World AIDS Day: Why Don’t We Care More?

Dec 1, 2008 5:51pm

ABC News On Campus reporter Dominick Tao blogs:

Last night a friend sent me a message via Facebook chat.

"I have a 104 fever," he wrote. "Must be the HIV."

He was kidding, of course. My friend was just sick with a bad cold. But like many other young people do without a second thought, he was using the human immunodeficiency virus, the precursor to AIDS, as the punchline for a joke. I would know — I’ve been guilty of doing the same.

While hopefully not the case everywhere, AIDS doesn’t appear to be a top concern among college students. "Save the ta-tas" breast cancer ribbon bumper stickers and Livestrong bracelets (remember those?) are by far the trendy anti-terminal-illness paraphernalia of support among young people. But coincidentally, it’s been a while since I’ve heard a cancer joke; people treat that disease seriously.

After four years of living in a college town, I have gotten the feeling that many college students don’t seriously think of AIDS as something that could affect them — it’s a disease for "other" people; poor people, gay people, stupid people, careless people.

But since we’re all "poor college students," and often throw around homosexuality as a casual, low-grade insult ("Dude, you’re so gay"), and everyone’s careless and stupid on occasion, then heck, we very well could be these "other" people. Why don’t we care more?

After all, more than a million people in this country have HIV, with 32 million more infected worldwide.

If today wasn’t World AIDS Day, I wouldn’t have even bothered to think about this issue. But now that I have, I’m beginning to notice other things about how me and my peers treat AIDS. Mostly, it’s become something OK to laugh at — unlike in the late 80s, when we were toddlers.

The jokes on TV are abundant.

Chris Rock has a fine series of AIDS-related jokes — "I took the AIDS test. Passed it — with a 65!"

A recent episode of "South Park" focused on AIDS, with a cameo from Magic Johnson and a fourth-grader injecting a friend with his HIV-positive blood while he slept.

And the movie "Team America: World Police" devoted a musical number to the disease, "Everyone Has AIDS."

While all of these pop culture AIDS references are satirical — pointing out the fear of waiting to get results from an AIDS test, how having access to the best medicines can drastically improve quality of life while infected, and how the virus is more prevalent that many think, respectively — the message may be lost. AIDS simply becomes another faraway ailment, just sordid and preventable enough to laugh at.

Not that we should stop making jokes about horrible things — that’s how many people cope. I still find "South Park" and Chris Rock hilarious. But we need to keep in mind AIDS is real, and so are the things we can do to prevent it, and help those who already have it.

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