Communication and Culture | Media, Culture, and Politics
C445 | 0156 | Jeff Bennett


AIDS has radically altered the global landscape. During the last two
decades it has killed an estimated 28 million people, with another 42
million currently living with HIV/AIDS. It forever changed the
cultural recognition of figures such as Rock Hudson, Arthur Ashe,
Freddy Mercury, Pedro Zamora, Ryan White, Mary Fisher, and Magic
Johnson. While we speak of HIV/AIDS more matter- of-factly than ever,
both continue to baffle scientists, plague minority communities, and
devastate nations around the globe. On the other hand, the epidemic
has helped produce wide-spread safe sex education programs once
considered taboo. Blood transfusion science has been perfected, making
the national supply the safest it has been in history. AIDS has
inspired controversial and noteworthy productions ranging from Angels
in America to Robert Mapplethorpe's art to Philadelphia.

This course explores the cultural politics surrounding the affliction
that has come to be known as AIDS. In particular, the class focuses on
how people communicate about AIDS and how those discourses have molded
our understandings (and lack thereof) of the epidemic. There are three
major units to the course.

First, we will examine the ways in which AIDS has been rhetorically
constructed since its inception, offering close attention to the
discursive framing of people, pollution, and policy. Second, we will
focus on the ways in which AIDS has been mediated in popular culture
and circulated for public consumption. Finally, the class will
emphasize how attitudes concerning AIDS are performed, exploring the
ways in which it has been culturally situated in social rituals of
everyday life.

Throughout the semester students will be exposed to a multitude of
voices that engage notions of AIDS and cultural identity. We will read
works by authors that include Susan Sontage, Paula Treichler, Marlon
Riggs, Jan Zita Grover, Larry Kramer, Cathy Cohen, Douglas Krimp, Jose
Esteban Munoz, and Marita Sturken. We will engage films such as
Philadelphia, And the Band Played On, Angels in America, and Tongues
Untied. The course will also examine cultural phenomena such as the
AIDS quilt, urban legends, so-called "bug chasers" and "gift givers,"
HIV/AIDS tattoos, and body image.