Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Frontline: Living in the Age of AIDS

I saw part one of this Frontline special last night, and canceled some plans to watch the second part tonight. There is a definite slant--guess which way--to the show so far, but it generally keeps Frontline's promise to provide the facts and let the viewers their own conclusions.

The talking heads are all gay activists and former medical officials. Only one Reagan-era official is allowed a spot to (very briefly) contest the cataract of allegations of neglect against her late boss. Since gay activists politicized the disease from the very outset--and thereby contributed mightily to the subsequent death toll--it doesn't seem fair for them to blame Reagan for not handing them the national purse strings at first demand.

Amazingly--to me, at least--the producers permitted mention of the bathhouses controversy. The San Francisco Public Health director, Dr. Merv Silverman, is given extended airtime to tell how gay activists thwarted his effort to contain the epidemic in the early stages by closing the public bathhouses. These were--are--sexual romper rooms where masses of gay men could come together to have anonymous sex with multiple strangers. The bathhouses did close briefly, but a judge quickly ordered them re-opened. Gay activist Cleve Jones is given rebuttal time, laying down a rhetorical fog about liberation and pride and suspicion, and how everyone was at equal, immediate risk. This bit is the only dissent from the theme of gay victimhood allowed on the show. At this point, I would have had on Michael Fumento or David Horowitz, to amplify this important point about how the disease spread because of the failure to use proven epidemic fighters like screening, testing, and quarantine. Something like this:

...the AIDS epidemic is more accurately described as a product of the gay rights movement of the 1970s, inevitably concentrated in the very centers of gay life in America -- San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles -- and impossible to conceive without the presence and agitations of the radical gay movements that directly preceded it. It was the gay radical left that defined promiscuous anal sex with strangers in public urban environments – the primary cause of the AIDS epidemic – as "gay liberation."

It was the gay movement that thought nothing of the massive epidemics of amoebiasis, rectal gonorrhea, syphilis, and hepatitis B that swept through gay communities in the decades preceding AIDS, producing astronomical infection rates and depleted immune systems in the process. It was the gay movement that regarded any intrusion by public health authorities to close the public sexual gymnasiums called "bathhouses" as a "threat" to gay liberation (both before and after the onset of AIDS).

But, "liberation" uber alles...

Sidebar: One victim onscreen says that all his friends abandoned him after he was diagnosed. My reaction was that those were not friends, then. Hard to see how casual f---buddies ever could be real friends. It put me in unpleasant mind of a co-worker of mine who died of AIDS. At his wake, his gay acquaintances kept to themselves, standing around chatting and leering at each other. I couldn't help but wonder if one of them was the one that had killed him.

The controversy between the American researcher Dr. Robert Gallo and his French counterparts is gone over, as to who should have credit for first isolating the HIV virus. The science aspect of the show has been quite good so far, in fact. For one thing, I didn't know that the virus masked itself from the body's immune defenses by cloaking itself in sugars.

One disappointment is how little examination there is so far of the mystery as to why AIDS in America started out and largely remains a gay and needle spread disease, while in Africa it is largely a hetero disease. It's as if the producers are fearful of broaching any explanations that would be embarrassing to multi-culti notions of the general equivalence of all cultures. An explanation like this, for example.

So far, there hasn't been any mention of the expanding definition of AIDS, which conservative critics say has been done to bulk up the numbers and thus the funding. Maybe that'll come up in part two.

Speaking of which, it's almost time for part two, gotta go.

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