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Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS, and the Media

Simon Watney
Richard Bolton series editor
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition, Third
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Policing Desire
    Book Description:

    Since its initial publication, Policing Desire has proved to be an unparalleled analysis of “the cacophony of voices which sounds through every institution of our society on the subject of AIDS.” For this third edition Simon Watney has provided a new preface, a compelling new concluding essay, and a directory for AIDS information that includes electronic resources. “A landmark work in AIDS analysis because of the combination of emotional urgency and analytical insight that it manifests.” --American Book Review

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8852-4
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-V)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. VI-VIII)
  4. Preface (Second Edition)
    (pp. IX-XIV)
    S. W.
  5. Preface (Third Edition)
    (pp. XV-XVI)
    S. W.
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Turning the pages of my Sunday newspaper recently, I came across a photograph of a man pushing another man’s head down into a large bucket. Over the edge of the bucket emerges a pair of rubber gloves, like something struggling to clamber out. In the background there is one sign which reads “Gents Hairdresser”, and another, handwritten on a piece of paper pinned up above the bucket – which reads “Free Head Dip”. The accompanying article by Robin McKie is entitled “Aids scare is unkindest cut”, and the caption immediately underneath the picture says simply “Lucky dip: Alan Cresswell disinfects...

  7. 1 Sex, diversity and disease
    (pp. 7-21)

    In January, 1986, I lost a friend to Aids. I weigh these words carefully, as I weigh my sense of loss, and my motives for writing this book. My died from one of the many opportunistic infections to which the body is prey when its defensive immune system has been extensively damaged. As the writer Iris Murdoch, whom he much admired, has observed:

    “The careful responsible skilful use of words is our highest instrument of thought and one of our highest modes of being: an idea which might seem obvious but is not now by any means universally accepted.”¹


  8. 2 Infectious desires
    (pp. 22-37)

    With characteristic acuteness, Gayle Rubin has noted how,

    “it is precisely at times such as these, when we live with the possibility of unthinkable destruction, that people are likely to become dangerously crazy about sexuality. Contemporary conflicts over sexual values and erotic conduct have much in common with the religious disputes of earlier centuries. They acquire immense symbolic weight. Disputes over sexual behaviour often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties, and discharging their attendant emotional intensity.”¹

    This book is concerned with precisely such “discharges”, with the ways in which Aids is made to seem to speak on behalf of...

  9. 3 Moral panics
    (pp. 38-57)

    In 1941 the English novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote to an American friend comparing the German propaganda machine to “a clown with homicidal mania – ludicrous and terrifying both at once”.¹ However we may personally respond to the general sleep of reason surrounding Aids, we are nonetheless obliged to try to make some wider sense of the social climate in which we find ourselves. Writing inLondon Portraitearlier this year, John Withington described the number of people with Aids in the United States as “fairly small” (16,000), a figure which in itself offers a profound and significant underestimate. The...

  10. 4 Aids, pornography and law
    (pp. 58-76)

    In all its variant forms, modern sexuality is policed by laws which regulate and oversee sexual desires, actions and identities. Laws determine child custody rights, ages of sexual consent (currently fixed in Great Britain as sixteen for heterosexual and eighteen for homosexual acts), immigration, and the very distinction between male and female. However, as Paul Hirst has recently written,

    “the law is not an entity, it is a very complex set of rules and institutions, persons and activities, and it is by no means consistent in its action. There is no legal instance specifying the attributes of persons consistently and...

  11. 5 Aids and the press
    (pp. 77-96)

    In August, 1986, theLos Angeles Times Magazinepublished a “fictional scenario” entitled “AIDS: 1991”, “based on what is known about acquired immune deficiency syndrome”.¹ The cover illustration shows a group of three featureless figures, with the suggestion of numbered identification tags around their necks, standing in a sombre limbo of swirling clouds of brown chalk. It is September, 1991, and “the White House has just announced that the Vice President’s daughter and her five-month old son have Aids …” The number of Aids cases has reached 270,000, and one in every seventy American citizens have been infected by the...

  12. 6 Aids on television
    (pp. 97-121)

    The reality of Aids is probably no closer to most of the population than the character in Woody Allen’s filmHannah And Her Sisters, who observes sadly that her dental hygienist now wears rubber gloves because so many of his clients are gay. The underplaying of the line carries a sharp resonance of loss and regret condensed in the tiny incident – a recognition of what is going on, and to whom. Although Aids is not mentioned, this is the only example of which I am aware in mainstream culture of Aids “coming home” as a reality for gay men,...

  13. 7 Safer representations
    (pp. 122-133)

    Personal reactions to having Aids are unpredictable. An Aids diagnosis may lead to an immediate sense of relief that things are out in the open, named and therefore resistable, or to an equally immediate sense of stark, paralysing terror. From somewhere between the two a close friend wrote to me:

    “Overall, I have good days and bad days, mentally… it’s like a nightmare, I’m mostly anguished by a sense of complete unbelievability. I keep wanting to wake up and it’s June again and none of this has happened – because ‘of course’ only nightmares are like this.”

    Edmund White has...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 134-145)

    Shortly after the main text of this book had gone to press, the British government announced its commitment to a “forceful” new propaganda campaign “to alert the public to the risks of Aids”.¹ Advertisements spelled out the word “AIDS” in seasonal gift wrapping paper, together with the accompanying question: “How many people will get it for Christmas?”. Another advert conveys the message that “Your next sexual partner could be that very special person” – framed inside a heart, like a Valentine – with a supplement beneath which tersely adds, “The one that gives you Aids”. The official line is clearly...

  15. Conclusion (Second Edition)
    (pp. 146-151)
    S. W.

    Whether we like it or not, we inhabit societies in which other people’s diseases are generally held to be about as fascinating and involving as other people’s holiday photographs. Even in countries such as Britain and Canada that have socialized medicine, disease is widely regarded as overwhelminglyprivate. Yet the supposed privacy of disease is always strangely contradictory. For its experience is generally dependent on large-scale institutions, and “experts” whom we trust precisely because of their public reputation and practice. Aids has proved a strong exception to this rule, both because it has come to play such a central role...

  16. Conclusion (Third Edition)
    (pp. 152-156)
    S. W.

    In 1986, the year in whichPolicing Desirewas written, there were 298 cases of Aids diagnosed in the Untied Kingdom, and 18,430 cases diagnosed in the United States. Writing in the summer of 1996, there have to date been 12,565 cases of Aids diagnosed in Britain since the beginning of the epidemic, and well over 500,000 cases diagnosed in the USA.¹ In Britain there have been almost 9000 deaths from Aids compared to more than 300,000 deaths in the United States. Given that the overall population of America is approximately four to five times that of Britain, the enormous...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 157-166)
  18. Resources: 1996
    (pp. 167-170)
  19. Index
    (pp. 171-172)