Tuesday, October 17, 2006

aids, act up, and angels in america

last week and this week digital democracy is all about sexualities. on tuesday, we read and discussed "ACTing UP against AIDS: The (Very) Graphic Arts in a Moment of Crisis" from tv reed's the art of protest.

reed's chapter is about AIDS and ACT UP. reed focuses on ACT UP's cultural tactics to break the silence about a disease that, by 1988, had already killed over 40,000 human beings. the tactics (or events or spectacles) were brilliant - always public, always attention grabbing, always critical of corporate capitalism, always smart. and often hilarious.

in class we discussed ACT UP as a social movement - decentered, autonomous nodes, relatively diverse, exceedingly well-trained in visual and soundbite cultures, and largely but not entirely queer. we also discussed four or five cultural tactics enacted by members and allies of ACT UP.

on thursday, peter novak, associate professor and chair of USF's performing arts and social justice, rocked the class. he began by asking us questions about AIDS. basic questions. few of us knew much. so he gave mini-lectures on the history of AIDS, some myths about AIDS, and some stark numbers that helped us understand the urgency of AIDS.

then, he offered a brief history of the role of theater and performing arts within jesuit education. the day before i requested this topic - partially out of my own curiousity and partially because i thought my students should be aware of the many historical and contemporary bridges between culture and social justice. peter also told us to find out more about ratio studiorum.

and then we read a play. not a play but two scenes. and not just any play but angels in america. USF's angels in america, directed by professor novak, opens on november 1 so i am sure the play is fresh on peter's mind. noelle read the part of harper while nick read joe - and they were fantastic. peter read a perfect rabbi isidor chemelwitz and i stumbled through louis.

for me - and, judging for the looks on students' faces - it was magic. with the lines spoken out loud everything we had read in a book came alive in a classroom. words spoken out loud can create something that wasn't there before and suddenly we were asking questions and talking about huac, homophobism, homosexuality, and heterosexuality. after the two scenes, i had a hundred questions about angels in america. luckily, i'll have some of them answered when i see part one at the NEW studio theater on lone mountain (tickets are eight bucks with USF id and twelve without).

i am impressed with my students' willingness to share ideas about sexuality and social justice. i think they'll be blown away this afternoon when we watch in class the times of harvey milk.

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