AIDS: A Political Plague

Vanity Fair: ‘When AIDS was Funny’- Scott Calonico

Tony Kushner’s Angels in America plays a crucial role in expanding the conversation on AIDS and political partisanship. This is not to argue that Angels in America can only be explained as a political commentary on AIDS because the play is far more than that. However, the production does force the readers to acknowledge the complexities of political partisanship, in light of our own definitions. What does it mean to be conservative? Conversely, how progressive must one be to be considered liberal? Kushner demonstrates the idea of the spectrum in his fantasia-esque masterpiece. More importantly, the play allows us to feel the level of political salience attached to issues like HIV/AIDS, particularly during the 1990s. Thus, the politics in this piece are not a mere opportunity for Kushner to add to the diversity of his characters, rather political affiliations illustrate how much politics can affect national and individual identity. This dynamic has become the status quo even in modern politics (particularly during the Trump Presidency). After looking at Angels in America, one can begin to draw contrasts between the political environment then and now. In doing so, it becomes evident that one leader, or one administration, can deeply affect an entire generation, and such effects are irreversible.

The idea of having a national identity that determines how a ‘silent majority’ is treated has never been clearer than in the Regan Administration. In an ironic documentary titled When AIDS was Funny, Scott Calonico reveals recordings from press meetings, in which Regan responds to the AIDS epidemic. Even with decent knowledge of partisan politics at the time, the response is truly “chilling” and worth comparing with today’s politics. Much of the rhetoric that Regan uses could be utilized by the Trump White House currently- that is the most shocking revelation. President Regan does not only appear to disregard the AIDS epidemic, but explicitly calls it the “gay plague”, and refers to it as a fantasy of the imagination. This response is ironic considering the way in which Angels in America is written. Although today AIDS is addressed publically, and medically, the rhetoric around it remains unchanged. This pushes us to ponder on how far we have actually come, not in a technical sense, but perhaps ideologically? One can only move forward, even when all the odds are actively being stacked against them, and that is one message Angels in America yields form its political instances.  

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