Whether it's Sacha Baron Cohen versus Donald Trump or the passing of Nancy Reagan, HIV continues to have a long cultural reach. Here are five HIV-related stories making waves in mainstream media that we're discussing.
Myles Helfand, editorial director: I am now feeling ungood feelings toward Sacha Baron Cohen. And that makes me angry, because anyone who gets between me and my deep level of angst about Donald Trump makes me angry. If this article is accurate, there's a fair bit of flippant and improbable HIV transmission going on between famous people in this film.
The problem with wishing infections on people you hate is that you implicitly lump people who have that infection in with the person you hate. You bring them down. Cohen's got a history of gritty-edge comedy that pushes beyond the boundaries of what's normally acceptable, and sometimes it really works. In this case I hope there's more to it than just,"Haha, you have HIV now; YOU GONNA DIE." Else it does nothing to help the baby steps we're taking against stigma, and maybe hurts it.
Myles: Are you saying you want Donald Trump murdered? [Editor's note: Obvious sarcasm.]
Becky Allen, site director: Yeah, it is hella stigmatizing and hella inaccurate. I can't get behind anything that treats HIV as a punishment, even if it's "punishing" someone I loathe.
JD Davids, managing editor: I can't even.
Becky: Incidentally, I think the difference between using HIV as a punchline and using, say, Ebola as a punchline -- though neither is, you know, good -- is that HIV is perceived as a punishment. There certainly was also a lot of racism about the Ebola scare, but it wasn't split into "innocent Ebola victims" and everyone else who had Ebola. So the joke "works" because we want to see Trump get his comeuppance for being terrible, and HIV fits that perception. :c
Althea Fung, community editor: At first glance this story was hilarious. My immediate thought was, "I'm not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen but I'd pay the $15 to see that." But it's really not funny. He is making fun of HIV and the reality of living with it, and based on what I've read he's not doing it to shed light on the issues of people living with HIV. I think this is another example of a comedian falling flat in his attempt to punch up.
Dugas provided a narrative: HIV as a consequence of promiscuous homosexuality, which placed it firmly in the category of "other" -- something that couldn't happen to most Americans. "It was too scary to think HIV was a general risk due to the vagaries of biology rather than a callous 'bad guy,'" said Richard Elion, M.D., according to the article.
Warren: If they had gotten it right, would that have changed the conspiracy theories at all? We all know the government created AIDS to use on gay and black people. [Editor's note: Obvious sarcasm again.]
Becky: I think the story was a symptom of the homophobia and racism, not the cause.
Myles: As someone said at some point about something, "You never have a second chance to make a first impression." I don't know how that's relevant here, but it came to mind anyway.
Warren: Akshara S. Kumar, a college student in India, was kicked out of her dorm after disclosing her HIV status because other students and their parents were worried they would contract HIV just from living in the same space.
I'm proud of Akshara for speaking up against this stigma that she's been facing her whole life.
"I don't want to hide my name or my picture (identity). I have not done anything wrong. Why should I hide anything about myself? I only want to study," she writes. Her words are powerful. She's tired of this oppression and won't stand for it anymore. We're not gonna take it! #TeamAkshara
Althea: It's just sad that people are so misinformed about HIV that a young woman would be forced out of school because of her status. Reading this story, I think the situation goes deeper than some ignorant parents and teachers. When you really look at it, it's about centuries of tradition butting up against the reality of living with HIV. For better or worse, the two students' parents were trying to protect their daughters' honor, which means a lot in India. Even if they didn't believe that the virus spread in the night or by using the same bathroom, they still would be in the predicament that a potential suitors' family might. So it seems like a messed up situation for all the young women involved. They all want and should be educated, but until there's some significant change in how HIV is culturally perceived, I think this is something we'll continue to hear about.
Warren: There has been development in this story and "resolution," if you can call it that. Akshara is back in the hostels, but it took a lot of "convincing" the parents and students.
Althea: I'm glad this was kind of resolved. I'm interested in seeing how it affects the marriage prospects of her classmates. BTW, did you notice the article kept referring to her as a "girl"? I think a 20 year old is clearly in the woman zone.
Warren: Anyone under 25 is still a kid in my eyes.
Warren: I'm sorry to bring up another NY Post article.
Myles: I feel like every discussion of a NY Post article should start with, "I'm sorry to bring up another NY Post article."
Warren: But I mean, come on, what else is there to say besides that this pharmacist is a scumbag, or sorry, a contemptible or objectionable person? How did he convince people they didn't need their meds?
Myles: Wasn't there a report that came out a couple of years back that spelled out how much various doc offices, clinics and the like were receiving in Medicare repayments? I remember it making a stir because some seemed strangely high. I wonder if this person was on that list.
JD: Easy money indeed -- since HIV meds cost so much, you can bill insurance for $60,000 in no time. From small business to big pharma, so many ways to monetize HIV. We can believe he's not the only one doing a cash-for-staying-untreated scheme.
Warren: I didn't realize there was all this resentment for Nancy Reagan. It's interesting and sad to see her passing trigger old feelings of neglect and tragedy from the '80s.
Becky: I ran into a lot of it on Twitter -- I found out about her death from people saying, basically, "Stop telling me I have to be polite and mourn someone who happily ruined my life." Almost to the same extent as when Scalia died.
"Don't speak ill of the dead" applies to your aunt who died & had a drinking prob, not powerful elites whose decisions ruined people's lives
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) February 14, 2016
It takes some nerve to tell gay men who survived the 1980s to be more gracious in their remembrance of the Reagans.
— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) March 6, 2016
Myles: I hope people don't treat me differently when I die just because I'm dead.
Follow Myles on Twitter: @MylesAtTheBody.
Follow Becky on Twitter at @allreb or visit her on Tumblr.
Follow Althea on Twitter at @altheafung, stalk her on Facebook, or check out her personal website.