Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

The Genealogical Pedagogy of John Greyson's Zero Patience

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Film Studies

The Genealogical Pedagogy of John Greyson's Zero Patience

Article excerpt

Resume: La comedie musicale Zero Patience (1993) de John Greyson contrefait l'image du SIDA dans la culture de masse en mettant les dynamiques spectaculaires de la comedie musicale hollywoodienne au service d'une pedagogie genealogique qui presente dans son contexte historique la politique du blame reliee au SIDA. En situant dans le cadre d'une exhibition museologique l'histoire de l'agent de bord canadien qui aurait apparemment " emporte le SIDA en Amerique du Nord ", Greyson revele les discours institutionnels qui exigeaient la construction d'un " patient zero ". Le film suggere ainsi que le musee est l'antecedent genealogique des medias contemporains, une technologie visuelle essentiellement moderne qui facilite le deploiement de certains fantasmes nationaux du corps social " sain " en etalant le corps malade de l'autre.

In his influential critique of the "spectacle of AIDS" published in 1988, Simon Watney drew on the powerful iconographic metaphor of the diptych to explain the visual regime governing AIDS representation in the West.1 One panel shows the HIV retrovirus, rendered through the technologies of electron microscopy and computer graphics as a "huge technicolor asteroid." The other panel depicts the emaciated, dying body of the "AIDS victim" through the pathetic gaze of the documentary camera. This diptych, Watney argued, frames the AIDS pandemic as an "exemplary and admonitory drama," which is "relayed between the image of the miraculous authority of clinical medicine and the faces and bodies of individuals who clearly disclose the stigmata of their guilt."2 Watney's analysis took the crucial step to address not only the iconography to be found in the spectacle of AIDS, but also the technologies of vision that construct it. Formed by complex institutional and discursive histories, these technologies structure the gazes through which we come to see and to know AIDS.

The body of narrative feature films which addressed the AIDS pandemic in its first decade bear out the dynamics of Watney's diptych. Horror and science fiction films like The Fly (USA, 1986, David Cronenberg) and Alien 3 (USA, 1992, David Fincher) fed on the monstrous mutability of the retrovirus, while melodramas such as Parting Glances (USA, 1986, Bill Sherwood) and Longtime Companion (USA, 1990, Norman Rene) framed the experience of people with AIDS through the genre's sentimental gaze. This generic bifurcation of AIDS narratives generally worked however to reinforce rather than challenge the spectacle of AIDS. There were certainly some canny exceptions, including Rosa von Praunheim's Ein Virus Kennt Keine Moral (Germany, 1986) and Gregg Araki's The Living End (USA, 1992), which employed black comedy and the road movie respectively to reframe the pandemic outside the paranoid anxiety of the horror film and the science fiction film or the sentimental pedagogy of the melodrama. Yet for all their ability to harness the anger and defiance of AIDS activism through popular genre conventions, such films failed to unpack the discursive and institutional structures which underpinned the spectacle of AIDS. It is John Greyson's musical Zero Patience (Canada, 1993) which, I would argue, most fully realizes a wide-ranging critique of the spectacle of AIDS through the conventions of popular narrative filmmaking.

Schooled in video activism, queer theory and a healthy dose of Brechtian dramaturgy, Greyson clearly understands the pedagogic opportunities provided by popular generic forms. The various practices of Western AIDS activism, both political and cultural, established pedagogy early on as one of their most significant imperatives: to teach at-risk individuals explicitly how to engage in safer sex and safer needle use, especially when governmental bodies legislated against such targeted and explicit HIV prevention; to inform those infected with the kinds of knowledge that could empower them both in their medical and their social situation; and to educate the public about the pandemic in a climate of state and media misinformation stoked by misogyny, homophobia and racism. …

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