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5 Aids andthe press In August, 1986, the Los Angeles Times Magazine published a "fictional scenario" entitled "AIDS: 1991", "based on what is known about acquired immune deficiency syndrome".1 The cover illustration shows a group of three featureless figures, with the suggestion of numbered identification tags around their necks, standing in a sombre limbo of swirling clouds of brown chalk. It is September, 1991, and "the White House has just announced that the Vice President's daughter and her five-month old son have Aids ..." The number of Aids cases has reached 270,000, and one in every seventy American citizens have been infected by the HIV virus: "There are so many Aids patients that acute-care services at many hospitals have been in chronically short supply for years now. Insurance companies have been bankrupted. Every American is paying higher medical bills and insurance premiums ... Nothing suggests that the general public, after years of denying that this 'gay plague' could affect them, knows enough to take the protective measures that would help to contain it." A Presidential Commission calls for, "mandatory Aids testing of every US resident. Everybody will have to carry a photo identification card describing his or her test results. Those who are infected will be barred by law from having sex with uninfected people. Anyone found to have spread the infection will be jailed. Sex outside of marriage will be outlawed. Sodomy laws will be reinstated. If an infected woman becomes pregnant, she will be forced to have an abortion. Everyone entering the country - businessmen, tourists and Americans living abroad - will be quarantined for two weeks and then tested for the virus. All Americans will be tested for intravenous drugs, and drug-users will be forced into treatment programs or jailed . . . The whole world is beginning to consider the United States a diseased country." 77 POLICING DESIRE Endorsing the Commission's recommendations, which seals all American borders in both directions, the president of the day informs the nation: "We have a crisis that requires drastic measures. Failureto follow these recommendations will undoubtedly lead to a need for even more drastic measures in the future. . ." The entire scenario of the article is set against two actual events in June, 1986 - the USHealth Service's prediction of 250,000 cases of Aids within the next five years, and a legal opinion from the Justice Department that any employer could fire employees with Aids on suspicion that the virus could be spread in the workplace, regardless of medical evidence. (A majority of states have rejected this opinion, however, and adopted policies prohibiting discrimination against people with Aids.) Here, though, as is so frequently the case, Aids commentary is firmly fixed in the future tense, in this instance borrowing a speculative apocalyptic form from science fiction. This is presumably intended to force back pressure onto the present, in the form of preventative state action. What is so alarming, however, across the entire spectrum of printed commentary, is the inability to conceive of Aids in the present, as it is experienced world-wide by millions of people. All the policies envisaged take for granted the effectiveness and desirability of interventions by criminal law in relation to both disease and sexuality, as if Aids - and, by extension, homosexuality - could be legislated off the face of the earth. What is more, these measures are accepted uncritically as both workable and necessary in the face of the sheer enormity of the fictive catastrophe described. A future is thus framed in such a way that possibilities are pushed nearer probability, with a familiar obsession over quantitative rather than qualitative aspects of sexual behaviour. Quarantine emerges as a "thinkable" strategy from the direct force of the narrative, and its resemblance to stories we already know from television, cinema and popular fiction - stories of holocaust, disaster and annihilation. The Californian reader is thus "lined up" in relation to the then forthcoming Larouche Initiative, which upheld a strict quarantine policy towards people with Aids, and was due to go to the ballot box three months after the article was published. Throughout the article we read an implication of collective guilt on the part of those indulging in sexual activity outside marriage, a guilt which focuses most sharply on those who in any case are not legally entitled to marry one another, namely gay men, whose morality is judged against familial standards and, of course, is found wanting. In this way a particularly impractical and unjust policy proposal is...


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