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I'm Dying and You Want Me to Get a Hug from a Bunch of F**gots? On Dallas Buyers Club

February 3, 2014

A couple of disclaimers:

  • At no point in my life have I had any exposure to Jared Leto. Every girl I grew up with (I should say: women now in their late 20s to early 40s) was obsessed with him. Prior to seeing Dallas Buyers Club I was neither pro- nor anti-Jared Leto and I have never watched My So-Called Life except for this little clip I added as a vintage example.
  • and then: SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD.
Ronald Reagan: AIDSGATE

I chose this graphic to represent the film even though Reagan was never mentioned, Washington was never visited and protests of the era were left largely unseen. Toward the end, when the mechanisms of the plot truly reveal that this story is larger than the characters housed within, this AIDSGATE poster shows up in the Dallas Buyers Club office.

As I stated in my debut post: I view the Die-Off as a manifestation of the ignorance promulgated by the Khristian Konservative Koalition, and personified by Reagan. I DO blame Ronald Reagan for this "Reign of Terror" in U.S. history -- perhaps why I can't respect modern RepubliKKKans, as they cite Reagan as a saint.

The characters in this film are stripped bare, and are developed ONLY where it builds the macro story: AIDS, the FDA and early AZT trials. As such, the last third of DBC seemed at times like it was dragging -- mechanisms moving the plot along had to be conveyed (vis-a-vis court trials that didn't have much specifics conveyed, et al), in the interest of that larger story.

What we know already, or the blurb you read in the movies section beforehand: big bad homophobe gets AIDS in 1985, realizes the only hope at prolonging life is experimental drugs, comes to find out that the FDA is problematic/corrupt, then decides to break out on his own as a pseudo-Messiah entrepreneur-type. With Jared Leto in drag. And Jennifer Garner ... as some kind of love interest?

At times I almost found it frustrating that the humanity breathing life into these characters was not explored more. It made some of their actions seem disjointed, which I suppose is good for DBC's bottom line in that it invites a re-watching.

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The research I've done into the movie since then indicates that Garner and Leto may have been fictional characters -- meant to move the mechanisms of the plot along. As stated above, hadn't been sure what Garner was supposed to do for this story. For those who've been exposed to the "AIDS movie" genre, she actually pulled double duty: straight-laced medical nerd type (for conveying actual medical and health industry data to the audience), but also as the "Mary-Louise Parker" of the film. It's revealed at some point that Garner and Leto's characters had been high school friends. This ... really hit me hard, as no single demographic has reacted to my recent news more sensitively than old high school lady friends. You knew us and cared for us when we were bullied mercilessly -- the last thing you want to think about is us then growing frail and dying. Even if that doesn't happen anymore.

There are 2 scenes that I really, really liked and strongly identified with: earlier, Rayon (the Leto character) and Woodroof are arguing in the supermarket over whether or not bologna is a good idea. Rayon mentions it's got protein, Woodroof complains about the sodium nitrates being poison (in 2014, my mother is telling me to eat more ice cream because it's high in fat/calories and it tastes good; keeping weight on is currently a concern of mine). A few minutes just prior to that scene Woodroof was downing AZT horse pills with a bottle of whiskey, so again: more info into Woodroof's personal evolution would have been much appreciated.

This ... was the mid-1980s. Nobody "normal" was discussing sodium nitrate. I seriously thought my household had been the only one having this sort of discussion. I have equal parts hippie granola and gourmet foodie backgrounds, and I knew almost as far back as I could talk that the USFDA is a total joke. Back then, however, the proof was indicated by its lax rules allowing sugar substitutes into the US market [just google: saccharin (Sweet&Lo), aspartame (NutraSweet) or sucralose (chlorinated sugar, aka Splenda)]. The problem isn't "let's come up with something sweet like sugar," the problem is "we are addicted to sugar." Since there's very little money to be made in the latter, of course the FDA prefers the former.

The other scene I loved spoke more directly to that personal evolution I wanted to see: because Woodroof is a "Redneck 'n' Proud," he can't really navigate the "market" where his life-prolonging goods are most needed; that's where Rayon comes in as sales rep. At one point, the pair go to a gay bar together (really weird to think about AIDS meds being sold in gay bars alongside party drugs -- this generation was 1 or 2 before my own).

Woodroof had indicated many times by this point in the film that he "ain't no f***ing f**got." The viewer is reminded just how homophobic straight, white, male society used to be (sometimes still is). However, it's in those moments were he comes to terms with his shared humanity with gay men, as well as realizing they are his customer base, that Woodroof evolves.

I have personally observed this phenomenon for over 20 years: straight men are better at being social chameleons than they give themselves credit for. Homophobia can be defused by either of two simple social principles:

  1. a hetero man will take on the values of the majority culture around him, probably related to alpha male/pack mentality;
  2. evolution is driven by want/need. Every straight teenage guy who hung out with me, my teenage gay friends, plus our women, had to adapt. If for no other reason than greater access to 'tang.

Because Woodroof's social circles changed, he had to as well. Because "f**gots" were now his customer base, he had to treat them as human beings.

There was one scene, very early on, that hit me very hard. I should mention that, being a total drama queen, I took my T/t cocktail during the opening credits (generally I time my meds for Rachel Maddow: I take them at that time to honor her early work in ACTUP. It's hokey but I imagine on some level I'm honoring her activism).

The meds kicked in during a scene after it's clear Woodroof is losing his job and all of his "friends" think he's gay because he's dying of AIDS (ponder that for a moment: dying and being forsaken. It makes me cry). Driving along a road, he suddenly begins to sob. Like. One of those bawl-seshs that resembles the kind of tantrumed crying you did as a small child. No clue where the energy comes from, but it's an exorcism of raw emotion, breath, tears and snot. Woodroof has a loaded gun in the front seat with him, and you can see the contortions in his face as he just wails out loud at his circumstance. It was commonplace for those living with AIDS back then to kill themselves before things got "too bad," I would imagine for no other reason than to leave a more handsome corpse, and to make sure you weren't remembered as a wraith.

Dallas Buyers Club should make you happy to be alive -- positive, negative, gay or straight. A side effect is that the movie has really motivated me to study up on herbal medicines -- I may even take ayurvedic/Chinese medicine classes. Just because the man in the white lab coat hands you a blue pill doesn't mean that's all there is to making you whole again.

I'd like to live in an America where DBC is taught in high school. Minus the hookers, of course (side bar? Those poor, poor hookers ...)


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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Annie (Middletown nj) Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 8:13 pm EST
I seen the movie and it hit home. Don't watch the movie for the way their clothes or the comments whatever liberties they took watch it as you lived it. If you didn't then take a walk on the wild side. I was made to take AZT for two years my husband too. He's gone . Died July 5 th 1992. I am here living 22 yrs with the disease which the pain makes me wish it was me not him. But as I was taking that , I had a spiritual fight going on inside me , something that knew AZT was bad for me was fighting the I was told to take it as this will save my life. I wound winning I took the reins of my health and refused meds. I did very well for years up until cervical cancer veered it's ugly head. When it was all over I had 28 t4's left so I made the decision to go on meds . Today I probably didn't have to they are finding out it the more we tell the doctors , the more the doctors learn the more we move forward. I have a lot of issues but I'm here alive . People back then that took AZT aren't like my husband . If he could only had held on 1 more year he would of made it . RIP
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Comment by: aj broome (Tampa, Florida) Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm EST
As someone who is at the 25 year mark, half of my life. Yes, we have come a long way. It was guys like him who started paving the way. These were unproven,untested and often illegal drugs. At that time people would try anything that might work. I myself used a treatment of Kodak Ectachrome developer it was rubbed once a day onto a different part of my body and then covered with a bandage, burned like hell. The term "AIDS" was not spoken by then President Reagen until 1985. It was thought at that time we would have a cure in a few yrs, 35 yrs later we still have no cure.
MEDs, yes, they have come a long way and really just the last few yrs. They became tolerable, in 2000 I was taking 40 pills a day with horrendous side effects. This movie brings to light a different perspective, It showed hetero/ non hemophiliac/ non injection drug user could get HIV.
If you really want to get a dose of the old days, watch "And the and Played On" the uncut version or read the book. You will throw the book across the room many times before you finish it.
Those were horrible days!!
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Comment by: Jean (bluffton, SC) Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm EST
I saw the movie and liked it because if anything it made me realize how lucky we all are today with all the new meds out and most of all how rude people were in the 80 's about the diease, it breaks my heart all those people who died from this diease because it took so long for our countryto find the right meds to help people. I was thrilled he got it for best actor, he deserve it.
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Comment by: richard (NYC, NY) Tue., Mar. 4, 2014 at 8:33 pm EST
1. People killed themselves "before it got too far" because we watched those we loved suffer so horribly it became common to decide to end it now rather than endure such agony.
2. DBC's Rayon is to transgenders as Gone with the Wind's Mammy is to blacks: a future embarrassment to Hollywood.
3. Frail and dying from AIDs is still happening!!!
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Comment by: TonyDewitt (Newark, NJ) Tue., Mar. 4, 2014 at 7:18 pm EST
Certainly the point about people killing themselves before the disease got too bad is understandable, and is dramatized in a movie with Eric Roberts. I find it ironic that people in the 80s had to fight the system to get experimental treatments to hopefully stay alive another year, while people today are skeptical about starting approved medications that could keep them alive, especially with studies that state that starting therapy above 350 CD4 can add 6 years to your life, and therapy above 500 CD4 can add 9 nines to your life. These people in the 80s paved the road for the treatments that are available today, and they are owed a tremendous amount of recognition and gratitude as a result.
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Comment by: Jean (SC) Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 4:08 pm EST
I agree with you so much about the 80's itis sad to say but our country was clueless about the diease,when it first came out.We have come a long ways.


Comment by: Mike (Washington, DC) Tue., Mar. 4, 2014 at 7:06 pm EST
I have read negative comments regarding the Dallas Buyers Club movie. It's either, should have used a real drag queen, the main character never wore cowboy clothes. Yes, the movie took liberties. However, I like the movie, because it lets a straight person, see a world, where a straight man, gets hiv, not with having sex with a homosexual. The scene where the hiv infected man, meets an hiv infected woman and the two of them have sex. Yes, straight people get hiv! Gay people get hiv! Both sets of people, get hiv! There are many other things to take away from the movie. I would hope, looking on the positive side of the movie, would help everyone.
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A House in Virginia


Ben B.

Ben B.

Ben is an old soul from the American heartland. Indoctrinated as a child on AIDS education throughout the 80s/90s, he's fascinated by the sociological and psychological outcomes that resulted from that exposure, for all of us. Especially as new medicines and new generations rise to the challenge, relegating this once-fatal disease into "merely" a serious condition.

A recent diagnosis paired with this ancient education means internal conflict. Ben thrives on examining the layers of HIV-- where society, relationships and even the law are concerned.

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