It’s two-thirty in the morning and the bedroom door bursts open. To a thumping disco beat, a man and a woman enter, clearly in the throes of lust. Within seconds, they’ve torn one another’s clothes off. Seen through peculiar clouds of mist, they begin to have passionate, rough sex to a strange soundtrack of eerie noises.
Their faces are obscured but guttural gasps and moans fill the room. As the rutting hits a fever pitch, the deep-thrusting Romeo’s face is suddenly revealed. You’ll probably recognize this sex machine. Is it Fabio? George Clooney? Brad Pitt? Guess again.
It’s Adolf Hitler. Complete with trademark kooky mustache, gasping for breath with a demented look of orgasmic lust on his face. I’m not joking.
Why has Der Führer risen from the grave to pick up a woman at a nightclub in 2009 and taking her home to do the nasty? Because, to the people who came up with this ludicrous AIDS TV commercial, unprotected sex that could lead to HIV transmission is just like getting screwed by Hitler. Still scratching your head? It’s because “AIDS is a mass murderer.” And so is Hitler. Get it?
Wait, there’s more. The lurid advertisement, soon to grace TV and movie screens across Germany, is accompanied by an equally tacky poster campaign. It seems Adolf is not the only one getting some — the imagery depicts innocent German women being defiled by Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin.
And in case the history angle starts to feel tired, there is also a rap song, in German, “Aids ist ein Massenmörder” by Big Danny. I have to admit that it’s pretty catchy. The music video is shot — of course — in a cemetery. There’s a banner ad for websites featuring a conveyor belt of body bags. The “AIDS is a mass murderer” campaign is even on Twitter @AIDSMASSMURDER.
“The campaign is designed to shake people up,” according to the its creators, AIDS-awareness group Regenbogen e.V. and ad agency Das Comitee, who prepared the materials for World AIDS Day (December 1) but have unleashed them on the public a bit early. Das Comitee’s creative director Hans Weishäupl told the (UK) Telegraph that the thinking was that the ad’s shock value could help prevent new infections.
This campaign is a joke. There is nothing shocking or cutting edge about it. Its horny Hitler is hilarious. The fact that he, Hussein and Stalin are all deceased adds a certain necrophiliac irony to the whole cartoonish exercise. For a campaign with a digital component, they seem to have forgotten the lessons of Godwin’s Law, which points out the absurdity of making online comparisons to Adolf Hitler. If anything is disturbing, it’s the fact that the “logic” behind this campaign makes sense to anyone — especially an AIDS-awareness group like Regenbogen, whose members include people with HIV.
“AIDS” is not a “mass murderer.” It’s a health condition caused by an untreated viral infection. HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS, usually after many years and in the absence of medication. HIV is a significant medical condition, and there are countless reasons why anyone who doesn’t have that virus should avoid getting it, and that anyone who does have it should avoid passing it on to anyone else.
But it doesn’t help anyone to confuse HIV and AIDS with one another, or to exaggerate the impact of HIV by inextricably linking it to death. Dr Joseph McGowan of North Shore University Hospital recently counselled a parent about her 10-year-old son’s HIV infection on the medical website TheBody.com: “If he is monitored carefully there is no reason your son ever has to progress to AIDS. He can expect to live a very long life.” This is the current reality of HIV for most people in developed countries. The constant, hyper-emotional assertion that HIV equals guaranteed death ought to be calmly challenged every time it rears its insistent head. Neither is it “murder.”
And since “AIDS” is not a person, let alone a “murderer,” who are we really talking about here? Of course, we are talking about people who have HIV in their bodies. The Regenbogen campaign isn’t actually about AIDS itself at all. It’s about the risks of (presumably unprotected) sex with regard to HIV transmission, arguing that passing on HIV is akin to Nazism, and suggesting that the other person engaging in sex has no role other than that of victim. Notably, the mass murderers in the campaign are all men and their victims are all women. Meanwhile, the most recent high-profile HIV-criminalization case in Germany targeted a woman, Nadja Benaissa of the pop group No Angels.
Scare tactics and misrepresentations of people with HIV will not help anyone protect themselves, according to German gay journalist, Rainer Hoermann. “Fear is never a good advisor,” he says, noting that the campaign suggests those with HIV/AIDS are “oversexed mass murderers.” Describing the Hitler debacle as “a step backward,” he recommends another German HIV campaign, “I Know What I Do.” This site focuses on personal responsibility and normalizes HIV, allowing people to talk realistically about their fears and their health, he says.
Did the campaigners not think twice about wrongly comparing human sexual behaviour to the Holocaust, and inappropriately demonizing people with HIV in the process? The insistence on seeing HIV transmission as villainy obscures the most stubborn fact about the epidemic — far from being the realm of malevolent or sociopathic people, HIV is transmitted through behaviours that are otherwise completely natural and normal, such as penetrative intercourse — or behaviours that may often be hard to control rather than “intentional,” such as needle sharing in the context of addiction. We already know that those most infectious with HIV usually don’t know they have it, and that most people with diagnosed HIV take great pains to prevent further transmission.
Of course, Regenbogen and Das Comitee don’t have a monopoly on hyperbolic exaggeration about the impact of HIV, or on promoting the idea that HIV transmission is the work of bad people. Here in Canada, the legal system has also adopted the surreal notion that when HIV transmission occurs, this means one person is attempting to murder another. Sometimes the murder rhetoric even comes from within our own communities from people who should know better.
Larry Kramer imagines a communal deathwish in his destructive harangue, “The Tragedy of Today’s Gays”: “I wish we could understand and take some responsibility for the fact that for some 30 years we have been murdering each other with great facility and that down deep inside of us, we knew what we were doing.” Gay men are our own worst critics, despite the fact that our rates of condom use are still dramatically higher than the population at large. I’ve heard some gay men cynically argue those with HIV intentionally infect others simply to gratify their own carnal urges, and that they often exploit others who are drunk or high so as to take the path of least resistance.
The “AIDS is a mass murderer” Hitler campaign isn’t the first time the phrase “mass murder” has been applied to the AIDS pandemic. In 2003, Stephen Lewis, then the UN’s special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, described the crisis as “mass murder by complacency.” He wasn’t talking about people’s sex lives though. He was talking about treatment access. Medical advances mean that HIV is no longer necessarily fatal — if you have access to drugs. For so many people around the world, that still isn’t the case, and that is something that’s truly shocking and worthy of our anger and righteous indignation.
Let’s stop clouding the issues with scare tactics and Swastikas — and focus on what we really need: realistic sex education targeting specific at-risk communities, new prevention tools beyond condoms to help people play safe, and access to medical treatment so all people with HIV can be as uninfectious as possible and live long, healthy lives.