Thursday, August 25, 2011

RENT and Other Works Capturing Scenes from the Reality of AIDS

I'm reading THE AFTER-DEATH ROOM: JOURNEY INTO SPIRITUAL ACTIVISM, by Michael McColly. I know, it's an older book, but it's also of timeless importance, because of its fascinating documentation of the AIDS pandemic as a world-wide pandemic. At one point in his book, McColly mentions attending AIDS-related workshops and noticing attendees disappearing... as in,  they were in the room for sessions on, and then, they would just quit showing up.

This... image capturing this particular aspect of AIDS is not a new one. Rather, it is some sort of a re-occurrence, the ghost of a scene from the Broadway musical RENT (later made into a movie; I had the honor to interview the cast of (the movie) RENT for an article, Measuring Life, published in A&U Magazine). The "disappearing scene" (how I call it) is the ghost of a scene inspired by the reality of living with HIV/AIDS, a reality photographer Kurt Weston also talked about when I interviewed him when writing his biography,  JOURNEYS THROUGH DARKNESS. I'd like to share it with you, in the excerpt posted below. Hope you'll enjoy the read.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Alina Oswald

During 1993 and 1994, while Kurt continued to monitor his SWAN workshops in Chicago, people would attend for a while, and then some of them would just quit coming. They were either too sick to leave their homes or already dead. It was typical for those attending AIDS support groups to see individuals participating and talking to others during the meetings and then disappearing, like they’ve never existed. And it was very frightening for the rest of those attending and trying to survive the disease… Years later, this real-life aspect of AIDS support groups was forever immortalized in the Broadway musical—and later on movie—RENT. 
While the conventional medicine didn’t have much to offer at the time and the only treatment available was making them extremely sick and weak, people living with the virus were desperate to try pretty much anything that could remotely improve their quality of life, and they would listen to anybody who could possibly offer them a chance to survive. AZT was a first positive step toward finding an AIDS treatment, but not all patients could manage staying on the drug.
A lot of them felt so sick while taking the medication that they quit caring about living. If the drug, which was supposed to keep them alive, made them feel so awful, what was the point of being alive in the first place. Some would rather be dead and end the suffering altogether.
Other patients believed in a conspiracy theory, that the Big Pharma (the large network of drug companies) was trying to make money off AIDS patients and that the chemicals in the AIDS drugs were poisonous and doing them more harm than good. So a lot of infected people refused to take the AZT or go through chemo-therapies. They attempted a more natural approach to fighting their AIDS. 
A lot of those attending SWAN workshops also became extremely interested in alternative treatments. Therefore, a lot of alternative medical practitioners showed up at SWAN meetings to inform the patients of other ways they could fight the virus.
“There’s a lot of fakery in the world of alternative treatments,” Weston explains. “And some practitioners were preying on people with life threatening, terminal illnesses. [But] if some [medical] doctor came to you and said that you were gonna die because you had this [disease] and there was nothing available to help you, and then somebody else came and said ‘I know something that they don’t know. I’ve got this thing that could help you.’ Wouldn’t you be tempted to try it?”

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