Nineteen Eighty Four

When I was growing up in the 1980s, the newspapers were full of three subjects: Gay men (who were evil), AIDS (which was terrifying), and Russia (which was evil and terrifying). A quick glance over the day's lead stories gave me a sense of deja vu.

The 'papers and TV are still full of gay men and their sexuality, though being a queen has gone from being Every Parent's Nightmare to Youth Fashion Accessory. Gay men are now celebrated in the media - so long as they're young, attractive, wealthy, witty and completely vacuous.

The mantle of Every Parent's Nightmare has shifted from "your child being abducted by a psychotic poof" to "your child having a sexuality". Children being molested by adults, children losing their "innocence" by seeking sex with adults, children having sex with children - three separate objects of contemporary fear that have coalesced into a nebulous terror of kidsex.

Then, as now, the media was full of pretty underage children, singing, dancing, chatting and being cool. And then as now the kids were shown as sexy, but never actually sexual. A 12 year old girl could lipsync with lipstick through a pop song about lust on primetime TV, but unlike older female singers really was Like a Virgin.

Now though, there's an extra layer of irony, as pubescent (and sometimes prepubescent) children continue to be presented as deniably sexy, but instead of ignoring the sexiness like the elephant in the room everyone painfully refuses to think about, it's an object of paranoia.

Kids are expected to be (a) alluring, (b) unconscious of it and (c) chaste. As opposed to chased.

Today was World AIDS Day. The time is long past when, 20 years ago, the headmaster of my school could tell the class "AIDS is a disease caused by man's immorality". It's gone from being the Gay Plague, to the Damocles sword hovering above us all, to the ravage of Africa, to...what?

It may no longer be a death sentence in the industrial west, but transmission rates are still high, there's still no vaccine or cure, and ARC can still make life unbearable - as can the side effects of the drugs used to treat it. Of course, if you don't live in a privileged part of the world, it's much simpler - half the people you know have HIV, and death from AIDS is commonplace.

When the TV asks me to remember on World AIDS Day, I'm not sure what I'm being asked to remember. A decade of young men dying horribly? That much could have been prevented if Regan and Bush Mk 1 hadn't been homophobes? AIDS babies in Africa? The economic causes of the African situation? Or just that the disease hasn't gone away, isn't going to go away, and there's still no cure.

Remember Cold War fever? The idea that there's a gigantic nation of brainwashed fanatics who hate western freedoms and want to enslave the world? Of course, no one could possibly fall for tripe like that nowadays, could they. We're all much too sophisticated and cynical.

Ah well, it looks like the Russians are officially scary again. After an obscure dissident in exile was killed with polonium after decades of ineffectually criticising each Russian government in turn, and now a second dissident may have been poisoned, the fingers of blame point to Putin and the outfit formerly known as KGB.

The Blair government reacted in typical fashion, promoting a mobile clinic for members of the public who feared Russian spies might be trying to assassinate them. And a slightly confused BBC reported that alpha radiation had been found in the second man's urine, and radiation should be kept away from open wounds. The absurd and the illiterate.

Five planes and a luxury hotel are being swept for radioactivity, and the vague notion that Russia is in some way dangerous to the Free World is bubbling under the surface again.

New dross, same as the old dross.

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