The Normal Heart – VU Book Club

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Things I learnt at the VU Book Club session conducted by Dirk Visser on Larry Kramer and his play “The Normal Heart.” It was a learning experience for I had little knowledge on AIDS and almost no idea as to how it was directly linked to homophobia:

  1. The AIDS debate is, “Not a rational but an emotional debate.” It was not a medical panic but a moral one. We discussed whether drama (if at all) counter-acts this rhetoric.
  2. AIDS did not get its name for the longest time. The first article that appeared on the disease was in the NY Times, “Rare Cancer seen in 41 Homosexuals” – the cancer was called Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
  3.  As late as 1987 (as a disease it had already been around for almost 10 years) did Ronald Reagan, the then President of U.S., use the terms AIDS.
  4. One of the first names given to AIDS was GRID – “Gay related Immuno Deficiency.”
  5. The word homosexual first appeared in 1869 – heterosexual as a term came much later as a reaction to this.
  6. You need to read Susan Montag to understand how illness is used as a metaphor in relation to blame.
  7. Larry Kramer consistently juxtaposes the holocaust with the predicament of the AIDS victims and the gay community.
  8. There have been many conspiracy theories around why and how AIDS came about – one involving alien kidnapping, another to do with the elimination of gay people, amongst many others.
  9. The words epidemic and plague have different reactions in different people. Many attendees commented on how the plague had Biblical connotations as opposed to epidemic, which somehow seemed more manageable. This had no co-relation to actual meaning but seemed more to do with assumption (perhaps sound).
  10. Larry Kramer is an angry man. And I understand now why he is.

I wonder if this play can ever be staged in India. Will they permit the film to reach theatres there? If homosexuality is illegal – does it make all representations of it illegal as well? Won’t that make all action movies illegal, so if that argument does not hold for cinematic liberty – then why does it not apply to staging of plays? My mind tied up in knots as I drift between the rational and the emotional. Even more than before (if that was possible) I value the freedom to be critical.

The VU Book Club is organised by:
Manon Stassen
Nezjma Ramdas

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