When Zika and Cultural Practices Meet in Miami

Halloween in South Florida is an exhilarating time, even if you are not in costume. Being a Miami native, I can remember the time when I was first allowed to go to South Beach for Halloween and the craziness that ensued with bizarre costumes and eccentric people. Traditionally, South Beach has been “What’s Hot” for Halloween mixing tourist and local alike while the Wilton Manors neighborhood focuses on the LGBT community in Ft. Lauderdale. As the Wynwood neighborhood becomes the trendiest locale in Miami, a shift of festivity has relieved some of the traffic from South Beach.

As I prepared to go out for Halloween night, someone told me, “I’d go with you to South Beach but it is the Zika zone and I know how you feel about that.”

It made me think critically of the cultural need, desire, belief, custom to pilgrimage to South Beach for Halloween even in spite of Zika. As my team creates a VR experience to educate heterosexual males about Zika and safe-sex practices, this made me question, “How serious will people take the health campaign message?” It was through my own actions that I understood that there can be some perceptions changed even on a small level. I responded, “We can still go! We just need to take precautions.” I immediately Facebook like a good Millennial:

I knew I was going as I felt a strong desire to continue my custom even knowing about Zika. I had to "Stay Protected" as our campaign says.
I knew I was going as I felt a strong desire to continue my custom even knowing about Zika. I had to “Stay Protected” as our campaign says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a student of Social Media, I deconstructed my message and note the “LoL” at the end. It is not lack of seriousness towards Zika when I wondered why I added that. It was more along the lines that I could not believe that I was practicing cognitive dissonance, or separating what I know for a moment that might conflict. This must be considered when predicting the outcome of attitude changes of the Zika VR experience. Will the attitude towards safe-sex change with Zika being introduced to the list of STDs? In a VR experience the user may experience attitude change but during sexual activity (which is very distracting) practice cognitive dissonance. As our experience borrows from Inoculation Theory, it could very well be that a follow-up experience or additional “dosage” of the message will have a greater impact. As each week passes researching Zika and prevention methods, I take it more seriously. If my own attitudes can change about a mosquito and I have found value in the reminder of safe-sex practices, I know that our VR experience will have some impact.

Para La Playa

To the beach…! As we drove to South Beach for the festivities (freshly sprayed with OFF! of course) I also thought of my friends headed to Wynwood which was once a Zika zone but is now clear. Would it have been as populated if the zone was not cleared by the CDC? Also, the tradition for many in Miami due to our lovely weather is to show some skin, okay, or a lot of skin. As my teammate reminded me to wear long sleeves, it was not part of my costume. I had long pants on so I just made sure to spray my arms down. The night was eventful with dancing and selfies but I did not note anyone “refreshing” their OFF or bug spray. I was pleased to see a costume commenting on the Zika crisis. A man was wearing a painting coverall with “Anti-Zika” duct-taped along the front with a caulking gun. The illusion he was trying to create was that of a hazmut suit and bugspray. If my parents were not architects and contractors I would have thought it looked more official but was impressed by his clever usage of his work uniform and creating a conception very similar to what a Zika exterminator would be imagined or perceived to look like by the public. Interesting to note that chemical sprays by plane was the method to help eradicate Zika in certain neighborhoods. As I left South Beach, I wondered how we flock to what we know and attitudes are hard to change. I am glad I had this experience as it will make me focus on the construction of the message within the experience even more.

 

Before I head to South Beach, I make sure that my exposed areas are sprayed. I educate everyone in the car that it is not a repellent but a slip agent in the spray that does not allow mosquitoes to land and feed.
Before I head to South Beach, I make sure that my exposed areas are sprayed. I educate everyone in the car that it is not a repellent but a slip agent in the spray that does not allow mosquitoes to land and feed.

 

Anti-Zika Man would shout, "No more Zika in Miami!" Not only was he dressed but playing the part as well which is a form of advocacy.
Anti-Zika Man would shout, “No more Zika in Miami!” Not only was he dressed but playing the part as well which is a form of advocacy.