“[AIDS is] as cool as the hippies; it’s as cool as the civil rights movement.”
Like so many people, I’m thrilled that Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart has finally gotten made (Ryan Murphy’s film debuts on HBO on May, 25th). I was also pleased to see that Entertainment Weekly, a periodical that more than periodically irritates me, took a break from shilling for the studios’ ubiquitous franchise crap to feature the film’s cast on its cover this week.
So what’s the problem? Just this: Mark Ruffalo, an actor I generally admire, is either lacking tact or was misquoted regarding his feelings about what makes the AIDS crisis a good subject for a film and why The Normal Heart is relevant. “It’s such a rich, important, cool part of American culture,” says Ruffalo. “It’s as cool as the hippies; it’s as cool as the civil rights movement. It has heroes. It has fucking drama.”
Mr. Ruffalo, I’d like to emphatically state that there was nothing cool about the AIDS crisis—it was the opposite of cool. It was an absolute horror, a tragedy for those who died, and an unending misery for those who survived. To ever use the word “cool” to describe the suffering millions of people endured is beyond my comprehension. To me, “cool” is Chet Baker, The 400 Blows, Ray-Bans and Chrissie Hynde. “Cool” is different things to different people, but the story of the loss of a generation of gay men is only “cool” to someone who is thinking about marketing—or just thoughtless.
I’m sure you misspoke or you were misquoted, or perhaps the magazine utilized poor editorial judgment in keeping the quote at all (they certainly use poor editorial judgment all the time, most regrettably in its increasingly snarky pitch). I’m sure you’re not an asshole and I’m sure you’re wonderful in the film, but your choice of words is unfortunate and tone deaf. Perhaps your intention was to make the subject seem enticing enough to lure millennials out of their smartphones long enough to give the film a chance. But describing The Normal Heart so clumsily—in terms of its hipness—is an affront to those many people who are not here to accept your obvious assertion that their struggle has so much “fucking drama.”
By the way, I doubt African American people or the former hippies who pushed back against the Vietnam War will appreciate your reductionism any more than I did. I hope in subsequent interviews we can look forward to greater sensitivity to the pain so many of us still carry and less focus on what gives the story of a plague so much fucking sizzle.
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