Year of living dangerously

Elise T. Chisolm

January 07, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

SOMEONE asked me what was the worst of '91. For me it was the live dramas on television that showed us to be ignorant, lustful and morally dysfunctional.

The year was a kaleidoscope of rotten mistakes -- those mini events that messed up the lives of real people and that should point the way to immediate reform.

From sexual harassment, random recreational sex to allegations of rape, we saw it unfold.

First it was the Judiciary Committee hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas and the accusations of Professor Anita Hill that Thomas had sexually harassed her, giving us explicit dirt on television.

Then there was basketball hero Magic Johnson's tragic announcement that he had the HIV virus and had not practiced safe sex with his many sexual partners.

There was Wilt Chamberlain's boast that he has slept with 20,000 women.

Which brings us up to the disgusting -- through the eye of the tube -- Palm Beach rape case in which a young woman leaves a bar at 3 in the morning to go home with a young man. But the man was a Kennedy, and the girl later charges him with rape. He is found not guilty.

The frightening part of these events was the fact that William Kennedy Smith, a well-educated young man, a medical student, did not have a condom on him when he was fooling around with the pickup.

Both young people were educated and knew about birth control and safe sex. Oh, sure they were all drinking, which, of course, compounded the mistake. But they made a bad choice that may have ruined their lives. Mainly, it sent the wrong message to middle and upper class young people.

The Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas flap did not send out the right message to the world either. And as for Magic Johnson, he didn't practice safe anything and that sends out the wrong signals too.

When Magic Johnson made his disclosure he was hailed as a hero, and he had been a hero on the court. But to me he is Tragic Johnson because his flagrant immorality has shortened his life, and perhaps the lives of others.

We are driving blind not to be guided by the statistics that show that more and more college students are getting sexually transmitted diseases, and that the AIDS epidemic is spreading like wildfire through the heterosexual community.

Sure, condoms are being handed out on San Francisco streets, New York subway stations and now some high schools. Good.

But will that work? No, I think it has to go further. Statistics also show that thousands of high school and college students do not practice safe sex and have many sexual partners. One survey found that many students don't use condoms because it's not hip or cool. The HIV virus is on the rise in poor communities also.

Perhaps I am being a bit judgmental. After all, thousands of people gave up smoking instead of dying, but it wasn't passing out nicotine-free gum that did it. It came down to choice. People you know made the choice to quit smoking.

Maybe recreational sex that has proven dangerous, with no moral basis, will become a choice too. Maybe the young will decide to give up unsafe sex rather than die.

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