Once a groundbreaking book, then a star-laden movie, has lost the sheen in recent years. Here"s why.

You are watching: And the band played on meaning


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I to be sitting at my workdesk in 1987, killing time in ~ a temp project while I chose what to carry out with my life, and also in mine hands to be a non-fiction hardback that had actually just been published. The publication chronicled the end of the world.

And the band Played On thorough the start of the pester that — in ~ the very moment ns was analysis the publication — to be killing my closest friends. It charted the race to find the reason for the calamity, and the cunning, look at unstoppable virus that was eventually figured out as the culprit. It was the same virus that, two years prior to the publication was released, was discovered replicating in my body.

The book weighed a lot. Ns remember how hefty it feeling in my hands, over 650 pages the science and also grief and also infighting and also death, the longest book I had ever before read, and also how fascinating it appeared to me that humanity would end this way, with people saying over professional territory and gay sex and also politics. It to be fascinating, yes, and sad and terrible.

I devoured every page, because as frightening as it was to read exactly how AIDS was disastrous the globe while discovering it would more than likely kill me, the book likewise felt prefer validation, that someone had finally dubbed out a crisis that had existed under the radar of the mainstream for too long. And thank God, everyone was analysis it. The publication was a bestseller, was interpreted into 7 languages, and also it made a celebrity out of that is author, san Francisco reporter Randy Shilts.


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You more than likely think I"m a destructive drama queen, having actually such a fatalistic watch of the people at the time. That"s okay. Possibly you aren"t a gay guy who stayed in a major city throughout the 1980s. You haven"t had actually the suffer of 3 friends at the same time clinging come life in the intensive care ward, of do the efforts to discover the faces of love ones under class of skin lesions, of making her guest room easily accessible to a mere acquaintance v nowhere rather to die.

And the band Played On caught that feeling of dread and also hopelessness. Yes, the was regularly written together melodrama, yet it was our melodrama, and it felt appropriate at the time.

It wasn"t until 1993 that an all-star film version was developed by HBO and also by then, the gay community and also our allies had produced organizations to aid the experiencing while new activist teams demanded medications and also progress. That wasn"t tidy and also it was far from the finish of the body count, but we had nevertheless changed to a new normal. With Hollywood tackling AIDS that year through Philadelphia and Broadway act the very same with the revelatory Angels in America, the tv version of And the tape Played On feeling outdated as soon as it aired, or at the very least like an afterthought.

Only after analysis the book and seeing the movie did ns learn how the fact had been manipulated.


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At right: The AIDS Memorial quilt panel because that Gaétan Dugas.

Amidst the storylines about the scientific race through the Centers for an illness Control and Prevention and the fear of sex of virtually every kind, And the tape Played On presented us to Gaétan Dugas, likewise known by his slanderous nickname, patience Zero. Dugas was a handsome Canadian trip attendant who reportedly spent a the majority of time gaining laid in almost every city through an airport. Supposedly, a many his sex partners to be later amongst the an initial AIDS patients in the joined States. Consisted of in the book was the rumor Dugas would have actually sex through unwitting victims and also then identify his skin lesions as the gay cancer.

Except, together we now know, the characterization was unfair if not totally untrue. 2 years ago, Shilts" former editor admitted the publication needed a literary device and had motivated Shilts to produce the epidemic"s an initial "AIDS monster." The strong sex life that Gaétan Dugas to the right the invoice nicely, and also served as a symbol, on purpose or not, because that everything human being feared around gay sexuality.

Dugas had already died in 1984, never having actually the possibility to respond come the book"s claims. Epidemiologists now complete that, because HIV existed for numerous years prior to Dugas" alleged exploits, that hardly qualified because that Patient Zero status.

That reality that writer Shilts went along with the tabloid storytelling machine is nice disheartening. It diminishes the book and robs me of the pleasurable memory of reading it at a time once I really essential the truth.

Dugas, as presented in the HBO film, is a sexually charged scoundrel, smoking cigarettes cigarettes through the panache the a movie villain, with a French accent and a shirts unbuttoned under to there. After some warnings from wellness officials about the dangers of his sexual prowess, the Dugas personality blames them because that not protecting against the torment he shows up to it is in spreading, and also then the slinks off into the shadows because that the rest of the movie. (The following time you see the latest media hysteria depicting an HIV-positive human roaming the countryside purposely infecting the populace, it"d be way to psychic the unjust myth of Gaetan Dugas, and also how much the media loves to tell story in strictly black and white.)

The film also gives just passing recommendation to the advocacy efforts of the gay ar as a whole. Instead, us are decreased to a belligerent crowd at a city hall meeting, decked the end in tanks tops and leather harnesses, yelling to save the bathhouses open. The nuance of ours internal controversy over sexual identity and actual transmission dangers are lost in the exploitation of happy stereotypes.

A fascinating video exists from 1983, during the infancy of the epidemic, of an actual public forum held by Canada"s AIDS Vancouver. It gift a far more thoughtful watch of the gay community. In the video, physicians and also advocates define the facts as they were well-known at the moment to a packed room of concerned attendees. One of the came to gay men to step to the microphone is a an excellent looking blond who displays the more quickly ravages the the mysterious brand-new disease.

"If you existing yourself to a doctor," that asks, "what kind of test have the right to be undertaken to check if you space a carrier or not?" There to be no such test, or even a virus determined at the time, however he pushed on. "So if you have actually a lover who has actually AIDS and also you don"t have AIDS, what is the warning you provide to people? You should not necessarily are afraid those people." His questions were simple, uncomfortable, and also produced only wary responses from the panel.

That man, the fading beauty trying to find answers to such troubling questions, to be Gaétan Dugas.

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About the Author

Mark S. King writes about life as a happy HIV confident addict in recovery because that his blog, my Fabulous Disease.