those which overtly warn that sex is going to destroy me. The longer I thought about the way this abstinence ad appealed to me, through its image of open mindedness and the use of reality TV sensibility, the more insidious I found it to be.
Even though one of the two characters in this ad is sexually active, safe, and happy about it, because he is a Jersey Shore caricature, viewers are not asked to take his sexual choices seriously. Through the casting of someone as ridiculous as The Situation, the Candie's people achieve the unfathomable, which is making Bristol Palin –an abstinence-pledging teen mom–look like a legitimate sexual role model. Palin's abstinence advocacy on its own is clearly an absurdity; however, next to The Situation's buffoonery, I can see how it would almost make sense.
The abstinence-until-marriage movement is just as backwards as it has always been and its ideology is no less threatening to sexual health and fulfillment than before. But there are definitely people doing the deceptive work, in certain cases with new media intelligence, to frame it otherwise. Things to look out for, I think.
Aside from the other abstinence-only-until marriage keywords missing from the Candie's ad, 'waiting' is noticeably not there. This is because apparently we are no longer waiting; we are now pausing. Before we play, that is. Did you know that “Pause Before You Play” is the overarching message of all The Candie's Foundation’s current campaigns? As the Candie's people explain, when pausing, teens should:
“Pause to think about your future; pause to think about consequences; pause to evaluate your relationship; pause to delay sex; pause to get a condom; pause to ask “why now?”
One of the really unsettling things about this ad, I realized, is that this push to “pause” comes at the very end, as if it's not the message propelling the whole scenario forward to begin with. Which of course, it is. An ad like this creates an image of an abstinence-until-marriage movement that encourages open dialogue and an acceptance of teen sexuality, when in fact we know that abstinence-until-marriage sex education programs accomplish the opposite: they silence teenagers' voices on their sexualities.