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Challenges Facing Aids Activism In America

1581 words - 7 pages

Challenges Facing AIDS Activism in America

Even before HIV/AIDS first showed up in the United States in 1980-1981, homosexuals were greatly stigmatized within American society. The homophobia that already existed was only exacerbated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS during the first few years of the epidemic were homosexual males (so much so in fact that AIDS was originally called the "Gay-Related Immuno Deficiency"). The US male homosexual population found itself confronted with a national epidemic that was receiving zero national attention. The political activism of the gay male population in the 1980s and early 1990s made significant ...view middle of the document...

AIDS first came into the public eye in 1985 when Rock Hudson, a famous 1960s Hollywood actor, publicly admitted to having AIDS and subsequently died later that year. But after five years of unsuccessful lobbying, AIDS was still perceived as a gay men's health crisis and not an american (or international) health crisis. In part due to GMHC's failure to significantly change public policy concerning AIDS within the traditional political framework of American democracy, GMHC founder Larry Kramer organized a "non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis" called the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) in February 1987 (ACT 1). ACT UP was successful at bringing the urgency and severity of the AIDS epidemic into the national spotlight through highly visible actions of civil disobedience.

An essential part of ACT UP's political activism relied on attracting media coverage through shocking demonstrations of civil disobedience in order to make their objectives known to the nation. It made sense then, for ACT UP to record each demonstration on video so that news stations would have the opportunity to broadcast additional parts of the demonstration if they so desired. Thus, it is clear that there was a natural intersection of video documentary with AIDS political activism from the very beginning. Throughout the rest of the 1980s and into the 1990s, the role of video activism in the development of the AIDS epidemic became more pronounced as Damned Interfering Video Archivists (DIVA) TV was founded in 1989 as a "video-documenting affinity group with ACT UP...document[ing] public testimony, the media, and community activism in the FIGHT AGAINST AIDS" (DIVA 1). DIVA TV was responsible for several films documenting ACT UP's political demonstrations, including "Like a Prayer", which analyzed the controversial Stop the Church demonstration at St. Patrick's Cathedral in December 1989. Personal testimonies were recorded by so-called docu-diaries, which included films such as "Danny" (1987), "Rubber Queen" (1992), and "Silverlake Life" (1993). On the other hand, some video activism came in the form of commercial ad campaigns, (GranFury's "Kissing Doesn't Kill" for example), while others came in the form of mainstream Hollywood films like "Philadelphia" (1993) and "And the Band Played On" (1993). Each of these instances of video activism had its own political agenda, whether it was to justify the motives, actions, and emotions behind a controversial demonstration, to personalize the epidemic for people without AIDS, to arouse public scrutiny of what Paula Treichler calls the industrial-regulatory loop, to solicit tolerance and compassion for PWAs, or to educate the general public. In each case of video activism, significant progress was made towards the three main goals of the AIDS political movement: providing health care for PWAs, educating people about AIDS, and ending discrimination of PWAs.


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