It’s a cold pre-Christmas Thursday evening and I could be at the opera (sure), or a movie or slamming down some beers at a nearby watering hole. But no, like millions of other Americans I have been programmed to believe that Thursday nights are “Must See TV.” NBC has convinced me that if I don’t watch their Thursday prime-time lineup I won’t know what to say to anyone on Friday.
I head for my TV-rejecting boyfriend’s apartment with enough takeout sushi to mollify a hungry man, and explain to him why we have to watch four half-hour sitcoms and the brilliant ER. “Because,” I whine, "I want to. Isn’t that reason enough?" So we pull out our chopsticks and arrange all the remotes near the TV trays and watch without much comment -- until the sponge episode of Seinfeld.
It’s 30 minutes on birth control, AIDS Walks, red ribbons and whether serious couples have to tell each other everything. When production of her contraceptive of choice, the Today sponge, is discontinued, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) searches every neighborhood drugstore in an attempt to stockpile any remaining supplies. Her search yields a single case of 60 of the precious devices -- which have to last her entire life! Elaine is left with a new criteria for sizing-up prospective sexual partners: Is the guy worthy of a sponge? Meanwhile, George (Jason Alexander) and his fiancée have run out of sponges and resort to condoms, leading to some comic fumbling in a moment of passion. And Kramer (Michael Richards) joins the AIDS Walk but meets resistance from everyone involved when he declines to wear a red ribbon. He is later mugged by a pair of gay decorator thugs who demand that he put on a ribbon.
Funny. But also vaguely disturbing. What does it all mean?
The show seems to have an AIDS theme -- certainly with the Kramer storyline. Jerry Seinfeld and his writers took the red AIDS awareness ribbon, an icon, and goosed it. Specifically, they goosed anyone who gets so caught up in the display of the icon itself that they lose touch with its meaning: People who would drive-off an AIDS Walker because he’s not appropriately accessorized -- or me on assignment. Usually, when it comes to red ribbons, I’m keeping track of which celebrities wore them, or didn’t, at the Academy Awards or the Emmys, and then divining some meaning from that information. Seinfeld’s is a point well-taken and one hilariously made.
But why was it sandwiched in an episode on contraceptives? The show started with Kramer signing up sponsors for the AIDS Walk, reminding Elaine that she was low on sponges. But that connection makes no sense. The contraceptive sponge has nothing to do with HIV -- and everything to do with catching it.
While I enjoyed the antics in the storylines for Elaine and George, at the same time I was quietly horrified: Don’t any of the characters on America’s favorite show -- all young, smart, sexually-active New Yorkers -- practice safer sex?
I don’t want to argue over who is and isn’t (or who should or shouldn’t be) a role model, but I would expect a show about contraceptives and AIDS Walks to have some sort of safer-sex content.
At press time, a spokeswoman for NBC said she hasn’t heard any feedback concerning the episode -- either about the ribbon irreverence or the nonchalance approach to unprotected sex. To me, it seems like one more example of how we’ve mainstreamed AIDS to a degree that we can make fun of its rituals. But if we’re going to laugh at the rituals, maybe we first need to learn their message.
Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert DeNiro, Hume Cronyn and Dan Hedaya (the Clueless dad) all appear in the ensemble movie Marvin’s Room. Even with a cast that notable, production of the movie, which took place in New York and Florida from August to October, was hush, hush. The movie will be released by Miramax in the fall and is based on the 1991 Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award-winning play of the same name. Although the subject matter for the humorous drama is death, disease and how one dysfunctional family handles it, Miramax and a publicist for the movie deny that it has anything to do with AIDS. (Of course, a different publicist once told me the movie Boys on the Side wasn’t about AIDS either -- but you live, you learn). The film has at least one AIDS-related selling point: The first version of its screenplay was penned by the playwright Scott McPherson, who died of AIDS in 1992.
“I Will Always Love You,” seems to be the theme song for AIDS movies. In Boys on the Side Whoopie Goldberg sings it to an ailing Mary-Louise Parker. And recently the chart-topping Whitney Houston version was supposed to be included in the script for February’s assisted-suicide fête, It’s My Party, in a scene that played off the song’s cloying sentiment. In the scene, Margaret Cho, the straight girl who loves all the gay boys, complains that the smarmy music is driving her crazy. It’s a comic interchange that really pulls the viewer into the scene, because long before Cho makes her comment, you’re thinking the same thing.
Well, it would have pulled the viewer in. Permission to use the song could not be secured. “Essentially, [it was in] a rough cut, but it won’t appear in the movie,” says a publicist for the film, who wouldn’t say whether it was diva Whitney Houston or Arista, her record company, who ixnayed using the song in this movie. Too bad.
The outrageous, oft-frightening Courtney Love won the coveted role of PWA Althea Leasure Flynt in the movie The People Vs. Larry Flynt, about the Hustler publisher. To announce her victory, she posted a message on the internet saying, “I passed the peepee test,” and in her way, noted the irony in her casting. Both Ms. Flynt and Love, the ranting Hole frontwoman, are considered controversial for drug use, stripping and marrying infamous guys. It’s interesting casting.