The Kerfluffle With New York City’s Anti-Teen Pregnancy Ads

nyc-anti-teen-pregnancyDo you all remember those ads a looooooong time ago intended to keep kids off drugs? One of the famous ones was the famous egg in the frying-pan “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.” I can’t lie, that commercial did not want me to stay off of drugs. It made me want to fry an egg and more specifically see if I could get an egg to sizzle like that in a frying pan. I was an adventurous scamp. Once, I wanted to smoke a cigarette. I thought cigarettes were just rolled up paper. I lit a piece of rolled up paper.

I didn’t burn the house down that day. But I did come close. Somewhere along the way I did learn that if there’s a fire you stomp it out. In fact, the A-town stomp? Yeah. All me.

My point here is that kids don’t give a flying fig about ads intended to scare them into NOT doing something. In fact, I’d almost be willing to bet that most of those ads in subway cars aren’t exactly shaming any teenagers into not becoming pregnant. Hell, the kids are probably looking at how cute those kids are. They’re totes adorbs.

A lot has been made of the ads with talking heads from various arenas taking their shots at Bloomberg and the ads (and some supporting by saying that others are missing the point). And real talk, if I thought that teenagers really cared about a subway ad, then I might agree, but the truth is, kids are not reading those ads and thinking about how being a single mother is going to ruin their life (not that I think this way, but one of the ads implies this). Or thinking that they’ll avoid poverty if they have their kid within a “stable”, married two parent household. Those are thoughts and convos many of us had after college, when life got real and we started to give f*cks.

In fact, I’d wager that any teenager who cared about those ads, cared before the ads showed up and they’re just reinforcing what they already think and know. And the kids who haven’t had those influences placed into their lives to give them that type of knowledge, well, again, they’re not really going to internalize how much money a kid costs. Hell, adults aren’t able to fully grasp it until you have one and you have to figure out insurance and schooling, etc.

And trust me people, the school struggle…that’s that sh*t I don’t like. It might be the most frustrating part to date. Then again, I live in a city where school choice is a hot topic because our public schools are questionable unless you live in the well-to-do (read: white) part of the city, our charter schools are allegedly siphoning off the public schools ability to do its service, and private schools cost as much as my undergrad education.

The point is, kids aren’t adept at making those leaps and fully getting the gravity of a situation. This is why ads like that don’t sink in. There are a million cautionary tales running rampant everywhere. One more subway ad isn’t going to do the trick. [Panama Note: I do think that something is better than nothing, but it does help if the something is actually a something.] Thing is, my guess is (and Melissa Harris-Perry alluded to this in her clip, I’m too lazy to look up stats) that teen pregnancy is down everywhere. What has happened is a focus on prevention via protection and knowledge about STDs and the like. Scaring a kid with a cute kid ain’t going to cut it. Scaring a kid with a picture of a burnt up looking wang? Yeah, that might do the trick.

And yes, I just placed a “note” in a post I wrote.

Scaring little girls into thinking that if she lets Dontelquestejuan get her goodies, her ladybits might start to resemble a metal barbed wire fence in East Germany? Yeah, that can do the trick. When I was in middle school, we were forced to watch a live childbirth. Man that scared the holy hell out of me.

I’m inclined to believe that while many little boys can talk a girl into some sexing, that smarter little girls and boys leads to less sex at an earlier, unprepared age. So scaring the sh*t out of little chilluns with bodily harm and damage? My guess is that worked somehow. Plus, it seems like kids nowadays are just that much smarter in a worldly sense regarding the dangers and ills of society because of overexposure to all of them.  Even teen smoking is down.

At the end of the day I get the criticism of the ads. Even if they’re target is teenagers who probably don’t care, the message is still one that tends to attempt to assume that a single mother (assuming most of these kids end up with their mommies) is going to have a harder go at it than necessary if they make the “right” choices. And that’s probably accurate. Hell it’s not probably, it is accurate. Kids, and specifically babies, are a lot of work. It’s doable and a vast many of us have experienced a one-parent household. But many folks from that life also didn’t want that life for themselves so they attempted to make other choices. A little support and communication about life and the lessons you’ll learn goes a long way.

And if you throw a burnt out wang in the mix, well you just might scare somebody into becoming a 30-year-old virgin.

So, VSBers, what do you think about the ads?



Why It’s Wrong To Root Against Lebron James

Like many young boys coming of age in the ’40s and ’50s, my dad had an almost unhealthy affinity for Westerns and cowboy culture. Actually, “had” is the wrong word. “Shane” is still one of his favorite movies, and it’s not uncommon to drive up to my parent’s house and catch my dad in the middle of a “Gunsmoke” marathon.

And, also like many young boys infatuated with Westerns, my dad wanted to be a cowboy. Since there weren’t many 10 year old Black cowboys in the 1950s, he pretended as best as he could; rocking tassels and holsters with plastic guns in them whenever and wherever he could. (I think he even wore them to school)

Yet, if you hear my dad tell it, these memories produce an uneasy ambivalence. While he treasures the memories of walking up and down his block, pretending to be a cowboy, he feels a certain way about the fact that, by playing “Cowboys and Indians” — a game where the the kids in the neighborhood pretended to be cowboys chasing down and killing Indians — and by rooting against the Indians in many of the shows he watched, he was playing for the wrong team.

As a kid he didn’t realize this, but as he grew older and learned about some of the things that really happened in the Wild Wild West and to the American Indians, he grew horrified at the fact that American culture had villfied the Indians and that he happily took part in that vilification.

I imagine the people still reading are probably wondering how exactly I’m going to tie Lebron James into this story about my dad. A few may even already be upset at the thought that I’d dare compare Lebron’s plight to that of the American Indian. If you are one of these people, relax. I know it’s not that serious.

What is (slightly) serious though is the fact that, like my dad rooting against the Indians, I believe that those vehemently rooting for Lebron to fail will be on the wrong side of history. 20 years from now, I have no doubt that even the most fervent members of the anti-Lebron fan club will be thinking to themselves “Wait…why was I rooting so hard against him again?”

“Being on the wrong side” of history doesn’t necessarily mean that these people are rooting against a person who will eventually become a champion. Whether the Heat beat the Thunder in the Finals or not has no bearing on my argument. My point is that in time, history will show that today’s prevailing narrative — Lebron represents everything wrong with sports/celebrity culture — was false, and we were fools to believe it.

His situation has created a paradox where people are rooting against what they feel he “represents,” while simultaneously rooting for others who exhibit the exact same qualities. For instance, I watched game seven of the Eastern Conference finals at a sports bar in New York City. Maybe 80% of the people in attendance were noticeably rooting for the Celtics. The Boston Celtics. A team that won a championship a year after three of the 20 best players in the league decided to play together there.

Let me repeat myself: These were the Boston Celtics. I was in New York F*cking City. If you’re familiar with sports at all, you know that New York and Boston have fierce rivalries in every sport. They’re about as close to a contemporary version of the Hatfields and the McCoys as you’re going to get.

Yet, despite the decades of animus between these cities, the majority of the patrons in this bar were rooting for the Celtics just so that Lebron would lose. They could have given two shits about K.G. and Rondo and Ray and Doc. One of the bartenders was so anti-Lebron that if Paul Pierce sent him a text saying “Man, your daughter got some good p*ssy.” he probably would have replied back “Beat Lebron and you can f*ck my wife too!”

Now, saying that it’s wrong to root against Lebron doesn’t mean that you have to root for him. You do not have to be a fan of him or his game. And, if you are a fan of Kevin Durant (more on him a minute) and the Oklahoma Thunder, you (obviously) want Lebron and the Heat to lose because you want your team to win. The wrongness comes when a narrative makes you want a person to fail, regardless of who would benefit from that failure.

Also, fans of the “OKC represents everything right with sports” narrative, listen up. The funny thing about sports narratives is that they tend to be completely arbitrary and usually false. 10 years ago, Kobe Bryant was touted as the “Anti-Iverson,” the representation of what’s right with sports and how to play the right way….and you see what happened to him. After Kobe’s star fell, Lebron became the Anti-Kobe, the one who played the right way and respected the game the way it should be respected…and you see what happened to him. Today, Kevin Durant is the new golden boy, the Anti-Lebron, the one who does and says all the right things and doesn’t even have any visible tattoos.

I’m not suggesting (or hoping) that Durant will be found to be the antithesis of what the narrative currently says. But, like with the Cowboys and the Indians, maybe the distinction between who’s “good” and “bad” isn’t as clear as we want to believe.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

10 things i learned while in NYC for “the modern day matchmaker live”

definitely didn’t meet on the train

1. i’m not a relationship “expert”

to be honest, i didn’t just learn this in new york city. although i’ve co-founded a relationship-centric website and have benefited personally and financially from this particular “expertise”, i’ve never considered myself to be a dating and relationship source.

sure, i’m aware that (some) people do appreciate my advice and insights, but i’m also aware that this appreciation stems more from my ability to write dispassionately, objectively, and wittily about a subject most can’t be dispassionate, objective, and witty about than any deep reservoir of relationship knowledge.

actually, this dispassionateness is exactly why i’m not an expert. as pleased as i am to be able to help cultivate positive relationship discussion, i’m much more interested in the reaction to my writing than the reaction to what i actually say.

i’m bringing this up because this lack of passion is made even more apparent when sitting on a panel next to people like demetria lucas and kenya stevens, women possessing infectiously palpable energy when sharing their thoughts about relationships. when they spoke, their heartfelt anecdotes and advice and made it seem like they believed they were spreading the gospel truth. when i spoke, it felt like i was speaking on a subject i researched and observed instead of something i’ve lived and felt (which is kind of, but not really true, but more on that later)

2. sister toldja is…a sweetheart

although i was very aware that the uber-angry, man-shanking view some have of her wasn’t true, i assumed she’d be somewhat laconic, sarcastic, droll, and occasionally acerbically funny. basically, i was expecting to meet a womanist daria morgendorffer. sh*t, i even read her blog entries in a voice that can be best described as “what janeane garofalo would sound like if she grew up in brownsville”.

to my surprise, sister t is actually much more, for lack of a better term, southern than i imagined her to be. bubbly, gregarious, and affable, she’s much more belle than bea arthur, and it was bit unexpected to find out that everyone’s favorite feminist is one of the girliest girls i’ve ever met.

3. apparently, new york city is the world’s biggest nightclub

between the 8 dollar toll just to get into harlem (a fact which made my friend remark “i hate this f*cking city” at least 246 times in a 24 hour span), the drunk-acting drivers, the practice of just throwing trash on the corner, the randomly out of place and lascivious white women, and the seemingly perpetual background music (in the 22 hours i was there, i can’t remember not hearing any music for longer than a 30 second span. it felt like i was on the world’s drippiest episode of  sesame street), new york city is exactly like every wamo night in pittsburgh. who knew?

4. saying “hey, dumbasses, don’t listen to me or anyone else on the panel” probably isn’t the best thing to do in a roomful of people who paid 25 dollars to hear you and everyone else on the panel speak.

i won’t go into too much detail, but lets just say that my (paraphrasing) “hey, the problem with us (black people) is that we spend too much time listening to relationship experts” comment went over about as well as a fart on a submarine.

5. new york city is obviously filled with a bunch of dumb ass dudes

i know this seems harsh, but how else can you explain that roughly 15 guys showed up to an event filled with roughly 300 tipsy women practically ovulating by ovary osmosis? seriously, that show was like a sam’s club for single black men. there hasn’t been that many single and sexy black women in one place since wilt chamberlain’s wake

to be fair, i understand why a guy might have been hesitant to attend. while a favorable female/male ratio is a good thing, 15 women to every man shifts the speed from “favorable” to “f*cking ludicrous” and completely changes the approaching/bagging dynamic. also, the brunson factor would have made things more difficult than usual.

to expound, as a straight man, i feel absolutely no shame in saying that paul brunson–the modern day matchmaker–is, well, mr. perfect. why does this matter? well, any guy trying to holler at a woman at one of his events will have to deal with the “wait. i wanted a pocket sized paul to take home, not your mundane ‘i could have saved money and just met your ass on the train’ ass” factor.

when you add this to the fact that i haven’t even mentioned that approximately 10 of the ninjanets most popular black male personalities (brunson, anslem from nakedwithsockson, jozen from untiligetmarried, slim jackson, streetztalk, and seattle washington from singleblackmale and threewaystotakeit to name a few) were in attendance, and each had a sizable fan base present, maybe the black men of new york city aren’t so stupid after all.

6. everything sounds smarter with a british accent

i’m not saying that lola adesioye’s accent tempted me to transcribe every word she said the entire night into my gphone, but lola adesioye’s accent tempted me to transcribe every word she said the entire night into my gphone.

7. liz is liz

***debating whether to say anything about liz not attending the show because she didnt want to wait in line…despite the fact that i left her a complimentary ticket and all she had to do was go to the box office and say her name. yeah, i probably shouldn’t say anything about that. i’m sure she’ll attend the next time her friend and business partner drives seven hours through the appalachian mountains to nyc to appear on a panel***

8. there’s a quote from the wire for every situation

i drove up to new york with my closest friend. he coaches basketball in europe and just happened to be in pittsburgh last week, and i convinced him to make the trip with me (i also had to convince my cousin to let us stay with her, no small feat since my man is 6’8′, and most people aren’t too keen on having anonymous giant n*ggas sleep on their couches).

if you’re a vsb regular you probably know how much of a wire diehard i am, but my man (who actually introduced me to the show) surpasses and sh*ts on my wire fandom. seriously, if you asked him to rank the three most influential men in his life, his answer would probably include some combination of his dad, God, and bodie broadus.

anyway, with us two in the car together for approximately 14 hours–the round trip distance between nyc and pittsburghof a 30 hour span, every situation turned into a scene from the wire.

stuck in traffic? quote bunny colvin’s “f*ck you? no, f*ck me!!” from season three.

problems with the onstar system? quote avon’s “little man stay f*cking up” from season one

waitress mixes up your order at IHOP? do your best marlo stanfield “my name is my name!!!”

i could continue, but i get the feeling that the 17 of you still reading this want me to move on.

9. i still get surprised when meeting “regular lurkers”

after the show, i got the chance to meet approximately 15-20 fans of vsb, all people who told me they read regularly but never comment. judging from our stats, only maybe 2 to 3 percent of the people who read participate in the conversations, but i still have a tendency to assume that the only people reading are the ones who comment regularly, and it still shocks me to actually see evidence of how popular we’re becoming.

10. i’m not built for this sh*t…not yet, at least

the “written vs spoken word” dynamic came up in private conversations with sister t, anslem, and nikki “coco” nokes at various points of the night. basically, we all discussed how awkward the shift from “online persona” to “in-person” can be for us and our readers, and how difficult it can be to construct your words when speaking so that they have the same impact they usually do when they’re read.

for some this is a non-issue. panama, for instance, has a bit of a stream of consciousness writing style that allows his messages and insights to be heard the same way they’re read. on the other hand, much of what i write is specifically written just to be read; the types of language and humor i insert in my entries would lose their meaning if heard aloud.

this “problem” isn’t unique. most people who consider themselves to be writers and/or introverts tend to be somewhat underwhelming public speakers. but, in this particular instance, to promote the brand and myself, i’ll have to continue to step out of the comfort zone of my controlled keypad environment. and, occasionally, i’ll feel as unenthused about it as i was thursday night.

hopefully i’ll get better at extemporaneous “shifting” in time, but for now if i’m addressing a large group of people (panels and podcasts included), i need prompts, a script, a timeline, and at least three rum and cokes before i can get completely comfortable.

with that being said, between the pre-show, the interview with sister t, the panel, and the afterparty, i actually did have a great time. i even got to witness a live matchmaking, ate an apple and three mcdonalds double cheeseburgers, somehow managed to actually remember the names of five of the vsb lurkers i met while drunk, and had two of my favorite writers tell me that i was one of their favorites.

not quite an entire wheel of cheese, but still pretty damn impressive.

—the champ