Tune in Tonight: "A Very Delicate Matter"
Being a teenager is not unlike walking across a minefield while juggling balls full of nitroglycerine. Every move you make is precarious, and might blow up in your face without warning. You have to step carefully around school, your future, your parents, your friends, your preferred gender for romantic relationships, mental health issues, body image issues, drugs, when and how to have sex, whether to go on to college after high school or head immediately to the workforce.
And, sometimes, it burns when you pee.
That’s the subject of A Very Delicate Matter, an ABC Afterschool Special that addresses V.D. in that good old fashioned “I’m so uncleeeeeeaaaaan!” tone of 1950s educational films.
The show opens with 17 year-old Kristin (Lori-Nan Engler) returning home after working for the summer as a camp counselor. While at camp, she had the briefest of flings with fellow counselor Larry (Grant Aleksandr), but rejects his attempts to turn it into something more. Kristin’s heart belongs to her childhood sweetheart, Greg (Zach Galligan), who, for reasons that are never really made clear, refuses to stay in touch with Kristin while she’s away at camp, rekindling things only when she comes back.
The blissfulness of being back in Greg’s arms only lasts a moment, though, when Kristin receives a call from Larry, who tells her that–uh oh!–he has gonorrhea. Because they had sex, even just one time (and didn’t use condoms, nobody uses condoms, condoms are neither mentioned nor even alluded to in this), Kristin might have it as well, and worse, possibly passed it on to Greg (because, again, no condoms). It’s up to her to break the news to him, which really can’t be done by way of a game of charades, or written on a Carvel ice cream cake.
Already burdened with a best friend (Marta Kober) who, rather than offer non-judgmental support, slut shames her (”I can barely handle you sleeping with one guy, let alone two!”) and wears a disguise when driving her to a VD clinic a half hour outside of town, Kristin spends much of her time fretting over if and how she should tell Greg she might have given him the clap. Meanwhile, Greg, who, really, comes off as kind of a petulant asshole, is annoyed that Kristin is distracted and not paying the amount of attention to him that he demands. He soon has bigger problems too, however, when he starts noticing, as per a conversation with a buddy, that “It burns, and yellow stuff comes out.”
Much of A Very Delicate Matter’s forty-five minute run time focuses on Kristin’s guilt over passing gonorrhea to Greg, with virtually no concern over how it may impact her own life. Frustratingly, not one character addresses the possibility that the whole situation could have been avoided altogether if Greg hadn’t decided, just on a whim, to cut off communication with Kristin while she was away at summer camp (or, you know, if anybody knew what a condom was and how to use one). It’s quite clear that it’s all Kristin’s fault, and that the shaming, anger, and disgust directed at her is 100% justified.
The show does end on a hopeful note, however, when Greg hints that he might be willing to work things out with Kristin, assuming she grovels for his forgiveness enough.
Perhaps it was because I came of age in the era of AIDS, but there’s something almost quaint about the alarmist feel of A Very Delicate Matter (released in 1982, when AIDS was still believed to be a problem just for the gays), with its soap opera music and hushed tones. Let’s face it, if you were forced to choose an STI to have, gonorrhea would be the one you’d want. It’s among the easiest to treat, and, unlike HPV, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
The danger comes from letting it go untreated, while you’re dithering over how to tell your schmuck boyfriend that, under the impression your relationship with him was over, you had a one night stand with another guy. In this show, it’s not the STI that you have to worry about, but the stigma, both of which, let me reiterate, could be prevented with condoms, but in the odd, whitewashed world of ABC Afterschool Specials, somehow that’s far too controversial a notion.
Original airdate: November 10, 1982