Week 12 – Zach Nutman

Douglas Crimp opens his essay “AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism” with a quote from an investigation into an 1832 cholera epidemic, “disease does not exist”. He goes on to discuss the evolution of the AIDS crisis in the United States, highlighting the silence of President Ronald Reagan even as the death toll climbed the tens of thousands. Crimp discusses how video became a leading medium for cultural activists fighting against the government neglect surrounding the AIDS crisis, suggesting this may be a sort of reverse discourse in reaction to the use of television to disseminate the majority of the mainstream discourse of the disease. ACT UP documentaries like Stop the Church, a film that details the 1999 action in which a group of activists and protesters interrupted a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to protest the Catholic Church’s sexist and homophobic policies on AIDS and abortion, are examples of the ways in which film was a medium used to immortalise and further publicise a movement whose tactics were largely grounded in temporary direct actions. Similarly, Todd Haynes’ 1995 film, Safe, tells the story of a woman plagued by a disease that the world around her refuses to acknowledge – much like in Crimp’s opening quote. Stop the Church and Safe demonstrate the wide array of ways in which the medium of film was utilized to document and comment on the AIDS crisis in the united states, described by Crimp as the “range of representations and counter-representations of AIDS.”

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