26 April 2006

rent makes me feel old

rent just celebrated the tenth anniversary of its opening. interestingly, while i obviously don't remember that opening (because what fourteen-year-old north dakotan keeps track of all the broadway openings?), i heard about it very soon after. i think "obsession" is probably an appropriate term for what came next. i think "holy shit" is probably an appropriate term for my feelings on the fact that 1996 was a decade ago.

i've never been entirely comfortable with the way the AIDS pandemic was romanticized for mass publics, or at least, the way that the only mass media representations available to fourteen-year-old (straight, middle class) north dakotans were somehow romantic. it was all angel and pedro zamora, maybe a moment's attention to ryan white. some of us even saw philadelphia. most of the teenagers i knew at the time had a vague idea of AIDS as an element of a grand bohemian passion rather than AIDS as a terrifying illness involving a lifetime of quotidian frustration and pain.

on the other hand, most of the (straight) teenagers i knew at that time also learned their first lessons about queer issues from the real world, or from rent. stultifying articles about gays in the military -- probably the single other manifestation of queer politics on our radar in the early and mid nineties -- didn't arouse anyone's sympathy or anyone's interest. we wouldn't have learned about AIDS in africa until later, when we either started reading internet news or moved places where the newspapers actually covered the world outside american borders. so, ok, we got this flawed romantic picture of AIDS, of "gay rights," of a million other things that we never should have learned from MTV. but it sparked a certain amount of passion and rethinking and involvement, and for the place and the time it was fairly radical, and...

...well, rent was really fun to sing. still is.