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Hitler HIV campaign = Colossal FAIL

Hitler HIV campaign = Colossal FAIL

"AIDS" dementia
It's two-thirty in the morning and the bedroom door bursts open. To a thumping disco beat, a man and a woman enter, clearly in the throes of lust. Within seconds, they've torn one another's clothes off. Seen through peculiar clouds of mist, they begin to have passionate, rough sex to a strange soundtrack of eerie noises.

Their faces are obscured but guttural gasps and moans fill the room. As the rutting hits a fever pitch, the deep-thrusting Romeo's face is suddenly revealed. You'll probably recognize this sex machine. Is it Fabio? George Clooney? Brad Pitt? Guess again.

It's Adolf Hitler. Complete with trademark kooky mustache, gasping for breath with a demented look of orgasmic lust on his face. I'm not joking.

Why has Der Führer risen from the grave to pick up a woman at a nightclub in 2009 and taking her home to do the nasty? Because, to the people who came up with this ludicrous AIDS TV commercial, unprotected sex that could lead to HIV transmission is just like getting screwed by Hitler. Still scratching your head? It's because "AIDS is a mass murderer." And so is Hitler. Get it?

Wait, there's more. The lurid advertisement, soon to grace TV and movie screens across Germany, is accompanied by an equally tacky poster campaign. It seems Adolf is not the only one getting some — the imagery depicts innocent German women being defiled by Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin.

And in case the history angle starts to feel tired, there is also a rap song, in German, "Aids ist ein Massenmörder" by Big Danny. I have to admit that it's pretty catchy. The music video is shot — of course — in a cemetery. There's a banner ad for websites featuring a conveyor belt of body bags. The "AIDS is a mass murderer" campaign is even on Twitter @AIDSMASSMURDER.

"The campaign is designed to shake people up," according to the its creators, AIDS-awareness group Regenbogen e.V. and ad agency Das Comitee, who prepared the materials for World AIDS Day (December 1) but have unleashed them on the public a bit early. Das Comitee's creative director Hans Weishäupl told the (UK) Telegraph that the thinking was that the ad's shock value could help prevent new infections.

This campaign is a joke. There is nothing shocking or cutting edge about it. Its horny Hitler is hilarious. The fact that he, Hussein and Stalin are all deceased adds a certain necrophiliac irony to the whole cartoonish exercise. For a campaign with a digital component, they seem to have forgotten the lessons of Godwin's Law, which points out the absurdity of making online comparisons to Adolf Hitler. If anything is disturbing, it's the fact that the "logic" behind this campaign makes sense to anyone — especially an AIDS-awareness group like Regenbogen, whose members include people with HIV.

"AIDS" is not a "mass murderer." It's a health condition caused by an untreated viral infection. HIV is the virus that can lead to AIDS, usually after many years and in the absence of medication. HIV is a significant medical condition, and there are countless reasons why anyone who doesn't have that virus should avoid getting it, and that anyone who does have it should avoid passing it on to anyone else.

But it doesn't help anyone to confuse HIV and AIDS with one another, or to exaggerate the impact of HIV by inextricably linking it to death. Dr Joseph McGowan of North Shore University Hospital recently counselled a parent about her 10-year-old son's HIV infection on the medical website TheBody.com: "If he is monitored carefully there is no reason your son ever has to progress to AIDS. He can expect to live a very long life." This is the current reality of HIV for most people in developed countries. The constant, hyper-emotional assertion that HIV equals guaranteed death ought to be calmly challenged every time it rears its insistent head. Neither is it "murder."

And since "AIDS" is not a person, let alone a "murderer," who are we really talking about here? Of course, we are talking about people who have HIV in their bodies. The Regenbogen campaign isn't actually about AIDS itself at all. It's about the risks of (presumably unprotected) sex with regard to HIV transmission, arguing that passing on HIV is akin to Nazism, and suggesting that the other person engaging in sex has no role other than that of victim. Notably, the mass murderers in the campaign are all men and their victims are all women. Meanwhile, the most recent high-profile HIV-criminalization case in Germany targeted a woman, Nadja Benaissa of the pop group No Angels.

Scare tactics and misrepresentations of people with HIV will not help anyone protect themselves, according to German gay journalist, Rainer Hoermann. "Fear is never a good advisor," he says, noting that the campaign suggests those with HIV/AIDS are "oversexed mass murderers." Describing the Hitler debacle as "a step backward," he recommends another German HIV campaign, "I Know What I Do." This site focuses on personal responsibility and normalizes HIV, allowing people to talk realistically about their fears and their health, he says.

Did the campaigners not think twice about wrongly comparing human sexual behaviour to the Holocaust, and inappropriately demonizing people with HIV in the process? The insistence on seeing HIV transmission as villainy obscures the most stubborn fact about the epidemic — far from being the realm of malevolent or sociopathic people, HIV is transmitted through behaviours that are otherwise completely natural and normal, such as penetrative intercourse — or behaviours that may often be hard to control rather than "intentional," such as needle sharing in the context of addiction. We already know that those most infectious with HIV usually don't know they have it, and that most people with diagnosed HIV take great pains to prevent further transmission.

Of course, Regenbogen and Das Comitee don't have a monopoly on hyperbolic exaggeration about the impact of HIV, or on promoting the idea that HIV transmission is the work of bad people. Here in Canada, the legal system has also adopted the surreal notion that when HIV transmission occurs, this means one person is attempting to murder another. Sometimes the murder rhetoric even comes from within our own communities from people who should know better.

Larry Kramer imagines a communal deathwish in his destructive harangue, "The Tragedy of Today's Gays": "I wish we could understand and take some responsibility for the fact that for some 30 years we have been murdering each other with great facility and that down deep inside of us, we knew what we were doing." Gay men are our own worst critics, despite the fact that our rates of condom use are still dramatically higher than the population at large. I've heard some gay men cynically argue those with HIV intentionally infect others simply to gratify their own carnal urges, and that they often exploit others who are drunk or high so as to take the path of least resistance.

The "AIDS is a mass murderer" Hitler campaign isn't the first time the phrase "mass murder" has been applied to the AIDS pandemic. In 2003, Stephen Lewis, then the UN's special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, described the crisis as "mass murder by complacency." He wasn't talking about people's sex lives though. He was talking about treatment access. Medical advances mean that HIV is no longer necessarily fatal — if you have access to drugs. For so many people around the world, that still isn't the case, and that is something that's truly shocking and worthy of our anger and righteous indignation.

Let's stop clouding the issues with scare tactics and Swastikas — and focus on what we really need: realistic sex education targeting specific at-risk communities, new prevention tools beyond condoms to help people play safe, and access to medical treatment so all people with HIV can be as uninfectious as possible and live long, healthy lives.

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Standing corrected
Thank you for your thoughtful response to my comments - and for the suggested reading. Very powerful. And, indeed, I stand corrected on the two points.
You're right, it is complex
Thanks for your articulate comment, Matthew. We share the same point of view that HIV/AIDS "is no party," and I point this out (last sentence of paragraph 9). But the fact I didn't make that the focus of this article doesn't mean I fail to grasp the complexity of the issues. I have observed though, that anytime anyone says that HIV/AIDS realities are not exactly the same as they were in the 80s, the sledgehammer response back insists that saying that somehow trivializes either the risk of infection or the real trials faced by people with HIV today. And I don't think that is true, so I made a point not to take that perspective. I do want to touch on two things you mention in a row, first questioning whether positive people are concerned about onward transmission and then pointing out that you get rejected by sexual partners because you prefer to play safe. I don't see a direct relationship between those two points. If gay men in general are rejecting you for wanting to play safe, what does that say about HIV-positive men? It doesn't say anything; it says something about gay men in general. Now as for whether people who are positive care about preventing seroconversion (which you are actually backing up anecdotally when you point out that your poz friends eschew condoms only with other positive guys), there are several different stats and studies that address this point, but here is one article about these issues that I think you would find interesting: http://www.xtra.ca/public/Ottawa/How_many_will_you_infect_in_09-6096.aspx -- anyway, all in all I guess what I would say is that I agree with most of the points that you make, but I don't think that they invalidate any of the points that I was trying to making in this article. Thanks!
It's all a little more complex ...
I agree with many of your comments in the article. The ad does, in fact, stigmatize those living with HIV/AIDS. Despite being negative myself, I have always fought this stigmatization in my work and social circles.

All the same, I am worried that, by characterizing HIV/AIDS as totally manageable, etc., we aren't doing any favours for prevention efforts.

And the reality is, even here in North America, with all the drugs, etc., people are still getting sick and dying. We're just not dropping like flies as we once did – and there seems to be this denial/code of silence about the whole thing.

In the last year alone, within my larger circles, among friends and acquaintances who are HIV positive, there have been deaths, cancers, pneumonia and other respiratory problems, colds/flus/bacterial infections that are more intense than in the general population, and illness because the T-cells are down to zero and the drugs are no longer working, as well as organ, circulatory, and joint pain troubles (probably caused by the toxicity of long-term drug treatment).

HIV/AIDS is not chronic and manageable in the same way as, say, diabetes. HIV/AIDS leads to a whole host of conditions and treatments. Lots of surprises! With diabetes, for instance, you are dealing with one condition and a more-or-less clearly defined set of potential problems.

And how do we know that most people with diagnosed HIV take great pains to prevent further transmission? Really?

All too often I have been rejected, here in Toronto, because I don't want to have unprotected sex. Yup. It happens. And often.

And several of my friends who are HIV positive brag how liberated they are in being able to experience the fullness of sex without concern (they say they only play with other poz guys) ... one of them recently tested positive for Hep C.

Thank God/Goddess/Pfizer that people with HIV/AIDS are living longer and healthier now. But HIV/AIDS hasn't gone away. And it's no party.
The real fascists are ignorant gay men online who shun and humiliate poz guys even if they play safe.
my answer.
Very interesting your article Shawn, you highlight two interesting points:

First the fact of advertising to further increase the ignorance of people confuse the terms HIV and AIDS (if you had gone to one of two being the murderer, would surely be the virus ).

I believe they did this so that the majority of the population (which is stupid and not even know the difference between the two) could more easily understand the association of this disease with the death. They sought to simplify the thing "leveling down" indeed.

The second point is that the advertising associate the carrier of the virus to dictators. As if the killer was the bearer, and not the disease. This is especially bad for those who have the virus. But hey. Who knows who has the virus and do not use condoms is also a kind of killer?

How do you even put your text in the campaign was done deliberately to shock people, and this is not done putting fluffy bunnies frolicking on a lawn.

Yours text is interesting, but you seem more interested in attacking the campaign to attack what really matters: The disease.

A Hug.
Does AIDS = Nazi?
Here is an article by someone else making the exact opposite article. She thinks unprotected sex is like Nazism: http://bit.ly/hitlerhiv
Das ist nicht gut
Such outright bullshit comparisons to hitler and mass murder is slanderous. The gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered communities should be outraged and take action against the German propoganda machine starting this crap. In Canada we need to get some gay activist to once and for all stand up and take a political role on issues such as this. Where are all the Harvey Milk's in todays day and age? Where are those Stonewall activists who really knew what our pride parades are supposed to be about? What will my daughter think about my being hiv positive if she sees an ad like this...this creates a collossal and misguided association to hiv + people who themselves are victims of sorts. Family values are tough enough to instill these days without suggesting that we are literally f*****g killers with intent!! Disgusting and vile...shocking indeed, Das ist ganz toll deutschland....sehr fucking gut und geil ja? Disheartening to say the least, should I just kill myself now or wait till I develop AIDS and be done with it sooner? If this doesn't lead some young person to suicide because of labelling and lack of hope then damn I don't know what would.
Right On

Thanks for this excellent piece on the absurd HIV/Hitler/mass murderer campaign. Coming from America I have almost come to expect this kind of social marketing inanity from some of our AIDS service organizations. It's depressing to think we've exported the worst of health "education." It's even more depressing to think anybody, anywhere finds it effective.

Again, thanks. Your analysis is right on.
I can't beleive that crap like this is being produced. Thanks again Shawn for bringing our attention to a greatly understood problem.
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