Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Grim Reaper died in the 80s

The following is a piece I have running today on The Conversation website (republished with their permission).  It is a comment on the Queensland Government's plans to re-introduce a Grim Reaper style HIV prevention campaign. While not directly related to parenting, I wanted to rerun this here because the Queensland Government has (in their wisdom) done all they can to wind back laws supporting LGBT rights – they have proposed changes to civil union legislation which would make existing unions invalid for same-sex couples and introduced laws to prevent same-sex couples accessing surrogacy. Alongside this, they have defunded the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), an organisation dedicated to LGBT health. Homophobia has no place in public health. The core of Australia’s success in limiting the spread of HIV/AIDS has been the commitment of governments to supporting and funding LGBT led organisations to do what they have to do to get HIV prevention messages out. Defunding QAHC is part of a raft of changes from a conservative government that will have a negative impact on  all LGBT folk in Queensland, especially parents or prospective parents.

The Grim Reaper died in the 80s – time for a new approach to HIV prevention

By Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

The Grim Reaper television commercial is infamous in Australia. Reminiscent of B-grade gothic horror flicks, the cloaked reaper stands in a foggy bowling alley poised to strike down a group of deadpan, but “ordinary” looking, people. As the people are bowled down, a voice booms, “at first only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS, but now we know every one of us could be devastated by it”.

The Grim Reaper appeared on Australian television in April 1987. It was a phenomenal marketing success. Some 25 years on, just about everyone who saw it remembers it. In my mind, the Grim Reaper was part of pre-bedtime viewing throughout my childhood. In reality, the ad ran for less than three weeks. I probably watched it only a handful of times.

The Grim Reaper has come to symbolise HIV/AIDS in Australia. It captured the fear and uncertainty of a time when people were not sure what would happen with this virus. It wasn’t clear how large the epidemic might grow in Australia; there was certainly no sign of a cure and available treatments at the time were not particularly effective.

The Grim Reaper campaign was not without controversy. In some communities, gay men came to be associated with the Grim Reaper and were seen as a threat to the community, rather than being victims of the disease.

The campaign was immensely effective at drawing attention to HIV/AIDS. Politically this was important. The Commonwealth government had directed a lot of funds toward HIV prevention and, although the Grim Reaper was not devised as a political tool, the response to it justified this spending.

The Queensland government has decided to resurrect the Grim Reaper imagery in a soon-to-be-screened television campaign designed to inform Queenslanders that HIV infection rates are again on the rise. The ad features an actor dressed as the Grim Reaper costume while the voice-over laments, “we shouldn’t be having this conversation”.