Dossier - Contagious
Douglas Crimp's article "Portraits of People with AIDS" discusses a number of art and media exhibits that have displayed both photographic and documentary portraits of PWA's, or people with AIDS. He argues that the trend in these elements of media is to portray the PWA as suffering and dying, a figure to be pitied and a life path to be avoided. He cites a number of examples--Nicholas Nixon's "Pictures of People," Sixty Minutes' "AIDS Hits Home," and Stashu Kybartas' "Danny," among them.
The first few examples he gives raise, once again, the issue of representation and what is positive representation versus negative. Crimp argues that the one-side portrayal of people with AIDS as isolated, dying, rejects of society, negatively affects the attempts of the AIDS movement to make progress regarding government legislation and access to healthcare. He also points out that these representations are created for audiences that are primarily white, middle class, American, and heterosexual, as is the case in Sixty Minutes "AIDS Hits Home" and Frontline/PBS's profile of Fabian Bridges. The point of these programs is often to draw attention to how the disease is now negatively affecting...you guessed it...those poor white, middle class, American, heterosexuals. The gay and lesbians (if there are any) serve as a foils to these hard-working folks, or shadows to be hidden away by TV manipulations and shame. The programs and associated media reinforce elements of racism, homophobia and sexism.
The most interesting point that Crimp raises is that of how to properly represent AIDS in media. Because, as one-sided as some of these portraits may be, there are still apart of the AIDS epidemic. Crimp is in favor of a multi-faceted representation, where these images are contrasted to/paired with images of PWA's going about their normal lives and proving that those living with AIDS can live and function as a part of society.
I found Crimp's article to be very convincing and interesting for a number of reasons. Primarily, the fact that as a viewer, I am so accustomed to this biased depiction of social minorities, that I myself would probably not question the intent nor examine the motives of one of these programs. Instead, because I'm a human being with feelings, I would have the appropriate emotional response to the program: sadness and sympathy, as opposed to looking beyond those catered-to emotions and consider in depth the presentation and organization of the information.
In terms of questions, this article pointed out my shortcomings as a viewer. TV's methods of presentation and representation have been so perfected that I sometimes fail to see the artifice. How do we become better viewers? How to do we (as a society) learn to objectively examine the material given to us and analyze it for accuracy and fairness? What do "accuracy" and "fairness" mean in this context? Is it diversity of opinions/people/situations? Can accuracy and fairness exist with out objectivity, both in non-fiction and fiction-based media?
Uuuuuuuugh. That’s really the most important thing that I have to say about Gregg Bordowitz’s essay “The AIDS Crisis is Ridiculous.” I have absolutely no idea why I chose to dossier this article. I understand that the information conveyed by Bordowitz is important. Important to society in general and him personally as well. However, when reading the majority of the article I felt as if I were sitting down with my grandfather while he yammered on with stories of the war and how coke used to cost a nickel… apparently soda was also pretty cheap. I realize that these are important stories, important things to know. These are the words of my gay ancestors; they should be written into scripture and carried around in a pocket version. But, I guess a lot of people are bored to tears by the bible as well.
Near the very end of his essay, Bordowitz talks of how his entire troupe seems to be in a constant state of mourning and how “this was not so, merely ten, fifteen, twenty years ago.” Now we are ten, fifteen, twenty years off from the writing of this article and things seems to have changed again. While obviously still important, the information conveyed in this article doesn’t have much pertinence to me.
The majority of Bordowitz’s article is spent discussing various aspects of the video protest collectives of which he is a part. While some of what is discussed is interesting, it’s very difficult to view it with temporal blinders. Everything that he discusses occurred during a time that it wasn’t really a worry to the majority of people my age. We were so young, we weren’t sexually active, most of us hadn’t even heard the word AIDS or HIV aside from occasionally in passing on the local news. It is like being born in the generation right after the civil rights movement. You hear a lot about the struggle, and it hits you, but you don’t REALLY know about it.
I imagine that a lot of the beautiful or hilarious scenes that he describes must be seen to be believed.
The things that struck me most about this article were simple things. Firstly, I was angry when he talked about his HIV+ status and said he now uses condoms, but to protect himself. Understandably sex is quite risky given his compromised immunity, but he doesn’t say that he wears them to protect others….
Something else that struck me was his discussion of the “structure of feeling.” He tried to explain Raymond Williams’ idea. But, I really only half got it. I was hoping for some clarification on the issue, but it never came (giggity). I understood that the theatre, the video collectives, and La Mama ETC were all related to this structure, but I didn’t really GET how this was spreading awareness, or if that was even its purpose.
One thing I DID agree with, I’m not sure there was much argument anywhere else, was that AIDS awareness and education should ideally take the form of a “grassroots effort designed by a community in its own interests.” Whatever the issue, changing it (or at least making people aware) should start at home.
Part of what I was confused about also involved the making of these videos. I definitely see it as a form of empowerment and voice for the community that makes them. However, Bordowitz acts as if they are these videos that everyone sees and learns from. I’m just uncertain about whether or not these videos had an effect on, or were even seen, by people that were not already wholly enmeshed in the AIDS prevention/awareness community.
Addition to Tatum's dossier entry:
Our discussion didn't really provide me with any new ideas that I could use to better understand Bordowitz, but it was able to provide me with more validation for the concerns and discrepancies that I had with the essay. Our discussion did help me to realize that although the AIDS generation is not us, it's still something we need to know as it is part of our history and is the precursor to a lot of the strife that has become so prevalent. I am also now a little less confkiikused about the purpose of the video collectives. Ideally, they would be trying to put out videos about knowledge and awareness for the masses, but they do still have a purpose. While the videos are not doing all that they are capable of, they are still assisting in creating a solid foundation of acceptance, understanding, and support for their own community. They are indeed erecting walls but not in a reclusive sense. The walls are for support and security. And these videos will act as homage to all of those whom the disease has claimed. They will live on through the videos, providing comfort and acceptance to those that continue to struggle. I just wish that Bordowitz had better explained that. He acted as if these videos were changing the world. They were changing HIS world but not the world as a whole and there is nothing wrong with that.
Munoz describes in, Pedro Zamora's Real World of Counterpublicity: Performing an Ethics of the Self, that “Pedro's work enabled the possibility of queer and Latino counterpublics, spheres that stand in opposition to the racism and homophobia of the dominant public sphere. Pedro Zamora, the token queer cast mate on MTV’s Real World third season cast in San Francisco, was able to perform his counterpublic self despite the manufactured corporate entity that is MTV. Using a combination of Michel Foucalt’s theory, the working on the self for others, George Yudice’s analysis of Foucalt’s potential “ethics of marginality” may be extracted from his theory, and other theorists like Habernas (whose concept I didn’t really grasp). With all of this theory, Munoz goes into depth about Zamora’s queer and Latino identities on television and its dramatic impact not only culturally and socially but also politically. Zamora’s presence being an out of the ordinary one is worked by Munoz to be understood as a counterpublic response to dominant publicity.
Munoz brings up good points in regards to Zamora’s ability to capture the American public the way he did, being Cuban-American puts him in seemingly “model minority” status as most Cubans have certain conations not given to any other Latino. He was also a very handsome man with eloquent skills accompanied by an accent very reminiscent of Ricky Ricardo. Along with his very keen awareness of how to market himself to get on the cast of Real World by introducing himself on the application as a good for tv candidate due to his HIV+ gay person. Munoz credits Zamora’s ability to use MTV more than MTV uses him, he is able to slip out of the overlooked token gay character by being a passionate educator pushing his important agenda to the masses. “What started out as tokenized representation became something larger, more spacious-a mirror that served as a prop for subjects to imagine and rehearse identity. This, in part, enables the production of counterpublics.”
I had some questions reagarding Munoz characterization of Zamora and his constant use of the word performance regarding Zamora’s demeanor on the show. He says, “Representing the totality of living with AIDS was very important for his ethics of the self, his performance of being a self for others” (pg 156). I considered Zamora’s decision to expose himself entirely a demonstration of not performing, but of being very real and authentic. His decision to not just talk about having AIDS, but also allowing those around him to witness him at his weakest, isn’t a performance, but an exhibition of his true state of being. I don’t understand how the two can be synonymous as Munoz puts it.
Munoz also goes into deep discussion about the paralleling of Pedro and Sean’s ceremony with that of Puck and Toni’s engagement, off location, is a clear revelation of MTV’s inability to fully accept Pedro’s lifestyle being the exemplary relationship MTV seeks every season, which I agree is unfortunate and visibly noticeable. However, I believe Munoz puts a lot of emphasis on every single one of Pedro’s actions, in other words, he makes him the key representative of all Latino queers, which forces him to scrutinize and critically analyze Pedro’s intimate moments, as seen in Pedro and Sean’s marriage ceremony. Munoz comments, “Despite these efforts by the show's producers to diminish the importance of
Pedro and Sean's relationship, the ceremony itself stands as an amazingly powerful example of publicly performing an ethics of the self while simultaneously theatricalizing a queer counterpublic sphere” (158). I feel like Munoz is trying to make Zamora a protagonist of the counterpublic, having the responsibility to carry such heavy identities, but Zamora, as aware of his status as a positive influence, is still just trying to live his life without it being a performance for everyone to critique despite his presence on a reality show. In a moment as intimate as a marriage ceremony, I feel like performing and theatricalizing isn't his top priority. Being happy in the moment with the love of his life is above anything else.
I guess my questions for this article would be when is someone just living their life and when are they putting themselves up for constant scrutiny due to their unique status? When are you analyzing and when are you over-analyzing? When is it just considered a precious moment and when is it the representational one? Can they be one in the same? Is setting up boundaries an option? Or is it that once you are visible you are responsible for everyone else? Do you even have say over your life once put in that position?
Last updated 826 days ago by Tatum