Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  IDENTITY

REFLECTIONS: AIDS for Rent
by Yasmin Nair
2006-01-01

This article shared 6491 times since Sun Jan 1, 2006
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


I recently attended a screening of Rent, the film based on the musical by Jonathan Larson. Given my cynicism about popular depictions of AIDS, I was unsurprised to find that it erases the massive organizing around AIDS by queers furious about government inaction in the 1980s. The activism of groups like ACT UP ( AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power ) led to significant shifts in policy and treatment alternatives, but none of that is apparent in Rent, which appropriates the group's name and part of its slogan ( 'Act Up, Fight AIDS' ) in one of its songs without a single pink triangle in sight.

Despite these and other flaws, the appearance of Rent brings two sets of narratives to our attention. The first consists of the fan material generated by 'Rentheads,' people who were in their teens when the musical appeared in 1996 and remain devoted to it. The second is the dispute between the estate of Jonathan Larson and Sarah Schulman, the lesbian novelist and playwright who has argued that Larson borrowed details from her 1990 novel People in Trouble. Taken together, these narratives form a cultural text about AIDS and the choices we make in remembering how the epidemic came about.

I was ready to dismiss the 'Rentheads' as unrealistic and obsessive people who love the glossy style of a musical about bohemian artists and AIDS without thinking about its content. A closer look and a conversation with a gay male fan, whom I shall call M., showed me why Rent's place in history might be more complex.

M. was 14 when the musical opened, and Rent was his first chance to see a mainstream cultural production that featured queer lives. M is aware of the issues around authorship and the representation of AIDS politics and is still a fan. Who am I to dismiss Rent as an inauthentic representation of AIDS and queer politics?

What makes for an 'authentic' queer text? And how does such a text circulate, or not, in culture? Those are the questions that emerge from Sarah Schulman's book Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America ( Duke UP, 1998 ) , where she discusses her history with Rent. At one point, a writer at The New York Times, whom she calls 'Seymour', panicked at the idea of her taking on a Broadway success like Rent. Schulman writes about such naked contrasts between the power represented by big-budget productions and the smaller, lesser-known work by lesbians artists like her that are rarely funded. But she also seems to revel in both her own marginality and that of such work. Yet, surely the production and consumption of such theater by even very small audiences count for something. Does the marginality of a work mean that it is always without effect or influence? I came out to the images of Sadie Benning, whose films will never appear at a multiplex near you. But I know I'm one among many who can lay claim to the enormous effect of her work on my notion of queer politics.

Oddly enough, this is where Schulman's account of queer/lesbian art and artists has the most in common with Rent: Both texts espouse a narrow and 'bohemian' way of producing art. Grand pronouncements appear even if not articulated as such. Great Art Is Difficult and Unrewarded. The Artist Must Suffer for Art. Schulman characterizes her struggle as a David and Goliath battle against an establishment, and sees herself as a lesbian writer waiting to be recognized. I can't reconcile her self-portrait with what I know about her place in the literary world. She's widely published and her output includes acclaimed novels, plays, and cultural criticism and commentary. Her work is frequently taught in university courses, so there's always a new generation of students being exposed to her work, and she is not without her admirers. Sarah Schulman is no David.

The irony is that Schulman's argument about Rent eventually made it to the pages of The New York Times this October, in a piece by Jesse Green. Who, as it turns out, is 'Seymour.' In contrast, The Advocate, a leading gay magazine, ran a cover story about the film without mentioning Schulman. This reminds us that the forces that be, whether identified as the Establishment, Capitalism, or the Art World, don't inherently dislike certain forms of identity. They simply wait to see which ones prove more profitable at particular times.

So, given its commercial success and multi-culturalism, it's likely that Rent will become compulsory viewing for high school students and 'diversity workshops.' In an ideal if highly unlikely scenario, it will be accompanied by a reading of Stagestruck, thus revealing something of the tensions that surround sexuality and artistic production. It might also be accompanied by accounts of AIDS activism, including the work of groups like Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa, whose struggles are different from those in the U.S.

Instead of a glossy and happily multi-cultural portrait of AIDS, people will see that any gains in access to pharmaceuticals have come at the cost of lives struggling against apathy and greed. And that protests against that apathy and greed, never seen in the film, were and are messy and brutal.

I don't always agree with Schulman, but she makes me think. Which is more than can be said about Rent, which requires you to stop thinking about the history of AIDS and only feel ... nothing in particular.

Rent is so unconcerned about the realities of the epidemic that it should be called AIDS: The Musical. It offers no more than a banal set of lines like 'No Day But Today' and asks us to love people with AIDS.

But what's the point of love or art or life without memory or thought?

Yasmin Nair, welshzen@yahoo.com


This article shared 6491 times since Sun Jan 1, 2006
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Pioneering AIDS researcher Dr. Joseph Sonnabend dead at 88
2021-01-24
--From a media release by HIVPlusMagazine - Pioneering AIDS researcher and clinician Joseph Sonnabend, 88, died Jan. 24, 2021 at the Wellington Hospital in London, after suffering a heart attack on Jan.3, 2021. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to a physician mother and ...


Gay News

WORLD Global Fund, Croatian case, Poland items, Hillsong
2021-01-17
In 2020, the Global Fund signed 157 grants for a total of $8.54 billion for HIV, tuberculosis and malaria programs and to strengthen systems for health—and this is the highest number of grants the program ever ...


Gay News

Howard Brown developing new center in Northalsted area
2021-01-14
Howard Brown Health has chosen Inland National Development Company, LLC to develop its newest healthcare center in Chicago's Northalsted neighborhood (formerly known as Boystown), according to REJournals. There are plans ...


Gay News

Vulnerable communities slow to adopt key strategy to stop HIV's spread
2021-01-11
--From a UCLA press release - LOS ANGELES — Taking a daily pill to prevent HIV transmission is one of the most effective biomedical strategies available to combat the virus' spread, yet use of this health regimen remains low among vulnerable communities ...


Gay News

National Minority AIDS Council responds to attack on U.S. Capitol
2021-01-06
Jan. 6, 2021 - National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) Executive Director Paul Kawata has released the following statement on today's attack on the U.S. Capitol. "NMAC is completely saddened, sickened, and in total shock over the riots at the U.S. ...


Gay News

Gerber/Hart Library awarded $100K Mellon Grant, seeks Development Coordinator
2020-12-28
--From a press release - Gerber/Hart Library and Archives has been awarded a $100,000 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant for Small Community Archives. This is the largest grant G/H has ever received. The grant will provide funding for a two-year Development ...


Gay News

WORLD Lithuania outlook, HIV/AIDS and COVID, lawyer arrested, trans youth
2020-12-27
Lithuania appears set to legalize same-sex civil partnerships next year, but same-sex marriage could be up to a decade away, according to Tomas Raskevicius—the country's only openly LGBT+ lawmaker, Reuters reported. "We're going to submit t ...


Gay News

AIDS Garden projected for fall 2021 completion
2020-12-22
State Rep. Yoni Pizer convened a virtual meeting Dec. 21 to discuss the progress of the AIDS Garden Chicago. The long-planned site is "destined to become a true Chicago landmark and destination," said Pizer as he ...


Gay News

AIDS Garden Chicago installation update coming Dec. 21
2020-12-18
CHICAGO — On Monday, Dec. 21 at 11 a.m., 12th District State Representative Yoni Pizer will be hosting a virtual town hall with fellow elected officials, community partners, and project managers to provide a progress report ...


Gay News

Report: HIV & Aging, Integrating Services to Improve Care for Overlooked Population
2020-12-08
--From a press release - (December 8, 2020) — HIV has become an aging issue now that more than half of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. are 50 or older. Thanks to advancements in treatment, people with HIV can ...


Gay News

WORLD German soldiers, UK HIV rates, OutRight, Chopin
2020-11-30
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government agreed on a draft bill that would compensate gay soldiers who faced discrimination in the armed forces between 1955 and 2000, TheLocal.de reported. Under the proposed law, which needs to be approved ...


Gay News

AIDS Foundation Chicago, Cook County Health mark World AIDS Day
2020-11-30
--From a press release - AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) and Cook County Health are collaborating for a special virtual event in honor of World AIDS Day, a global movement to increase public awareness and dialogue about HIV and AIDS, on Dec. ...


Gay News

Diabetes and HIV
2020-11-24
Experts suggest that prolonged antiretroviral therapy (ART) of HIV-infected people is associated with increased risk of insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes. I suggest that this is not an accurate scientific explanation. Here's why. T ...


Gay News

AFC holds virtual 'Gala35' celebration
2020-11-23
AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) marked 35 years with a virtual "Gala35" celebration and awards ceremony Nov. 19. Among the honorees were Newsweb Corporation Chairperson, Alphawood Foundation President and social-justice activist ...


Gay News

Day With(out) Art: Transmissions launches online Nov. 30
2020-11-18
--From a press release - NEW YORK, Nov. 16, 2020 — Visual AIDS, the only contemporary arts organization fully committed to raising AIDS and HIV awareness through dialogue, art exhibitions and public forums, announces their ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS







Sponsor
Sponsor


 



Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.