Life at the end of every century is typified by fear and anxiety. Apocalypse theories abound: nationalism and xenophobia encourage isolation. Urban violence, economic decline and AIDS have contributed to a reactionary environment where progressive thought is anathema.
The circumstances surrounding AIDS activism have radically changed since its beginning in 1986. Both the Executive Branch and the Congress have changed hands. America is in "decline". Communism is "dead". Internationally, politics have moved further to the right, and the citizenry of the United States has become more insular.
The lesbian and gay community has also changed. Embattled, fragmented and burned out, gay activists have adapted to the apparent permanence of the AIDS crisis. The notion that AIDS is here to stay threatens to overpower the idea that it should be fought. This shift away from seeing AIDS as a political crisis gained momentum once it became obvious there would be no quick solution for it. Our horizons thus re-drawn, we are shunning the political questions and searching for new methods of coping: practical ones, personal ones.
Our culture is run on carefully crafted words and images. They are given tremendous authority, and have the power to shape society's responses. It is worth noting that the images which have endured through the AIDS crisis are not ones of activism. Rather, they are symbols of remembrance and reprieve: quilts, ribbons and angels. The symbols and symptoms of our acceptance of AIDS, our acceptance of death. Acceptance may be an appropriate response to the tragedy of AIDS. It is not a political response.
What does it mean when personal responses are confused with civic ones? In the case of AIDS, we are left without solutions for a constellation of woes far beyond the tragedy of human loss - such as the economics of health care, society's marginalization of individuals in need, the skewing of scientific research along lines of class, gender, and race, and the depletion of entire communities.
Our culture's acceptance of these images denotes a complicity between individual citizens, AIDS organizations and our government, where the responsibility for AIDS is consistently transferred elsewhere. Our government wants the responsibilities privatized. When these images are backed by philanthropic organizations, it enables the government to steer responsibility from governments to Gods.
Since the beginning of the AIDS crisis, we've been reminded by historians and spiritual leaders that death by plague is the way of nature. But AIDS is not simply an act of nature, a fact of life. It is also the business of government, the media world of infotainment, the propaganda of religion a