Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

grey.png

Content Note:

- Imagining Death
- Language

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Episode art via The RCSB Protein Data Bank / David S. Goodsell and the NIH / Wikimedia Commons.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

HBM050: The Scientist is not the Angel of Death

What's a life worth? About $25, before shipping.  At least, that's the case if you want a high-quality inbred lab mouse, like the C57BL/6J (in the biz, they just call them "black mice"). 

In this episode of Here Be Monsters, Jeff Emtman joins "The Scientist," an unnamed cancer researcher, for an after-hours trip to his lab, where they visit the hundreds of lab mice that he tends to.  The Scientist's job is to inject his mice with cancer cells, then attempt to cure them using experimental treatments.  After the cancers become too large, he kills the mice. 

Jeff Emtman wearing his protective garb prior to entering The Scientist's lab. 

Jeff Emtman wearing his protective garb prior to entering The Scientist's lab. 

The Scientist points to the spot where he injects cancer cells into lab mice. 

Trailer for "Fantastic Planet" (1973). AKA "La Planète sauvage".

The Scientist says that he is not a satanist, despite the satanic art that covers much of his body.   Instead, he considers himself a utilitarian, someone who believes that sacrifices must be made to promote the most good for the most beings (human or otherwise).  And "sacrifice" is actually the technical term he and others use for killing the mice.  The Scientist admits that it is a euphemistic word, but defends it because "from their sacrifice, you gain knowledge."

In his lab, the death comes via carbon dioxide, which is often thought to be the most painless option (though it has critics).  Other labs use cervical dislocation--though generally there's a requirement that the animal must be unconscious first.  

After the lab, Jeff and The Scientist sit out on a porch drinking beer, discussing the path to becoming a scientist, The Scientist's admiration of Neil Degrasse Tyson, and the beautiful French animated film, Fantastic Planet.

Music: Lucky Dragons ||| The Black Spot ||| Flowers