I won’t wear a red ribbon. This doesn’t mean I don’t want a cure for AIDS--do you really think that people who don’t wear red ribbons want AIDS to proliferate? And as for “AIDS awareness,” is there a person on this planet who doesn’t know about AIDS? It is the most talked about, dissected, mythologized and perhaps tragically ill-understood disease of our lifetimes. One thing it is not is low-profile.
I say all this with respect for the people who wear red ribbons to show solidarity with their friends, lovers, community and others afflicted with AIDS. But I also say it with disdain for those who wear it as a statement about themselves and who, like the Pharisees in the Temple, make sure that everyone notices their drawn faces, their fake piety. The red ribbon is the perfect logo for the American social cancer of the 1990s, political correctness. It is the perfect sight-bite, not in its intellectual tyranny or annoying smugness, but in its distillation of life’s complexity and inevitable pain into an illusion of caring. It circumvents life’s requirement of real effort. Calling an American Indian a Native American, for instance, is a worthless bit of cosmetics, actually insulting, since it suggests that Indians won’t notice how insignificant the PC name is to their lives. But where is the movement to ensure the American Indian nations a fair price for the land they own when leases to the United States run out this decade? Hands up, all those glad to pay more taxes so tens of billions of dollars can be raised to buy off those leases at something approximating their real worth. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to slap an Indian on the back, call him a Native American and tell him, “We care.”
The swell of political correctness in this country is directly proportionate to the increase in cowardice. Political correctness is the abdication of responsibility. It allows people to deflect their share of the cosmic workload into conveniently distracting semantics, where they can mouth the platitude, fake the indignation and get on with the more pleasurable business of self-gratification.
With AIDS, political correctness has its fullest orgasm, because in this case, style really does consume substance. The almost superstitious darkness of this mystifying disease is enveloped in the soft, pillowy folds of high-society fetes on Long Island and Bel Air mansion lawns, and at high-profile benefits. I know. A generation of our most creative people has been devastated by this disease--but would it be any less sad if a generation of carpenters were devastated? (Though I wonder how many celebrity galas we’d see for carpenters.)
No one, I image, thinks it’s a bad thing to raise money for AIDS, or to spread awareness. But here political correctness really is totalitarian, for the red ribbon is the banner under which the armies of thought police march, dedicated to keeping the AIDS research agenda (for which all this money is raised, after all) focused on that which is politically correct.
It is politically incorrect to suggest that AIDS may not be exploding among heterosexuals in this country, and that the vast majority (approximately 80%) of heterosexuals who have AIDS in the United States are intravenous drug users, which in itself might have some appreciable health consequences. It is also politically incorrect to point out that there are big holes in the hypothesis that HIV, or HIV alone, causes AIDS. (There are 4,621 physician-reported cases of AIDS worldwide without HIV.) These facts are rain on the garden party of the political correctness that says HIV is the sole possible cause of AIDS. But these are useful facts that could lead at least to a better understanding of AIDS and perhaps eventually a cure, if we muster the courage to tear ourselves away from the safety of consensus and explore their clues.
A friend of mine, a TV personality, said that whenever she makes a public appearance, everyone pressures her to put on a red ribbon. I told her to resist, that she made a more purposeful statement by not wearing one. I asked her what was more important and what did more good for people suffering with AIDS: wearing red ribbons and holding the party line, or questioning why the party line has failed to produce a single effective treatment, vaccine, or even proof of how HIV causes AIDS.