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Culture, Reality

Aids is a Mass Murderer

by Ayanda Moholi / 23.07.2010

AIDS is a mass murderer. In essence, this statement is true. The “big disease with a little name” does slay millions annually. Now I’m not here tell you to strap on a condom before you get your freak on. Though that is never a bad idea. It’s just that there are ways of telling us stuff we need to know. There are good ways – with humor, precision, and loads of info we can actually use. And there are bad ways – heavy handed, ham fisted, overwraught. A pair of German ad agencies, Das Comitee and Regenbogen e.V, have developed a truly disturbing way to get the “AIDS message” out there. It’s so “bad” on the one hand that its been banned on several national screens in Europe, the promotional website has just been shut down, and even video sharing networks are scrupulously deleting it. But it’s so “good” on the other, that it forces you to consider uncomfortable questions, including the nature of your own responsibility in the face of an epidemic. Injustice in an era of wide-spread social repression.

The campaign, AIDS is a mass murderer, compares the undeniably devastating impact of the disease to the murderous totalitarian era (1930s – 1950s) of Hitler and Stalin. This is one of the darkest seasons in hell humanity has ever known. So to invoke it in an ad campaign is brilliantly bold, granted, but really fucking problematic! It is a bizarre comparison – yet creepily valid in a way. Just as we still don’t know where the disease sprung from definitively, from nature or human behaviour, or the interaction of the two, historians still debate the contributing factors behind the “reign of terror” of Nazism and State Socialism: was it an “evil” in us, or the inevitable consequence of warring national economies?

Anyway, the ad campaign weirdly implies that anyone with “Stalin and Hitler affinities” – racists, bigots, the insufficiently enlightened – are the carriers of the disease. Wrong ideas, bad social outlooks, the campaign suggests, spread the virus. Essentially, it says to all those men and women who refuse to get tested, and help save others: You enable murder. Just like the millions of everyday German citizens who looked the other way during Nazism. Or whites during Apartheid, or in the racist American south. Or many Israelis today.

The creators of the provocative campaign explain it:
“Our campaign to mark World AIDS Day 2009 speaks in clear terms: the new slogan is AIDS is a mass murderer. The few mass murderers who have claimed a similar number of human lives are shown: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein. The campaign is designed to shake people up, to bring the topic of AIDS back to centre stage, and to reverse the trend of unprotected sexual intercourse. Because anyone can become infected.”

Whatever else it may be, the campaign is certainly more ambitious and vital than the boring and rather embarrassing “sex talks” by painfully well-meaning guest speakers at school or, god-forbid, your mother! The AIDS is a mass murderer videos play like perfume adverts – lovers fondle and make out, they undress, the lighting is seductive, the heat is on. The guy’s face is unseen until… Dum! Dum! Dum! Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein: making the love!

Beyond the dictator hype for shock affect, this male-centredness implies that men are the sole carriers of the “death sentence” – the only ones implementing “mass murder.” AIDS activists and charities have “condemned [it] as stigmatizing and ill-conceived .” Released to coincide with World Aids Day, organisations strayed away, “saying that it could make life more difficult for sufferers,” according to The Telegraph.

Aptly, Now Public, pointed out that AIDS statistics in themselves are more frightening than any advertising campaign could ever be.

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