Saturday, March 8, 2008

AIDS: The Uninvited Guest at the Banquet

I was interested in the subtle presence of AIDS in the film. When we first see Simon, he is wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt underneath his white lab coat. Haring, who died of AIDS in 1990 (three years before Wedding Banquet’s release in the US), used his art, money, and time to increase awareness of the disease in both the gay and straight communities. Later in the film, we see that Simon’s choice of garb is more than a fashion statement: it signals that he, too, is an AIDS activist. In one scene, Simon is outdoors sharing info with others as he works at a small table that is draped with a cloth that reads “Silence = Death.” And, finally, when Simon learns that Wai-Tung has inadvertently fathered a child with Wei-wei, his anger is first directed at the fact that Wai-Tung engaged in unsafe sex.

In part Simon’s interests serve to further align him as the “feminine” half of the couple. Simon tends to the domestic front, cooks, and does charitable work in the community. In contrast Wai Tung conforms to the stereotypical “male” role of being consumed with his work and money-making. So, this relationship, despite its alternative sexual dimension, appears to be structured along very conventional, heterosexual norms.

As for Wei-wei, avant-garde artists’ lifestyles have frequently been associated with challenges to the dominant social order. Women artists in particular were seen as deviant because their creative energies were channeled away from baby-making into the “selfish” pursuit of individual expression. Thus, they were castigated as being loose or somehow degraded women.
This was also a time when fear of the foreign body (particularly the Haitian body) as carrier of disease increased.

This forms an interesting undercurrent to what Mark Chiang observes is the re-constitution of the potentially subversive expressions of gender identities into a new patriarchal order. Can the formation of what Chiang calls this new “multicultural, non-heterosexual family” be seen as a symbolic containment of the “promiscuous” gay and artistic lifestyles—lifestyles closely associated with AIDS in the 1980s—and thus containment of the disease through restoration of traditional nuclear family values?

No comments: