Essay 3: Draft
August 27th 1991 just one short decade after the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic the American Hip-Hop trio Salt-N-Peppa released their chart topping hit “Lets Talk About Sex”. The song encouraged listeners to open up dialogue about both the positive and negative aspects of sex including HIV and AIDS. In one lyric, “What we have here is subject to controversy. A three-letter word some regard as a curse see.” It is very easy to relate this lyric to the writings of Susan Sontag in her essay “Aids and its Metaphors”. Not only are we seeing the familiar reference of the virus being referred to as a curse, but we are also seeing the stigma being challenged through popular music. An alternate version of the song entitled “Lets talk about AIDS” more directly addressed the spread of HIV/AIDS:
‘Now, you don't get AIDS from kisses, touches, mosquito bites, or huggin'
Toilet seats, telephones, stop buggin'
You get it for sex or a dirty drug needle
Anal or oral now, people
Women can give it to men and men mostly to women
The facts are simple, right and exact
And once you get it, there's no turnin' back for you
There ain't a cure so you gotta be sure
Protect yourself or don't have sex anymore
Mothers might give it to their babies through the womb
Or through birth, don't be an ass and assume
AIDS ain't got no smell or taste
It don't care about your race
You see a nice, kind face - you think you're safe?
I'm sorry, that's just not the case
There's no debate, conversate with your mate
And don't wait until it's too late’
This lyric illustrates to me of one of the central points in Pisani’s chapter of “Sacred Cows”, that is the emphasis on prevention vs. treatment. Pisani while not disagreeing with the treatment of HIV and AIDS smartly points out “More treatment means more people with HIV, potentially taking more risk and exposing more other people to the virus… we need to see treatment as an opportunity to draw people into prevention programmes”[Pis08]. We are now asked to consider how Pisani’s “Sacred Cows” changes or otherwise informs our understanding of Sontag’s “AIDS and it’s Metaphors”. Every reading harnesses the ability to change the way we understand and perceive other writings and subject matter in general. In some cases it can change our views completely and in others just slightly. In other cases a reading can reinforce a view or an opinion that you may have already possessed.
When I first encountered Sontag, I was lost. After rereading it a few times, I can developed and understanding of what I thought she was trying to say. That is, AIDS like many other diseases in the past have stigmas attached to them. That one day like all of the other dreadful diseases of the past the stigma will also fall from AIDS and it will become just an illness. At that point I agreed with Sontag, I also though that this would help, that is if the stigma was removed and it was no longer an “us vs. them” diseases it would be more productive to finding a cure and helping those who were infected. After encountering Gamson my opinion about Sontag’s essay changed a little. I no longer agreed that this change was bound to happen, like the sun is bound to rise in the morning. That if the stigma that surrounded the HIV/Aids epidemic was to ever be removed it would not be easy by any means. It would take lots of time, money, and hard work. It’s been 30 plus years and HIV/Aids are still stigmatized, but as long as we have new social movement groups like ACT UP fighting to change the way that people see AIDS, we are moving in the correct direction, right?
Reading Pisani was by far the most interesting to me. Not only was it, in my opinion the most interesting thus far, but it also reinforced an undeveloped idea that I was already toying with. The seed was planted in my mind that if HIV/AIDS lost all of its stigmatization, at least without a cure, that might not be an entirely good thing. The idea started after watching the Front Line documentary “The Age of AIDS “. There was a guy who talked about the younger generations of homosexuals not seeing the face of AIDS, the sores, and all of the sickness and death, and how they were not as afraid of it as the probably should’ve been. I recall wondering if that very lack of fear plays a part in the increasing rate of infections. Pisani says “Treatment makes HIV much, much less scary, because it makes it less fatal. There are fewer cadaverous people around, fewer funerals to go to… As people get less scared of AIDS, they get sloppier about prevention”[Pis08]. This once again shifted my thoughts on the prior readings. I began with the thought that one day HIV/AIDS will become “just an illness”, not a gay disease, or an African disease, but just another disease that carries no meaning, stigma or fear. I believed that once this happened, it would somehow make it better for those living with the virus and would also contribute to the ending of the epidemic, thanks to Susan Sontag. My thoughts evolved with Gameson, I no longer believed that a change was bound to happen, but a battle was necessary for this change to occur. Now, through the writings of Elizabeth Pisani, I am enabled to further develop my own idea that too much normalization can be counterproductive, that without a healthy amount of fear, people can and will become lax in their behavior. This laxity is extremely counterproductive to solving the problem that HIV and Aids epidemic presents to the world.
With each new reading comes a new perspective on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I strongly look forward to the next reading to see how it will deepen my understanding on prior readings and on the epidemic itself.
Pis08: , (Pisani),