On Sunday, trying to distract myself from the throbbing in my knee, I dialed up “How to Survive a Plague” on my iPad. A history of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, aka ACT-UP, it first got on my nerves. My patience for ShakyCam is growing short these days, and apparently no one in the ACT-UP publicity crew owned a tripod.
But that was a quibble, and soon I was absorbed into the bad old years again, the mid-’80s, when gay men were falling ill and at first we didn’t know why, and then we did. And knowing didn’t make it better; there wasn’t a cure, there was barely a treatment and the incubation period was so long — it seemed if you’d been gay and sexually active for any length of time, you were doomed.
And one by one, they were. I lost two close friends, several more in the outer friendship circles. First they lost weight, then came the pneumonia or the Kaposi’s sarcoma, then came the spiral. “How to Survive a Plague” brought it all back, with the overlay of the birth of ACT-UP, which was pretty far from Columbus, Ohio at the time. They, as much as anyone, brought the anger the community was feeling into America’s living rooms, mainly through their outrageous protests. They carried giant condoms up the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They called Jesse Helms “that pig in the Senate.” They were rude and confrontational and made over-the-top demands. They insisted the FDA had drugs that could save them, but was holding back, or not trying to modify the agency’s long timeline for approval.
There’s a scene from a protest where a pharmaceutical company was invaded, an executive summoned forth, and a man hectors him at length: “You have my blood on your hands,” he shouts, and even now, knowing how absolutely justified ACT-UP was in their anger, this seems a bit much. Science has its own timeline. It doesn’t always match yours.
But there are other moments that bring the loss home — an ad executive talking about why we so want to blame people for mistakes they make while “being human.” That they have sex they shouldn’t, swallow drugs they shouldn’t, misbehave in ways that make the rest of us say, “See, it is your fault, after all.” When there is not a single one of us who isn’t guilty of being human. When we all misbehave, at least sometimes.
A lot of the ACT-UP protests set the tone for stuff I quickly grew tired of — the red ribbons, the quilts, all that awareness-raising. But it helped to be reminded, yet again, of what spawned it all, the incandescent anger felt by a community that found itself dwindling, young men dying at 26, 30, 42, the prime of their lives, and almost no one seemed to care.
In other words, Jesse Helms was a pig in the Senate. The Catholic church was preposterously wrong to suggest that condom use would lead to more cases, not fewer. ACT-UP’s tactics you can argue with. But they were right. The times cried out for a furious response. We all should have been acting up. I’m glad they did. Silence did equal death, in the movement’s famous T-shirt. They stood for life.
We haven’t discussed the shooting last Friday at the Los Angeles airport, at least not much. A publication I can’t quite get a handle on, nsfwcorp.com, which has a strange paywall system, is alone in pointing out how loud the anti-TSA clamor has been from both the left and the right, and how perfectly the LAX shooter seemed to be dancing to their drumbeat. I read their story today, but it’s back behind the paywall, and so alas.
What does everyone think? Or am I the only one. I fly infrequently enough that I don’t share in the anger, but it does seem like overkill — the scan, the shoeless shuffle, all of it. There must be a better way to do airport security.
Not much bloggage today, but a good Bridge package drops that might be of interest outside Michigan, about legacy costs for retiree pensions and health care that cities are simply not prepared to meet. Part one is here. It’s happening everywhere, maybe in your town, too.
Otherwise, the week is coming to its denouement. Knee feels better, and let’s hope it continues to do so.