Not Sanitized for Your Protection: Diseased Pariah News and the Political Uses of Humor

This is a guest post by intern Harold Hardin, who is working on the NEH Grant-Funded Project The Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic.

I came across recently a sardonic, humorously bizarre little zine in the Beowulf Thorne papers (GLBT Historical Society, 2003-10) called Diseased Pariah News (DPN). DPN was a zine created during the early 90’s that used gallows humor to humorously educate/entertain mostly gay (often white) cisgender men about HIV/AIDS among other gay men’s health issues. Humor is not something I would immediately associate with AIDS/HIV. Certainly, in the popular imagination AIDS and humor couldn’t be further apart. Queer white, cis, men living with HIV/AIDS in popular media depictions are generally akin to Tom Hanks in Philadelphia: a “noble, suffering AIDS victim”.

Further, many current LGBTQ media consumers tend to shy away from LGBTQ depictions that have overt internalized homophobia/transphobia, straying away from media depictions that might seem to make light of oppressive circumstances in ways that are ultimately self- cannibalizing. Rupaul was famously castigated for having content on her show that was deemed transphobic. Lisa Lampanelli, though not queer, is known for her gallows humor and recently left show business citing, “people in their 20s and 30s weren’t getting into that [insult comedy] tradition”. I spoke to a friend on Facebook about DPN and they echoed a popularly resonant sentiment, “I really don’t like to view historical media/works of art relating to our [queer] community. Because they always carry the hint of shame, of internalized homophobia and transphobia.”

 Clearly, we are currently living through a shift in what we find humorous from particular groups of people based on their identities.  And to be honest, it shouldn’t be ok for a white, cisgender, straight, man or woman to make jokes about communities that they historically (or contemporaneously, for that matter) oppress.  But should queer people with HIV/AIDS be able to laugh at their own lived experiences? If observational comedy is about illuminating the mundane and often untintentionally humorous aspects of our everyday lives then DPN represents to me a group of queers with HIV/AIDS taking this to its’ logical conclusion: finding humor in the everyday lives of queer folx living with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, I think something is foreclosed when we as a queer community rush to quash inter-group humor that may on its surface appear aberrant.  Queer people should be able to laugh at their own lived experiences if they so desire, especially, if by laughing, we find a form of resistance while skewering social and political realities that we ultimately find empowering.

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic: 1 year update on the National Endowment for the Humanities Implementation Grant

Archives and Special Collections has just submitted its annual report to the National Endowment for the Humanities on the collaborative mass digitization grant The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic. 

At the one year point of The Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic, the consortium of UCSF Library Archives & Special Collections, San Francisco Public Library History Center/Hormel LGBTQIA Center, Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society, and UC Merced have made significant headway towards our goal of digitizing and publishing 127,000 pages from our various AIDS History collections.

To date we have published seven complete collections on Calisphere, and we have scanned and published the poster component of UCSF’s AIDS History Project Ephemera collection. Thirteen other collections have nearly completed the digitization process and are undergoing quality control checks before being harvested into Calisphere.

The Ultimate Point: Shooting Up and Sharing Needles Puts You at Risk for AIDS. This Fact May Save Your Life!

The Ultimate Point (SF AIDS Foundation). AIDS History Project Ephemera Collection, MSS 2000-31

40,518 pages of materials have to date been uploaded to the Nuxeo Digital Asset Management System we use for managing and publishing to Calisphere.  Some of these have gone to active publication, some are still undergoing quality assurance (QA) procedures. An additional 35,061 pages have been scanned, but have yet to be ingested into the DAMS.

We have also given talks at four library and archives conferences in the past year to share details about our project.

In the coming year we will continue digitizing and publishing collection materials to Calisphere.org and begin planning online exhibits for Calisphere and Digital Public Library of America that will serve to unite and interpret the collections across our partnering institutions.

AIDS Legal Referral Panel's AIDSLaw Conference. Friday November 11, 1988.

AIDSLaw Conference 1988. AIDS Legal Referral Panel Records, 2000-46, Box 2, Folder 8 (GLBTHS)

Digitized collections currently online:

  1. ACT-UP Golden Gate Records, 1988-1993, MSS 98-47 https://calisphere.org/collections/308/ 
  2. Barbara Cameron Papers, 1968-2003 (SFPL GLC 63) https://calisphere.org/collections/27002/
  3. Shanti Project Records, 1982-1994, MSS 98-48 https://calisphere.org/collections/19989/
  4. AIDS Legal Referral Panel (ALRP) records, 1984-2000, (#2000-46) GLBT HS  https://calisphere.org/collections/469/
  5. Bobbi Campbell Diary, 1983-1984, MSS 96-33 https://calisphere.org/collections/3684/
  6. Mobilization Against AIDS Records, 1984-1995,
    MSS 95-03 https://calisphere.org/collections/14922/
  7. People vs. Owen Bathhouse Closure Litigation, 1984-1987
    (SFPL SFH 31) https://calisphere.org/collections/26990/
  8. AIDS History Project — Ephemera Collection, 1981-2002, MSS 2000-31 (posters) https://calisphere.org/collections/466/

National Endowment for the Humanities

The San Francisco Bay Area’s Response to the AIDS Epidemic has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.