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News - December 1996

Teen Sexuality Documentary goes on the Web

CONCORD, NH -- Academe Today, the on-line service of the Council of Higher Education, cited it as a featured web site for its subscribers. NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, the national broadcasting network in Japan) aired the web site's look and sequencing on its new satellite "Internet television channel" over an entire month. Health educators in England, Norway, Belgium, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Canada e-mail back for more information and how to secure the documentary on video. Teenagers from school districts in Florida and California, which restrict information about sexuality, ask how they can get this documentary to their school staff; a youth in Brazil, writing back in Portuguese, thanks the documentary's creator for letting him see himself asreal.

"Your work has inspired me," writes back 27-year veteran elementary school principal James McDonald. "I must praise you for bringing out the diversity of decisions that we all make and the consequences that face each decision."

That response has been just the tip of a cyberspace iceberg known as Teen Sexuality in a Culture of Confusion, the new world wide web site for a documentary that was created and premiered in a most unlikely state for understanding teen sexuality -- New Hampshire. Sincethe site went on-line in February 1996, it has received over 75,000 hits (visits) to its dozens of pages containing interviews with teenagers and scholars and over 60 color photographs.

Teen Sexuality in a Culture of Confusion is the four-year documentary study by award-winning photojournalist Dan Habib, 31, of Concord, New Hampshire. Habib is the photography editor of the Concord Monitor newspaper and is a member of Impact Visuals Photojournalism Agency. His 40-minute documentary -- upon which the website tour is based -- profiles eight young people of diverse race, ethnicity, socio-economic level, geographic locale, and sexual orientation.

Web designer John Decker of Crankcase Multimedia in Detroit was excited at the very prospect of translating Habib's imagery and narratives to the web. And his manner of presenting the material in an electronic format has paid off.

"Teen Sexuality in a Culture of Confusion tops the menu of photo essays," writes Mike Smith, of the Detroit Free Press. "This in-depth project is the best documentation I've seen. The stories of the kids are extremely compelling."

Paralleling Habib's dramatic and emotional photographs, the site also features commentary from seven prominent cultural scholars -- including Susan Bordo, author of "Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body" -- who examine messages and standards the popular culture communicates about sex, love, beauty and the body.

Habib's project has been featured in many magazines, including Mother Jones, American Photo, Student Assistance Journal and Photo District News. The photographs have won major awards from the Pictures of the Year competition, the Associated Press, and the Society of Newspaper Design, and has current or upcoming exhibits in China, Amsterdam, and Philadelphia.

Knox Turner, of the New Hampshire-based private schools policy development group, KTA, is on the documentary's advisory board and also served as technical advisor for content. "We were always confident this documentary would be accessible to teens and adults throughout the country. What is remarkable," he cites, "is that Dan Habib's work in New Hampshire would strike such an international chord of truth."

"The reason we created this web site was the same reason why I took on this project -- to facilitate a more balanced, honest discussion around teen sexuality and the popular culture," Habib says. "These issues have become overly politicized and polarized, and that obscures an honest look at teenage realities. Based on the feedback I've gotten directly from those looking at the site, many people around the world are craving such a dialogue."

Of course there have been those who object to that dialogue. Some groups and individual have voiced concern that the documentary lacks a moral prescription and leaves issues open to interpretation.

But admissions counselor Heidi Fischer of Brattleboro, Vermont's School for International Training (SIT) reminds adults "we need to listen." "What struck me about Teen Sexuality in a Culture of Confusion was its honesty and direct presentation of the challenges teens face on a daily basis. It doesn't take sides, or preach; rather it lets the kids speak for themselves."

This project was made possible, in part, through the financial support of The Granite State AIDS Consortium, The New Hampshire Episcopal Diocese, and The Haymarket People's Fund.

Teen Sexuality in a Culture of Confusion can be found on the Internet at http://www.intac.com/~jdeck/habib/. For more information about on-site presentations and video sales, contact KTA at ktagrpnh@aol.com or 1-800 514-2085. Project creator Dan Habib can be reached directly at dhabib@igc.org


©1996 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.