The promise of an ambitious new TV series about ‘what happened’ to gay men in the 1980s is extremely exciting for long-term HIV / AIDS survivors like me, starving as we are for media portrayal. and for another chronicle of our history to tell. It is often a broken promise.
Already, the British limited series It’s a sin is in discussion in the same breath like Angels in America, which unfortunately amounts to assimilating Kill a mockingbird To my cousin vinny because they’re both about lawyers.
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It’s a sin focuses on the life of a group of young gay men in London on the cusp of the AIDS pandemic. It is the work of writer / producer Russell T. Davies, the creator of the original Queer as folk UK. Davies never addressed HIV / AIDS in Queer as folk, surprisingly, and said than the largely autobiographical It’s a sin is intended to correct this.
Davies didn’t need to worry about it. While It’s a sin boasts magnificent production values and terrific performances (and record viewership numbers on its recent UK airing), it also reinforces dangerous and stereotypical myths about gay men in general and people living with HIV in particular.
It’s a sin is not a documentary and art is subjective. But the characters Davies creates and the choices they make can have a very real impact on an audience that may know little about the history of HIV / AIDS. As well-intentioned as he is – and it scratches a certain itch for those of us looking to hold a candle and cry a good cry – his flaws are too glaring to be overcome.
The series opens in 1981 and follows a collection of young gay men and their friend in the early 1990s. It’s no spoiler to say that some of them die and trust me when I tell you that it is not pretty.
Any gay man of a certain age will react viscerally to the emotional triggers of It’s a sin. Just picture a tray of cold food left worry-free outside a room in an AIDS treatment room or a young man discovering his first cancerous skin lesion and we collapse in a sea of sad and familiar tears . Our common trauma is an old friend.
The lives (and deaths) of Davies’ characters, however, include disturbing and deceptive tropes that the LGBTQ community – and those of us living with HIV – could really be without.
The cheerful characters of It’s a sin having a primary fixation on sex which becomes more unsettling as the series and the pandemic continues. Certainly, any coming-of-age tale will be about sexual arousals – and the 1980s were not a time of great sexual austerity, despite the emergence of AIDS – but It’s a sinLazily trotted the tired stereotype of the dangerously selfish and promiscuous gay man.
The obsession with sex even extends to death beds, which is as disturbing as it sounds. A doomed character, steeped in dementia and sexual revelry, begins to masturbate in his hospital bed in front of his shocked family and friends. Another, on the last night of his life, regales his stunned mother with explicit stories of his sexual conquests.
It’s a sin reduced these men to deviants, clinging tightly to the one thing in life they valued, until their last breaths. Their only friend is better equipped to control herself, obviously, by becoming an AIDS activist while her gay friends procrastinate.
Guess we’re supposed to see series creator Davies as terribly daring to unmask gay men as constitutionally unable to protect themselves if it meant changing their sexual behaviors. Except the narrative is not true and Davies ignores our heroic story to perpetuate it.
With the introduction of condom use in the mid-1980s, gay men embarked on perhaps the greatest example of group behavior modification ever, using prevention methods we never had before. previously envisioned while becoming the driving force behind massive HIV peer support and education campaigns.
Davies stubbornly chooses to focus on one main character, Ritchie, who does the exact opposite. And then he accentuates his mystifying disdain by describing Ritchie as a suicide bomber try to eliminate as many other homosexuals as possible. “I wonder how many I killed? Ritchie pondered as he praised his sexual exploits.
There’s more, including an absolutely mortifying speech in which the supposedly enlightened activist blames a friend’s death from AIDS on homophobia in society (uh, okay) and then throws the blame on the mother. emotionally reserved about her deceased friend. To his face. While she is in mourning. The day after her son died. I’m not sure which psychology book produced this angle of Blame the Mother, but I bet it was a 1953 first edition.
Our activist goes on to say (she has a lot to say because the gay characters are stuck in inaction, dead, or completely lacking in self-determination) that her late friend, who continued to have sex after learning that he was HIV positive, was “ashamed of himself … and then he killed people!
Give me a minute to breathe through this one. OK. I’m the best.
The ignorant notion of people living with HIV wandering the countryside looking for victims to be murdered is the reason unfair criminalization of HIV persists. At present, thousands of people are serving prison sentences for no crimes other than “Sex while you are HIV positive”. In many cases, the defendants used protection or did not have an HIV viral load and did not pass the virus on to anyone. Yet many people living with HIV were prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison.
None of this holds It’s a sin target almost all characters with blame (and its overwhelming counterweight, too bad) for maximum emotional damage. We are familiar with this tactic in the real world, even though it is a terribly useless weapon. While we pledge to blame others, the virus trudges on, doing what viruses do.
At the end, It’s a sin blame everything except HIV itself. Meanwhile, the virus continues to replicate, just as it did then, regardless of humanity’s judgments.