14 July 2005

Staying Alive

[No, this is not about a hit song by the Bee Gees… it’s much more.]

There is a serious concern that our youth are growing up in an environment saturated with exploitative messages, many of which are concocted for marketing reasons. And that, this generation of youngsters neither has the maturity, nor the ability to make distinctions between the good and the bad messages they are exposed to. Thereby, endangering their minds and their future.

However, while talking to some of these youngsters, I gathered that they don’t feel there is a problem at all. They don’t feel that advertising messages are evil, or that there’s some kind of invasion on their sensibilities, or that there’s a breakdown of morals, or that culture and society have taken a nose-dive. On the contrary, these youngsters feel that the global media and the advertisers are actually doing a lot of good for society.

In an echo of similar voices I had heard before, these youngsters pointed out to me that, in India, as in many Asian and African countries, there is a discomfort with sexuality – that accurate (and they emphasised the word ‘accurate’) information on this subject is scarce. That taboos on sexuality impede open communication – particularly between children and parents. For teenagers, as the desire for sexual knowledge is strong, they have to rely on TV, books, films, the Internet and each other.

Other topics such as personal relationships, religion, war, the environment, racial discrimination, and technology were top-of-mind as well. These youngsters felt that the media can explain and involve the youth in such universal topics and help deal with emotions, understanding and responsibility. And, contrary to endangering minds as their parents believed, these youngsters were certain that the media can actually build them. And, build a better world.

On taking a cue from these youngsters, I surfed on the Internet and discovered The 2002 MTV Staying Alive Campaign – an MTV global campaign on HIV/AIDS prevention. And, on reading about it, was amazed at how this campaign was implemented, although I cannot comment on its success. I’ve provided a brief description of this campaign below:

The 2002 Staying Alive campaign was the largest, most ambitious HIV/AIDS media effort ever attempted, reaching a potential of almost 800 million homes, 64 percent of total television households worldwide. The campaign was aired in nearly 100 countries, including 44 of the 50 countries most affected by HIV/AIDS…

The 2002 campaign primarily targeted young people with access to television, but it expanded the reach of the programming by adapting it for radio stations, the Internet, and other types of activities in selected countries. The campaign had three goals: to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and encourage prevention behavior, to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and to empower youth to take action…

The analysis provided further evidence that a global youth culture exists and can be reached by cross-cultural messages…

I was quite taken in by the Indian youth’s enthusiasm for global media and its benefits. But I was also saddened to find that universal topics such as poverty, hunger, illiteracy and health (which are serious issues in India and the world) were not top-of-mind for them… even when Live8 concerts had cornered the global media in the last couple of weeks.

I guess there’s more work to be done.

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