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Notorious H.I.V.: The Media Spectacle of Nushawn Williams

Thomas Shevory
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Notorious H.I.V.
    Book Description:

    In 1997, public authorities were granted an exception to New York’s HIV confidentiality law—and released Nushawn Williams’s name and picture to the press. Williams, who is HIV-positive, had unprotected sex with young women and infected at least nine of them. Thomas Shevory sorts through the ensuing media panic and legal imbroglio to tell the story behind the Nushawn Williams case._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9589-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    Let me be clear right from the start: I do not condone the deliberate and knowing endangerment of one person by another from HIV infection. In fact, if an individual were to infect another deliberately, and that could be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, I would fully support criminal sanctions to punish such a person. Having said that, however, I want to alert the reader to the many complexities that I uncovered in researching the Nushawn Williams case. The deepest complexities lie within the character of Nushawn Williams. As my research progressed, I decided that I wanted to meet the...

  5. 1 Moral Panics and Media Politics
    (pp. 1-34)

    On October 27, 1997, legal history was made in New York State. For the first time, an exception to the state’s HIV confidentiality law was invoked so as to allow public identification of a person believed to be knowingly transmitting the virus to his sex partners.¹ The person eventually identified at a press conference in the small Chautauqua County town of Mayville, New York, was a twenty-year-old African American man from Brooklyn named Nushawn Williams. As the announcement was made to a roomful of reporters from the local and national press, Williams was in jail at the Rikers Island Correctional...

  6. 2 Small-Town Mythologies and the History of a Place
    (pp. 35-70)

    As a highly provocative news story unfolds, it takes on a life of its own. It feeds on itself, creating a vortex, the center of which spawns sensation and hyperbole. Distance and perspective are easy victims, as the “real” becomes further enmeshed in the “imagistic,” as the intensity of “the story” increases, peaks, and fades, leaving its cultural residue. In the end, one may have the vague sense that something important happened, but even the most devoted news junkies are no doubt left exhausted as well as perplexed after they scrupulously sort through all the mediated noise of a given...

  7. 3 Of Myths and Monsters
    (pp. 71-108)

    If there was a consistent theme or impression regarding the persona of Nushawn Williams generated in the media’s attention to his case, it was this: he was “a monster.” More specifically, he was the “AIDS monster.”¹ That this particular designation seems to have stuck is significant. Why did Williams attract the level of vilification that he attracted? What did he do that was so horrible as to transform him into a nationally prominent symbol of infamy? Why a “monster” rather than, say, an “alien”? To attempt to answer these questions—and I don’t believe that there are easy answers—it...

  8. 4 State Power, Law, and the Sequestration of Disease
    (pp. 109-135)

    The demonization of Nushawn Williams in the media may seem to be but a blip on the pop-cultural radar, but it has broad implications. It augurs historical transformations that may be changing the relationship between disease epidemics and the social and political forces organized to manage them. The formulation and application of a punitive model of disease containment through the media may mark an intensification of the processes by which media are used as mechanisms of social control. The Williams case, considered within a larger frame, encourages a reinterpretation of the state’s role in controlling disease, a reinterpretation that casts...

  9. 5 HIV Culpability and the Politics of Crime
    (pp. 136-162)

    The criminalization of social problems has been a theme of American political and legal life for more than two decades. The nearly two million people currently in prison in the United States represent an important sector of the economy, sometimes labeled the “prison-industrial complex.”¹ Although much of the rhetoric regarding crime policies has focused on high-profile instances of violence, the majority of those who constitute the prison population are incarcerated for drug offenses. Many have serious psychiatric problems. Prisons have increasingly become profit centers in the global economy and dumping grounds for the system of “public health.” The criminalization of...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 163-170)

    The problems that Nushawn Williams had been having at Auburn continued and seemed to grow worse toward the end of the summer of 2001. He had been in prison for almost four years by that time. Primarily, he claimed he was being harassed by inmates and that the harassment was sanctioned by guards. I had no way of finding out whether or not this was the case. I was concerned enough, however, to contact Prisoners’ Legal Services in Tompkins County and to send a letter to the state corrections commissioner, attaching a letter Nushawn had written to me expressing fear...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-206)
  12. Index
    (pp. 207-214)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)