The Naked 7: Memed

Programs Manager Ted Kerr takes a few minutes to reconsider a blog post he wrote the other day about activism in the age of social media and ongoing AIDS.

A few days ago I wrote a blog post, making a connection between the HRC’s Marriage Equality logo meme that had Facebook feeds become awash in red, and the vital work General Idea and Gran Fury did in their creations of the art works AIDS and RIOT. I wanted to provide some history of image based conversations related to activism, and provide context as to why Visual AIDS was participating in the meme, building upon the work of General Idea and Gran Fury.

In the first posting of the article, I mistakenly credited the red/pinkwashed equality logo to meme master George Takei. Upon conversation with writer Amy Fung, I came to understand that Takei did not create the altered version of the logo. It was actually the HRC that made it.

Well darn. Didn’t that change everything.

Here I was, inspired by what I thought was a somewhat organic flurry of political images in this 2.0 world—echoing the work that had been done decades ago— when in fact I had fallen for an exercise in branding.

And an exclusionary exercise at that. In the last few days stories have emerged that the HRC may have asked that a trans flag be removed from a demonstration outside of a courthouse, and that the HRC asked a speaker from the United We Dream project not to mention they were undocumented.

Gran Fury and General Idea created their works out of desperation, loss, pain, frustration, confusion, expression, anger, sadness. It was work that needed to be made because so little was being done or said about HIV, and the criminal amount of neglect surrounding those dying of AIDS was more than untenable. The artwork was activism. I am not sure what to call what happened with the meme.

Even with the information that the HRC created the logo, I don’t regret that Visual AIDS got involved in the meme. I am glad we seized the moment to raise awareness that AIDS is not OVER, and that AIDS is still a crisis. In 48 hours, 6,576 people viewed the RIOT image we created, and 4,422 have viewed the AIDS image we created. To put that in perspective, our average post on Facebook garners 700 to 1000 views. I am under no illusions that we saved lives with the images, but I am aware through my own experience that seeing someone else be angry, or thinking about a subject one feel is being neglected, can inspire someone to get involved. An image can help remind someone that they are not alone.

Something is changing within the HIV movement. We are seeing a renewed passion, and anger. It is translating into growing awareness, increased conversations, and most—importantly action.

On Monday as the red/pinkwashing of social media was about to start, the Naked 7, the group of activists who took over Speaker Boehner’s office last year in the buff to raise awareness of funding cuts impacting people living with HIV, were making their way to DC to accept a plea bargain to a misdemeanor. Like the many amazing activists that came before them, the Naked 7 put their (naked) butts on the line. They created an AIDS focused news cycle story, and change. As reported by Jennifer Flynn of Health Gap, a key legislative staffer said that the action, “directly led to the addition of some of the largest AIDS programs to the list of anomalies that did not have to be affected by the ‘across the board cuts’”.

In a recent article in the Brooklyn Rail about the state of AIDS activism now, Michael Tikili, QUEEROCRACY member and one of the Naked 7, said, “I don’t understand how this is not on the agenda of groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, but it is not."

It is good to keep the lack of understanding Tikili articulates present as we embrace this interesting moment of both marriage equality and recharged AIDS activism. And use it in our work. Gran Fury and General Idea teach us that our frustration, our difference of opinions and tactics, and our expression matters. Art can and does make a difference. Visual AIDS gets to see it in action everyday.