For the past few days, everywhere I turn, I'm being assaulted by ads for the season premiere of A&E's reality show, Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. I've seen the ads as commercials on TV, banner ads on my favorite Web sites and on highway billboards -- and they're making me sick.
My problem with the ads is that they have nothing to do with the show, but instead ask viewers to decide whether Simmons has slept with 4,800 women. It's unclear if this is A&E or Simmons' estimate. No matter who came up with this number, I find it disgusting.
I thought the ad was tasteless, un-funny and un-amusing -- and that was before I saw that the CDC announced yesterday that one in four teenage girls has an STD. One in four! Also, the last time I checked, we don't have a cure for AIDS. Oh, and the Vatican also announced this week that the use that using birth control is one of its new sins and that this "bioethical" violation is good enough for a one-way trip to spend eternity with Lucifer himself.
My anger over A&E's ad strategy has nothing to with the amount of sex Gene Simmons has or has not had. It's his life and his decision, and the life and decision of his partners, and truth be told, I could care less. It has to do with responsibility. It doesn't take a doctor, or a scientist, or anyone with half a brain really, to realize that making it seem cool, or at the very least, normal, to sleep with thousands of partners is downright dangerous.
What kind of message are we sending to teenage men and women? And young adults, for that matter? I would also ask if the matriarch of a family would be advertised in the same way? Could any woman?
We clucked our tongue at Lynn Spears, when Jamie-Lynn Spears announced she was pregnant at 16 years old. We call for the heads of our politicians when they announce they are gay or have been (legally) unfaithful. We skewer young ladies in Hollywood for flashing their private parts for publicity. Why is all that unacceptable, yet Gene Simmons gets a free pass? Because he sang "Detroit Rock City?" I think not.
I understand why Gene Simmons makes for great reality television. He's a rock star, married to a former Playboy Playmate, admired by many who want a glimpse into the day in the life of a cultural icon. He's the embodiment of his era, when the sexual revolution was in full swing and partner-swapping was de rigeur. In fact, Simmons was one of the leaders of the charge, seducing women tongue first. However, that was 30 years ago, before sex education was a part of school curriculum and before the efforts to curb the transmission rates of STDs among youth. One of the most common STDs, HPV -- which now has its own vaccine it's so prevalent -- was seen in 18% of the girls tested in the CDC study. Certain strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and others, infertility. Thirty years ago, we didn't know all this. Today we do. We should be smarter. We ARE smarter. Let's act like it.
I'm surprised, to say the least, that the same station beaming James Lipton into our living rooms is trying to spice up its image in this way. Let me be the first to say shame on you, A&E. If this is how you want to re-brand yourself, for this viewer, it's not working.