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Positive images : gay men and HIV/AIDS in the culture of 'post-crisis' (c.1996-)

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  • "Since HIV/AIDS entered public consciousness as 'GRID' (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) in 1981, an epidemic of media representations have shaped the social processes and semantics underlying all aspects of the pandemic, including conceptions of risk, identity and sexuality. Spectacularized images of gay male bodies, lifestyles and identities dominated early imaginings of the disease in the global north, constructing HIV/AIDS as constitutive of, or as an effect of, male homosexuality itself. In the intervening thirty years there have been multiple and significant transformations in the knowledge, management, and demographics of the pandemic. 'Epidemic' has become 'global pandemic', and the actual and perceived AIDS crisis zones have shifted from the communities of gay men, IV drug users and other minorities in the west to large parts of the 'developing world'. For those of us living in parts of the world with the privilege of access to treatment, the advent of antiretroviral therapies (c.1996) and other HIV management strategies have heralded significant changes to the cultural profile of the disease, shifting its status from almost definitely terminal 'AIDS' to chronic manageable 'HIV'. This thesis analyzes the changing cultural politics of popular representations of gay men and HIV/AIDS in this changed cultural landscape of 'post-crisis'. The term 'post crisis' emerged in the fields of HIV/AIDS social research and health promotion where it has been used as a general description of the altered conditions of HIV/AIDS among western gay men. In this thesis, I develop this term as part of a descriptive, periodizing and theoretical framework with which to historicize the transformed landscape of representations of gay men and HIV/AIDS that has emerged since the advent of antiretrovirals, and to highlight specific changing logics of representation. Using a range of Anglo-American texts as case studies, I argue that the discourses of this latter historical moment of post-crisis are underwritten by a 'bi-polar' cultural logic, in which both male homosexuality and HIV vacillate between the extraordinary and the mundane. This is a historically conditioned dialectic that has evolved from the legacy of the phobic discourses of AIDS crisis ('crisis discourse') alongside transformations in the cultural profile of HIV. Each chapter examines this dialectic in case studies selected to illustrate a range of its manifestations and implications. The first of these is the context of expanded images of gay men in American popular culture of 'the Gay 90s' - specifically the Hollywood gay man/straight woman buddy comedy - where a disavowal of crisis discourse is at work in the production of the 'New Gay Man'. In this instance, a domesticated gayness is produced through a ritual disavowal and spectacularized objectification of repositories of AIDS signification. I then examine Queer as Folk, which dramatizes this unresolvable post-crisis tension between spectacularized otherness and normativity together within the body of the PLWHA. A case of Australian media sex panic around barebacking and reckless infection is then used to identify an emphatic, albeit recalibrated revivification of crisis discourse and a series of paradoxes produced in the tension generated by the dialectic of crisis/post-crisis. Finally, I consider the ambivalent production of 'AIDS heritage' as a post-crisis memory practice that is also conditioned by this historically conditioned dialectic. These case studies are organized roughly chronologically as a means of historicizing this trajectory 'out of' the spectacular moment of 'crisis' toward a quotidian, normative 'post'. However, all of these case studies illustrate an ambivalent and unresolved reckoning with the immediate legacy of AIDS crisis discourses, which may either be unsuccessfully disavowed or spectacularly revivified, and which vie for representational supremacy with images of gay men and HIV that are normal, normative, quotidian, mundane or invisible."

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  • "Positive images : gay men and HIV/AIDS in the culture of 'post-crisis' (c.1996-)"