TAC’s call, “to prevent a holocaust against the poor,” inevitably reminds me of another holocaust, and another puzzle of time. In 1987, UK video artist Stuart Marshall produced an extraordinary tape about AIDS, history and representation entitled Bright Eyes. Stuart was certainly one of the first artists (and PWAs) to critically historicize the pandemic, using a mixed-genre collage of fake news reports, critical interpretations, and dramatic excerpts to tease out AIDS and its historical metaphors, lurking like the dancing shadows around the hearth of the virus. In particular, he explored if and how useful analogies could be drawn between the slaughter by design of pink triangle prisoners in the concentration camps, and the slaughter by indifference of so many gay men in the early years of the epidemic, succumbing to AIDS while the world dithered about green monkeys and Patient Zero.
His representational techniques always leave this explosive question hanging in the air, for his viewers to wrestle with: is it illuminating or productive to juxtapose the Third Reich’s homophobia with that of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney? Do we learn from history, or do we do history a disservice by recasting its specificity into a generalized metaphor for today’s agendas, today’s needs? Are the fruits of history apples and oranges, or indeed Granny Smiths and Macs?
One extraordinary scene involves archival footage of the burning of the Magnus Hirschfeld’s Scientific-Humanitarian Institute in Berlin. Hirschfeld was of course the pioneering sexologist who had led the campaign against the recriminalization of homosexuality under the Nazis, the infamous Paragraph 175.
In retaliation, the Nazis razed his institute, committing to the pyre a lifetime’s achievement concerning human sexuality. Stuart shows how Hirschfeld actually witnessed the incident. It was weeks later, and the good doctor was in a film theatre in London, having fled the Nazis, watching a newsreel about the incident before the main feature. There’s something unbearably poignant about the scene: the footage itself, of course, but more, the flicker of blue light on the expressionless face of Hirschfeld, as he watches his life’s work incinerate, a thousand miles and several weeks’ distant from the real event.
Stuart’s puzzle: How can we ever hope to truly imagine the times of Hirschfeld, and his relation to time? Last week on CNN, we perhaps watched a TAC speaker address the side conference on sustainable development in Jo’burg, live [at the Earth Summit convened in Johannesburg in September 2002]. Next week, we perhaps may watch the incineration of Iraq, live. Real time commands the new, true-blue test of value: We now only venerate images of towers if they’re tumbling as we watch them live, the realness of the digital clock on the lower left of the screen goldplating our participatory frisson.
[John Greyson’s e-mail continues in “Cc…: CCC,” part 11]