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June 10, 2004

Playing Spaids

Andrew Sullivan calls the following snippet from an October 1982 White House press conference transcript "damning."

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
MR. SPEAKES: What's AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don't.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn't answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President ...
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't think so. I don't think there's been any ...
Q: Nobody knows?
MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping ...
MR. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he's had no - (laughter) - no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.
Q: The President doesn't have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I didn't say that.
Q: Didn't say that?
MR. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn't you stay there? (Laughter.)
Q: Because I love you Larry, that's why (Laughter.)
MR. SPEAKES: Oh I see. Just don't put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, I retract that.
MR. SPEAKES: I hope so.
Q: It's too late.

Damning it may be, but if so it's damning of American culture at the time in general, not of the Reagan White House in particular. It was 1982, for God's sake. One might as well condemn antebellum politicians for their incorrect opinions on slavery. 600 faggots had caught some bug? BFD, as far as most of the country was concerned. I remember a series of jokes making the rounds at the time--possibly inspired by Tim Kazurinski's SNL skits, or simply stolen from him, that went something like this.

Q: What do call a disease that kills you after you fuck the lady that cleans the house?
A: Maids

Q: What do call a disease that kills you after you fuck the guy from Innerspace?
A: Quaids

Q: What do call a disease that kills you after you fuck a can of insecticide?
A: Raids

Maybe it was just my high school, but those crappy jokes were everywhere. The teachers also joined in, with more than one claiming they'd been afflicted with "aides." I told as many as anyone else.

The urban areas Andrew Sullivan lived in were probably more advanced in their thinking on AIDS, but I don't know that attitudes towards the disease in the rest of the country changed all that much until after Rock Hudson died in 1985, and I'd be willing to bet that a majority of America still didn't care about the disease one way or another until after Philadelphia came out in the 90s.

Posted by Bigwig at June 10, 2004 01:34 PM | TrackBack
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Comments

As I recall, there are/was many more diseases in the world that kill over 600 people a year that we hardly ever hear about. To say that 600 people dying from something is an epidemic is pushing the envelope. More people than that die every day of smoking and nobody had said it was an epidemic. The gay lobby is still pissed off since Reagan told them to keep their pants up.

Posted by: El-ahrairah at June 11, 2004 11:53 AM

Q: What do you call a gay Eskimo?

A: Kool-Aids

Posted by: Kevin at June 11, 2004 12:12 PM

I remember the 80's quite vividly. What the HELL could Reagan have done to curb the spread of AIDS? Those most likely to get it were in absolutely NO way gonna listen to anything Ronnie Ray-Gun told them about how to live THEIR lives the way THEY wanted to. I think about the only way Reagan could've actually steered them into safer practices was if he'd announced that he was having huge gay orgies in the White House every weekend with fatcat Republicans (to ruin the "coolness" of gay sex) and declared that condoms were a threat to democracy and capitalism (to make prophylactics popular).

OK, my three most tasteless AIDS jokes from the 80's:

What does AIDS stand for?
Anally Injected Death Syndrome or Another Infected Dick Sucker.

What does "Gay" mean?
"Got AIDS Yet?"

What's the only thing scarier than a pit bull with AIDS?
The guy who gave it to him.

J.

Posted by: Jay Tea at June 11, 2004 10:04 PM
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