copyright 2013, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 55, fall 2013

Ghost stories: an introduction

by Marty Fink, Alexandra Juhasz, David Oscar Harvey
with Bishnupriya Ghosh

As HIV/AIDS and its representation shifts, we can consider the process of disclosure within transnational practices and cultural acts. Pinky, a South African HIV/AIDS activist and educator and the central subject of the documentary A Red Ribbon Around My House (Portia Rankoane, 2009), makes of her life a constant project of disclosure. Whether in casual conversation or invited speeches, she exclaims her HIV positive status to anyone who will listen. The film’s titular inspiration becomes Pinky’s forecast of her final wish. She asks that a red ribbon be tied around her house upon her demise precisely because she understands that people within her family and her community would rather anything but such a bold and boisterous declaration of the presence of HIV/AIDS in their lives, communities, and neighborhoods. Her ardent will towards self-representation is reaction against multifold barriers to access as well as to a long history of illness stigma that representation continues to work against. Pinky’s activist work and its documentation reveals the continued significance of HIV/AIDS media in a contemporary transnational context, pointing to a range of theoretical and representational concerns for how we continue to think about HIV-positive bodies as media practices and disability activisms continue to shift.

Today, HIV/AIDS is a global epidemic. Yet, regardless of location, anyone with a stake in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS likely understands both the power and risks of Pinky’s representational work. Whenever we make media about HIV/AIDS we contribute to movements but are also equally also to be confronted with cultural indifference and related acts of censorship.  The nature and severity of censorship varies from location to location, as does the nature of the claims any individual or community feels impelled to represent, and the forms that these many stories and demands take. Access to resources also shifts across transnational lines, as a contemporary understanding of HIV/AIDS also relies upon linking the pandemic to conditions of sexism, poverty, homophobia, colonialism, and racism that the pandemic continues to make apparent. Further, any claim that would posit HIV/AIDS as “dealt with” or “no longer of concern” are what HIV/AIDS activism, and this collection of essays about HIV/AIDS and media studies rallies against.

AIDS media activism fixes upon the politics of signification. For thirty years, we have pressed words and images against living and dead bodies, and their daily and social practices, with the goal of changing circumstances. We strive to transform HIV/AIDS into what we represent it to be. And this changes in relation to place, time, community, and other lived experiences of the disease and the social factors that sustain it. This complex amalgam of our images and words defines the full shape of our ongoing representational politics and associated demands. At times it is best to attempt to understand global issues from their manifestation within local contexts. When working for other aims we must be bold enough to draw a picture that crosses national lines and demands further attention to global access barriers.
Changes in technologies, alterations in science, adjustments in medications, and time passing engage with the dynamic lives of sex, identity and culture to engender unpredictable cycles of expressions and perceptibility of HIV/AIDS. What is AIDS when you don’t die from it, or when you do? What does this mean to the ghosts of people who did, for those whose responsibility is to care for their memories, and for people who were born after all this dying? Present day uses and limits of this representational history raise contradictions that may best be confronted cross- generationally. The following (ghost) stories are presented from a range of perspectives and across a variety of media forms and platforms. We offer a dialogue about the interweaving contemporary representational concerns as transnational contexts and temporalities of HIV/AIDS shift.

David Oscar Harvey begins by troubling HIV/AIDS media of the past, both activist oriented and mainstream, with his own experience of HIV in the present, drawing a queer lineage that challenges how we might understand the virus and its representations now. Marty Fink considers how queer and trans youth access and are inspired by the history of HIV/AIDS media, while Alexandra Juhasz enacts variable cuts through multiple temporalities and almost looks at the contemporary historical documentaries of the first generation of AIDS activists. Bishnupriya Ghosh concludes our conversation with a meditation on time, extending three speculative propositions for thinking through AIDS across varied timespans.

These conversations between texts, authors, platforms, and time periods allow us to consider how competing or discordant desires to claim this history, as well as what is “timely” for HIV/AIDS activism, are both conflictive and complementary with the simultaneous need to remake representations to match the shifting implications of the virus and its transnational reach. How do queer/trans youth make media while still connecting to the mentors and ghosts who remain the vanguards of a movement despite the younger mediamakers’ lacking similar experiences of mass death or access to what it meant to be queer or trans before the virus came to exist? How do aging activists honor those they have lost without imaging HIV/AIDS as something past? How do today’s not-yet historical moments of the AIDS crisis become timely enough to be heard, seen, and authorized? In raising such questions we consider the place of HIV/AIDS representation in new media, disability history, and ongoing queer/trans activist, anti-racist, and disability movements.

Deliberations about the politics of AIDS representation remain our fixation, our frustration, and our recovery because (in)visibility has always been, alongside the lived practices that it documents, a most influential tool of change. As a whole, our stories complicate generational divides, nationalist projects, and temporal bounds, and challenge the limits of what access to representation and history might mean. In creating and also celebrating “spatiotemporal disjuncture,” we complicate the contemporary meanings attached to sero-positivity and ongoing practices of representation.

Introduction: Ghost stories by David Oscar Harvey, Marty Fink, Alexandra Juhasz, Bishnu Gosh

Ghosts caught in our throat — of the lack of contemporary representations of gay/bisexual men and HIV by David Oscar Harvey

Two ghost stories: disability activism and HIV/AIDS by Marty Fink

Acts of signification-survival by Alexandra Juhasz

What time is it here? by Bishnupriya Ghosh

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