MTV: GYT! Teens: WTF?

The network tries to turn sex education into hip text-message lingo. Will kids buy it?

Published April 3, 2009 11:00AM (EDT)

I admit it: I tuned in Wednesday night to the MTV premiere of the much-hyped biopic of Pedro Zamora, the openly gay, HIV-positive and immensely lovable star of "The Real World: San Francisco." Look, the network ushered me through puberty and, like a lab monkey raised by a fake wire mother, I keep returning to this cold, cultural progenitor even though I know she won't offer me anything of substance. Before I  even had a chance to grumble about the absurdity of using actors to reenact the very scenes already immortalized by the revolutionary reality show, I was rolling my eyes at the coinciding premiere of another MTV production: The "GYT" campaign.

There was a total ad blitz: Again and again, celebrities appeared during the commercial breaks repeating those three letters, all perplexed or cluelessly guessing at the acronym's meaning. All of which left me irritable and shouting: "WTF is GYT, already?" I didn't care enough to look it up online, but the answer came Thursday morning in an e-mail press release: "Get Yourself Tested." The aim of the campaign, a partnership between MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Planned Parenthood, is to encourage and lessen the taboo of STD testing and provide advice on "how to bring up testing with partners and health care providers." The GYT Web site explains its inspiration with thumb-typing thrift : "OMG, BRB, LOL ... introducing GYT." Uh, sure. I guess the market research revealed that previous sex ed campaigns failed because they lacked an incomprehensible slogan and my-parents-are-on-MySpace generational strain?

Don't get me wrong, there's no doubt that it's a noble cause: "One in four teen girls in the U.S. have at least one common STD. Other estimates find that as many as one in two sexually-active young people will contract an STD by age 25 -- and most won't know it," according to Planned Parenthood. But I doubt that an inauthentic attempt at being hip-wit-it is going to make STD testing cool; in fact, it's more likely to make it into a joke, something out-o'-touch adults yammer on about. Getting a gang of celebrities to say "GYT" on camera is one thing; getting a courageous few to cop to the STD they're personally carrying is quite another. Now there's a surefire way to weaken the stigma. Isn't that part of what we learned from Pedro?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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