MTV generation gets lesson on AIDS

The knowledge that even an athlete as great as Earvin "Magic" Johnson can be sidelined by AIDS sounded an alarm that is still echoing. Much has been written about how Mr. Johnson's fate underlines the risks of contracting HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that can lead to an active case of AIDS. But have these writings reached a wide enough audience?

That's where home video can help. If the MTV generation -- not famous for its love of reading -- is to hear the message, it can now turn to one of its favorite media, videotape. In this instance, Mr. Johnson is saying his piece on Paramount Home Video's "Time Out: The Truth About HIV, AIDS and You" (42 minutes).


The program was produced by Arsenio Hall and Paramount Home Video as a public service, with the dealer cost being held to $8.50. Paramount has pledged to donate its profits to the Magic Johnson Foundation (an AIDS charity) and is encouraging stores to sell "Time Out" for less than $10 and rent it at no charge. Among those who have agreed to stock it as a free rental are Blockbuster, Tower and Wherehouse Entertainment, a West Coast music-and-video chain.

Despite its stark topic, the tape manages to be a breezy concoction of interviews, discussion groups, testimonies, lecture and music videos. Directed by former "Cosby" kid Malcolm-Jamal Warner, its style is a restless hodge-podge of jump cuts, computer effects and offbeat angles and exposures that may annoy older viewers even as they captivate the teen-agers it was clearly designed for. This is a tape that telegraphs its serious moments by letting the camera sit still for a second.


In a narrative device that opens and closes the tape, Mr. Hall and Mr. Johnson engage is some jokey one-on-one basketball, serving to show that for all outward appearances, Mr. Johnson is the picture of health. What's more, he says that he feels fine, too. Their discussion of acquired immune deficiency syndrome gives way to the interviews, discussion and skits that make up the majority of the tape.

"Time Out" is studded with celebrity walk-ons. Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, Luke Perry, Paula Abdul, Neil Patrick Harris and many others pop in and out of the picture -- very quickly -- to add their voices to the warnings.

Larger contributions are made by Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison (in a skit about a seduction that goes awry when Mr. Hardison shows no interest in using a condom), Sinbad (as a "talking condom") and Jaleel White, who performs a cute rap called "Contents Under Pressure," about resisting adolescent sex and promiscuity.

But it's the non-celebrities who make the tape worthwhile. Two young mothers with HIV -- one of whom passed it on to her yet-to-be-born infant -- give a sense of what it's like to live with the disease. Another HIV victim, a young man who could have stepped out of "Beverly Hills, 90210," is a reminder of how foolish it is to rely on stereotypes as a way to identify likely HIV carriers.

The tape also contains forthright instruction on how to use a condom.

Since Paramount is promoting the tape for use in schools and other institutions, teachers will certainly want to preview it and weigh the appropriateness of its contents for specific age groups.

The condom instruction occurs in a teen-age discussion group. While one girl holds out two fingers, another shows how to open the package, unroll the condom and slip it on. After use, she recommends tying the open end and putting the condom in a bag before discarding. Despite the potential for rude humor at this point, the whole segment is handled with remarkable poise by all concerned.

Amid all the flashy technique, the tape makes its grim points: AIDS is the sixth leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24; 75 percent of AIDS cases worldwide are caused by heterosexual contact; the 140,000 U.S. deaths due to AIDS exceeds the toll of the Vietnam War.