An Immuno-virological Approach to Angels in America

In class, we discussed how inseparable Angels of America is with history and politics. Set in the 1980s, the play not only reveals the destructive effects of Reagan government’s passive attitude towards AIDS, but also draws parallel between the marginalization experienced by the gay community then and the disempowerment of communists under McCarthyism during the post-Cold War era. This reckless prosecution of minorities, justified under national security and social morals, ultimately led to more harm than benefits to the country (government chaos and public health disasters respectively) as suggested in the video.

Additionally, I found an interesting article, Cold War Science and the Body Politic: An Immuno/Virological Approach to Angels in America, in which Daryl Ogden discusses Reaganism and McCarthyism embedded in the play using the immuno-virological discourse we read in Metaphors of Contagion and the Autoimmune Body early in the semester. Here is a paragraph in which Ogden draws the connections with a series of questions: “Angels in America uses the physical phenomenon of HIV, a virus that attacks the immune system, as a trope to investigate the degree to which homosexuals qualify as the Self or the Other in the United States. That is, Kushner asks a medical question that may just as usefully be paraphrased in the register of politics: do homosexuals strengthen or weaken the body politic? To recast the question more directly in terms of U.S. history: are homosexuals of the 1980s, particularly HIV-positive homosexuals, analogous to the communist sympathizers (and homosexual federal employees) of the 1950s, as Roy Cohn and his protégé, Joe Pitt (closeted homosexuals both), suggest they are? Are homosexuals themselves effete cells in an otherwise vigorous body politic, expendable for the health of the nation or are they, quite differently, a powerful national antibody capable of regenerating and making whole the body politic? More generally, is Kushner seeking to depathologize homosexuality to such a degree that gay identity is seen as inextricably linked to a healthy national identity?”

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  1. To add to your point on the play depicting the destructive effect of the Reagan administration towards AIDS: sadly, there is a lot of bureaucracy in government and politics is a game. AIDS, at the time, wasn’t part of the administration’s game. There is an 8min documentary, When AIDS was funny by Scott Colonico, that captures Reagan and the press’ original reaction to AIDS epidemic in the US. The negative attitude of people in power, during an epidemic, is also seen in Dream of Ding village.

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