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There is the official story, and then there is another, involving local groups and AIDS activists. Going back to early government and activist attempts to spread information, Patton traces a slow separation between official advice and that provided by those on the front lines in the battle against AIDS. She shows how American anxieties about teen sex played into the nation's inadequate education and protection of its young people, and chronicles the media's attempts to encourage compassion without broaching the touchy subject of sex or disrupting the notion that AIDS was a disease of social and sexual outcasts. Her overview of the relationship between shifting medical perceptions and safe-sex advice reveals why radical safe-sex educators eventually turned to sexually explicit, including pornographic, representations to spread their message-and why even these extreme tactics could not overcome the misguided national teaching on AIDS.
Patton closes with a stirring manifesto, an urgent call to action for all those who do not want to see the hard lessons of AIDS education and activism wasted, or, with these lessons, the loss of so many more lives.
Patton (English/Temple Univ.) explores our country's response to the AIDS crisis vis-à-vis education and prevention, concluding that it is both homophobic and racist. When only the homosexual subculture seemed at risk, contends Patton, little effort was expended by US public health officials on education. Only later, when it became obvious that heterosexuals, too, could become infected with the AIDS virus, was there any concerted effort to prevent its spread. But by identifying AIDS almost exclusively with gay males, public health officials gave heterosexuals a false sense of security, failing to provide "the tools they needed to evaluate and reduce their own risk of contracting AIDS." By denying that their own sons might be engaging in sex with other men or injecting drugs into their veins, policymakers did little to protect their children. They preferred to perceive them as too innocent to engage in risky behavior. And since the homosexual population was considered already at risk, little effort was put into stemming the epidemic among gay youth. Youth of color, Patton states, were also neglected by policy makers, since they were viewed as "unlikely to change their behavior or escape the environment that marks them as premodern." In addition to criticizing our country's approach to sex education, Patton assaults the media for its lack of integrity. She insists, for example, that the teenage sexuality of Ryan White (who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion) was overlooked, while Philadelphia's "Uncle Eddie" Savitz was unfairly condemned for transmitting the AIDS virus to large numbers of teenage boys.
With its painfully stilted academic prose and suffocating atmosphere of political correctness, Fatal Advice isn't likely to convince those who have seen greater complexity in the matter of AIDS education.