To what extent do you think that The Fly can be read as a metaphor for the cultural fears and anxieties surrounding HIV/AIDS in American in the 1980s
American society in the 1980s was traumatized with fear and anxiety over a new disease called AIDS, initially emerging among non conventional social groups – mainly gay men, though eventually spreading to the ‘ordinary’ population. While the government remained silent, the media frantically reported of previously vigorous and healthy people reduced to living corpses and ultimately death within months of diagnosis. Information regarding the illness, its contagiousness, risks and means of spreading was limited and often contradictory, hence fuelling nationwide panic. Although AIDS is not directly portrayed nor mentioned in The Fly, the film metaphorically represents and illustrates the horrors caused by the disease – depicting scientist Seth’s rapid and tormenting decline after contamination, but also reflecting and revealing the fear and feelings of uncertainties evoked by the infection. Reaction and responses mirrored across America at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
It was in 1981, only five years prior to the making of The Fly, that it became known in the media around the world that numerous gay men in some of the bigger cities of USA – where the gay population was more concentrated, were falling seriously ill from a mysterious disease. The disease we now know as AIDS was then referred to as GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), but was also discriminatively called the gay plague or gay cancer. Although gay men were by far the most affected social group, heterosexuals started already the year after the initial public outbreak to test positive for the disease, thus the name changed to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Intriguingly, Sander L. Gilman, cited by Ken MacKinnon (1992), argues that comparable attempts of blame in the 1970s, holding homosexuals responsible for the spread of genital herpes through their chosen promiscuous and immoral lifestyle were evident. However, GRID highlighted the connection between infection and immoral lifestyle more acutely thus damagingly legitimized the New Right’s notion of ‘us and them’ further. Although heterosexuals also started testing positive for the disease, AIDS was - and to some degree still is, strongly stigmatically associated with homosexuality. This because, the ‘venereological discourse constructs a model of disease transmission in which infection is seen to pass from ‘abnormal’ and ‘diseased’ subpopulations to the ‘general’ public. With the identification of HIV, this venerological model ensured that gay men were constructed as the ‘source’ of the virus, and a ‘threat’ to mainstream society’ (Redman, 1997:102).
In the early years of the 1980s little was known about how AIDS was spreading and public anxiety regarding the epidemic was rapidly growing. It was thought that the big risk groups were apart from homosexuals, also heroin addicts, hookers and Haitians. Interestingly these groups were considered as groups with bad morals and ethics especially by the New Right Wing and Christians across the US, as they were engaging in activities habitually considered unacceptable to mainstream Americans. It was therefore widely thought that these groups had brought AIDS upon themselves – it was a punishment. All these four risk groups were considered nonconformist subpopulation and thereby disregarded American white middleclass cultural values and beliefs. Homosexuals the very threat to family values and copulation and synonymous alongside hookers with sinful promiscuity, drug addicts were considered heavy societal burden and Haitians regarded outsiders being black, and thereby a minority, but also for their association with voodoo practices. Essentially, these people were thought deviant from normality. Interestingly, although hemophiliacs were also classed as a risk group – it was of no fault of...
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