12 October 2005

Free Ashley Judd!

Have you seen those ubiquitous Aldos Fights AIDS posters on bus shelters and phone booths around town? You must have; they're ubiquitous. Very, very serious looking actors and musicians, shot in black and white, pose with their hands over their ears, or their mouths duct taped shut. Hear no evil? Speak no evil? they ask. What about See no evil? What happened to him? If an celebrity were to appear blindfolded, would we know it's a celebrity?

LL Cool J, holding a fist full of the chains that Aldos wants you to buy to save lives, looks like he might hit you. Poor Elijah Wood looks worried. Are the Nazgul after him again? Josh Lucas... who is Josh Lucas? He looks like Matthew McConnauugheyhey.

My favorite poster features Ashley Judd, holding herself tautly erect, despite the fact that, off camera, her hands are probably tied behind her back. She's being tortured. She can't speak because of the duct tape, but her grim nobility, conveyed so effectively by her arched left eyebrow, says it all. She is a political prisoner, suffering for the sake of all people with AIDS; for all of us, really. Nelson Mandela has nothing on her.

In real life, people never look this serious. Mandela himself, when he was released from prison, went on a world tour, and was everywhere joyful. In New York, he danced in his parade up Broadway. No living person has greater moral authority, in my opinion, than former prisoner 46664, but he doesn't have to adopt a stern schoolmaster mien to put it across.

In our limited attention span world, you have to keep trying new things to keep AIDS awareness high. I was 16 in 1984, the year that scientists isolated the virus that causes AIDS. We were told to use condoms for everything; even kissing might transmit HIV! Between that, Nancy Reagan's Just Say No to Drugs campaign, and the Catholic upbringing that ensured I was susceptible to anything designed to appeal to my guilt or fear, my early adulthood was anxious. Fortunately, I've had therapy.

A few years ago, when the "cocktail" drug regime came out, the only advertisements you saw that referenced AIDS featured muscular, smiling gay men, happy and healthy thanks to Hoffman-LaRoche. Then, when it turned out that a younger generation of gay men, who hadn't had half their friends die from AIDS, stopped using condoms, the ads featured muscular, slightly more somber gay men, urging each other not to bareback.

Today, now that we realize the cocktail doesn't work forever, and people are finally waking up to the fact that it's completely out of reach anyway for the millions of people in Africa living with AIDS, we have Ashley Judd glaring at us from every street corner. Please, people. Figure out what she's trying to say, and then listen to her. I'm afraid of what might happen to her if you don't.


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