When AIDS was funny

We all have those times in our lives when we recall a moment in our past and shake our head over our stupidity. If we’re lucky, we don’t have many of them. But we all have them.

Collectively, the nation’s AIDS epidemic is one of them. It wasn’t that long ago when our ignorance, fear, and lack of compassion conspired to condemn thousands of people.

On World Aids Day yesterday, Vanity Fair released this mini-documentary.

It’s a head shaker.

The reporter who was trying to get a serious answer to a growing problem was Lester Kinsolving, a long-time White House press corps gadfly.

  • kay smith

    Wow. And there are people today who think political correctness is ruining our country.

  • Kassie
    • Postal Customer

      I think the reaction to Charlie Sheen is related in part to the just-world hypothesis, i.e., he had it coming. Also, AIDS is not a death sentence anymore, particularly for someone of his means.

  • chlost

    To be honest, I can’t even get through this video. It makes me so sick to my stomach. AIDS was never funny. The reactions to it were not funny. We as a society have much to be ashamed of in this area. The photos are haunting. Our stupidity and bias are haunting. And we are still fighting. Didn’t I just read that AIDS is going up in Minnesota this year?

    • Kassie

      It went up 2% with 307 new cases in the state. There’s a lot of weird stuff happening right now. They expect the numbers to continue to rise due to the rise in other STDs, but those numbers may be rising due to the use of PrEP and therefore the HIV rate may remain constant. Also, there is a higher instance for people of color and women getting HIV, which I don’t think are using PrEP or are being targeted for the use of it.

      Also, there were 307 cases. That’s pretty darn low when you think about it.

      • Jennifer A. Nolan

        And here’s hoping it STAYS low!

  • Postal Customer

    He was trying to get a serious answer by being unserious himself? There’s enough unseriousness blame to go around in that exchange.

    Mr Kinsolving himself used the word “gay plague,” which was definitely not his own terminology. Other people called it “gay cancer.” Understand I am not in any way defending the Reagan administration, but I think at this very early stage in the game, there just was not enough information or knowledge for a press secretary to have anything serious to say, even if he wanted to, which he obviously did not.

    Calling it “The Reagan Admin’s Chilling Response” is kind of inflating it.

    • Kassie

      AIDS had been around for 3 years and over 5000 people had died before Reagan mentions AIDS publicly for the first time. I’d say that is a chilling response.

      • Postal Customer

        Actually the CDC had only known for just over a year, and it was not called AIDS until July 1982


        of course it is chilling in the context of 2015, but there is no way that politicians knew enough about it to take it seriously at that time. I’m talking politicians here, especially anti-gay politicians.

        • Kassie

          Really? The CDC didn’t know AIDS existed until 1984 even though it was called AIDS in 1982? Reagan didn’t mention the word AIDS until 1985.

          • Postal Customer

            cdc knew in 81 according to that article

          • Kassie

            Right, so Reagan’s administration (the CDC) knew about AIDS in 1981 and he never mentioned it until 1985, so four years. Chilling Response.

          • BJ

            I’m not sure that is fair, no I’m sure it’s not fair.

            500-1000 deaths per year in a country this size while not nothing was not on the radar when we had things like a 10% infant mortality rate at the time.

            No one knew much about AIDS for many, many years. CDC even when it did have some clues, no one considered it the ‘killer’ of a person, Pneumonia or other OPPORTUNISTIC INFECTIONS ended up on most people’s death certificates. This is pre Internet, pre gene sequencing, heck fax machines didn’t become common til after 1988.

            Chilling Response. No. I don’t think so.

          • Kassie

            There have been 11 cases of Ebola in this country and the President has talked it.

            A reporter had asked about it multiple times at press briefings, as we see in this video, so people were asking about it. In 1984 there had been people testifying before congress begging for funding for research on it. Multiple government agencies had taken actions or made policies about the disease. By 1985, when Reagan first mentioned it, there were 15,000+ cases of HIV/AIDS in the US and Ryan White was banned from school. 10,000 people died of it that year. I remember the Ryan White stuff and I was 7 years old, but somehow it was ok for Reagan to not even acknowledge the existence of the disease until that year. Nope.

          • BJ

            And Ebola has been a known illness since 1976. With tests to determine that it was in fact Ebola.

            I’m sorry to say, today is not 1981. We simply didn’t have any clue as to what AIDS was. 1984 we only began to have a clue. People died from 20-30 different things with AIDS, not from AIDS or HIV. So hard to even put one case next to another and say that they had the same thing.

          • Kassie

            A reporter, in the video above, knew what it was in 1982. Thousands of people died. People testified about it before Congress. The military, blood banks and the Department of Defense were testing for it by 1985, but you pretend like somehow it was ok for the White House to ignore it. It wasn’t.

            The only reason there wasn’t a public uproar was because gays and junkies got it and people felt safe. People weren’t safe. Straight, clean people get the disease. If Reagan would have stepped up in 1982, when we know he knew about it, and put money toward research and education it is possible fewer people would have died. Congress has some fault in this too, but leadership from the top would have been the best hope for slowing the effects.

          • BJ

            Context, we barely had seatbelts in cars being used, smoking in most work place was still allowed. Not talking public health seriously wasn’t unusual. I wasn’t much older, I was middle school when Ryan White was banned from school.

            No he, the reporter, didn’t know what it was, he knew the CDC had put out information about something called AIDS, and he knew it seemed concentrated in gay population, he knew 80-90% of those diagnosed with it died. He asked questions, and darn good ones, and the press breifings in the video had a very relaxed feel, and a very flip answers. Chilling? No. I bet you could find that for just about any white house on just about any serious subject, they deal with major issues all day and sometimes they just are smart ass comments said insert west wing https://youtu.be/j3sj-TSbWjs .

            Hindsight is clear that more might have been done, and should have been done. Chilling? I still don’t think so.

  • This was just one example of how the Reagan administration was a complete and utter failure.

    • tboom

      And the model for our current political dysfunction.

  • BReynolds33

    My take away? I had absolutely no idea more than 600,000 people died from AIDS in the US last year. That’s a staggering number.

    • Mike

      Agreed, I would have never thought it was a number that high.

    • Jeff C.

      Approx 658,507 people in the US with an AIDS diagnosis have died. Around 13,712 died in 2012. (Source: CDC – http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html). So thankfully it wasn’t 600,000 in one year.

      • Kassie

        Thanks for that, I was just looking for it too. I knew there was no way 600,000 people could of died from AIDS last year.

  • Jeff

    I guess it’s progress that in 2015 no politician could get away with slurs and jokes except for only one guy who happens to be running for President.

  • Fred, Just Fred

    It’s America. Land of the Free. You get to do stuff even if it kills you.

    Having said that, people are under no obligation, moral or otherwise, to treat the completely avoidable consequence of irresponsible behavior by others as a tragedy in our own lives.

    Kids born with HIV and those that contract it through contaminated blood withstanding, of course.

    • ec99

      Health Canada released a study some years ago which stated that, while gay men in 40 year-old and above had a adopted for the most part a monogamous relationship, those in the 18-25 year-old group continued to be sexually profligate and apparently unconcerned about the consequences of their actions.

      • Jerry

        I have the feeling that trend is not limited to gay men.