Seen both on television, as well as on billboards, when the "Knowing is Beautiful" campaign billboards first began appearing on Boston buses and subway station billboards, people were rightfully disturbed. The Boston Globe reports:
Knowing is beautiful? What a weird choice of words, Boston public health nurse Brianne Fitzgerald thought when she first saw the ad in the subway.
"Knowing is not beautiful," Fitzgerald says now, weeks later. An AIDS counselor and caregiver for nearly 20 years, Fitzgerald recalls a group of her AIDS patients that included a bony, ratty-haired, pock-marked old addict from the JP projects; a tiny baby-doll-like prostitute in the South End who puffed up like a Cabbage Patch Kid before she passed away; and an infant in a Cambodian village whose body was so malnourished and riven by diarrhea that he looked 70, not 7 weeks, before he died.
No, says Fitzgerald, "It's not beautiful. It's depressing as ****"
Like some others in the field, Fitzgerald, 56, fears that by using such glossy depictions to break the barriers of blase, the ads are veering into dangerous territory: glamorizing the disease, as she put it; disguising the fact that despite great medical strides, people are still dying from AIDS; dismissing the many who are still living but are shredded by the side effects of their medications, from nausea to nightmares; even loosening safe-sex strictures with its elegant touch.
"We want everything to look nice in our culture," Fitzgerald says. Still, as it sweeps across the country, the "knowing is beautiful" theme -- a joint effort by Viacom, the media giant, and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides information on health issues to the public and policymakers -- is being heaped with praise in some quarters for being a chic public service approach to trying to lower the percentages of those who are infected with HIV but don't know it, now pegged by Kaiser as about 1 in 4 in the United States of those infected.
By eschewing the scary and statistic-driven messages of typically dull public service announcements in favor of a style more reminiscent of a Gap ad -- sensual sepia tones, hip-hop iconography, and an adhesive bandage from a blood test primped up as a beautiful flower-shaped HIV-test trademark -- the media blitz's participants are hoping to turn the clinical into the cool.