martedì, giugno 20, 2006

Cuba: Not everyone ready for prime time TV AIDS story

Not everyone ready for prime time TV AIDS story

Cuba: Not everyone ready for prime time TV AIDS story
By Orlando Matos

HAVANA (IPS/GIN)-A television series that portrays sex and talks about
AIDS has provoked unusual public controversy in Cuba.

The public is judging the series, entitled "La cara oculta de la luna"
("The Dark Side of the Moon"), by its social implications, rather than
its artistic merit. In response to public concern, Cuban television
authorities decided to air the evening program one hour later.

Amanda, an uninformed, sexually precocious teenage character in the
series under the strict control of her parents, becomes infected with
HIV, the AIDS virus. The central character in one of the series'
episodes, her story drew criticism from large numbers of viewers of the
prime time show.

Josefa Rodrguez was more indignant about the program showing youngsters
who are "virtually children sleeping together" than about its references
to AIDS. It seems to offer "an invitation" to teenage sex, the
47-year-old Havana telephone company technician told IPS.

Rodrguez was not concerned about the scenes of violence that her
11-year-old son watches on a daily basis in the films the family rents
from a private video club. But, she was alarmed because the second part
of the television series included the story of a bisexual relationship.

According to actress Lourdes Surez, director of the Espejos ("Mirrors")
Project that puts on performances to promote AIDS prevention and social
acceptance of people living with HIV, "the soap opera works," and "young
people relate to it." The television show "doesn't encourage them to
indulge in inappropriate behavior; on the contrary, it warns them about
the virus," she told IPS.

The series has focused on problems facing Cuban society, with AIDS as an
ongoing theme. The state-controlled national media reported on the
negative reaction to the program, but have defended the social role that
television plays in Cuba.

Cuba's second most important daily newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, saw the
"expansion of the debate to all sectors of society" as "positive." It
defended the expression of a broad variety of opinions and viewpoints,
reporting criticisms voiced by local government officials in an inland
region of the island. These officials had deplored "programs of this
nature," which are very different from those usually transmitted on
national television with their "political and educational messages in
accordance with our revolutionary principles."

"People have an incredible capacity for self-censorship," historian Abel
Sierra told IPS.

Sierra is the author of the report "From the Other Side of the Looking
Glass: Sexuality in the Construction of the Cuban Nation," which won the
Casa de las Amricas prize this year in the socio-historical essay category.

The people of Cuba "don't want to discuss openly" subjects like those
portrayed in the television series, and if these are also shown very
frankly, people react with a sense of rejection, he said. Nevertheless,
"reality is harsher than the television plots" because, according to
research findings, "young people are increasingly sexually precocious,"
Sierra said.

Given this context, it is significant that the official media have
provided a sounding-board for discussion, since this country is
described as lacking "a culture of debate," even by some Cuban thinkers
who support the government's socialist ideology. That perception,
according to historian Pedro Pablo Rodrguez, arises from the fact that
certain issues are often absent from the public debate. He expressed
that viewpoint in Temas magazine, a Cuban publication on culture,
ideology and society which promotes debates between experts, academics,
intellectuals and members of the public who regularly attend these
encounters, held on the last Thursday of each month.

In the same edition, sociologist Mayra Espina argued that "there isn't
enough openness" for discussion, "because the political design" of the
island "is too authoritarian," so that controversy "is restricted to
minor matters."

Cuba has the lowest HIV rate in Latin America-0.07 percent among those
ages 15 to 24. Nevertheless, experts point out that the number of cases
has increased among women and bisexual men.

Magda Gonzlez, a Cuban television official, said that the decision to
produce "The Dark Side of the Moon" took into account the state of the
epidemic in the country.

"AIDS continues to spread, and high-risk behavior, such as promiscuity
and an irresponsible approach to sexuality, is widespread," she said.

The controversial program is apparently popular with young people, and
watching it before bedtime has been made obligatory at some
pre-university boarding schools. But, that will now be affected by the
rescheduling to a later airing time.

Another episode, based on the relationship between a married man and a
gay man, was also controversial in a culture that tends to be homophobic
and "machismo."

Cuba: Not everyone ready for prime time TV AIDS story