MTV's 'Smart Sex' has chance to hit home where it matters most

September 27, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

MTV's "Smart Sex" is an hour-long public service announcement for safe sex.

No more, no less.

In a magazine-style format, 11 teens and twentysomethings in various cities talk about their attitudes toward sex and sexual activity.

Some are straight, some are gay. Some are HIV-positive, some are not. Some are informed about AIDS prevention, and some are clueless.

One thread runs through the group: Every participant had sex or wanted to have sex by age 13.

We see sex through their eyes, and, almost to a person, the race is on to leave that "awful" place called virginity. It's as if someone fired a starter's pistol, and the objective of the whole universe of 13-year-olds is to have sex as soon as possible.

Actor Christian Slater is host of the program, which will air at 10 tonight on the cable channel. He's mainly there as window dressing in his role of providing introductions to the various segments.

The segments are not much more than interviews photographed with hand-held cameras. They are conducted in cars, apartments and dance clubs, which will give "Smart Sex" an on-the-street and in-the-know feel for some viewers. But you can see such interviews any night of the week on local newscasts.

Linda Ellerbee's Lucky Duck Productions made "Smart Sex," but Ellerbee was not involved in writing, directing or producing the show.

"Smart Sex" isn't innovative, shocking, remarkable, unique or cutting-edge. This kind of program has been done all over the dial for years -- viewers being told about getting AIDS by people who thought they were too nice, too hip, too young, too everything to get the disease. If it weren't on MTV, it probably wouldn't rate preview space.

But it is being done on MTV, which is the one thing that makes "Safe Sex" worth noting.

For good or ill, MTV has become the arbiter of "cool" for many teens and pre-teens. It is the voice that has come to matter most for many young people at the very time when they are most in need of clues on how to behave in social and sexual relationships.

For too long, too many of MTV's messages seemed aimed only at turning its viewers into avaricious little consumers of the products sold explicitly through ads and less obviously through music videos on MTV. Their need for information on sex and relationships was used to make cash registers ring with their dollars.

MTV says that it's stepping up its news and public service commitment, and that "Smart Sex" is indicative of where it's headed.

I hope it puts more imagination and bucks into such future productions. But, with "Smart Sex," MTV is at least reaching for the right notes with its influential voice.

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