So, we tried to watch Rent last night on Fox.
It was cute, the first half that I saw. I did not mind too much that they showed a prerecorded dress rehearsal since that happened because an actor broke something and could not dance. SIDE NOTE… am I overly sensitive to feel it’s pretty stupid and ableist to not just have the guy do the singing and action from a chair? Maybe he’s in pain, I don’t know.
But what I came here to say is that the show made me sad. The studio audience kept cheering on the actors as if it were a concert. One celebrating life and the joy of being young and cute. But this was RENT. A show about AIDS, poverty, and queer alienation.
Before “Life Support” there is a traditional reading about statistics about HIV. It mentions the number of deaths and contagion. It even mentions the single drug AZT, the keystone of a three drug cocktail now used in a single pill a day formulation for most HIV cases. BUT those numbers are out of date, old. And AZT, the once hopeful magic bullet, has be proven to be far more effective that we hoped, when taken with two companions.
And I found myself sadly disappointed that Fox had in no way updated the statistics or turned that moment into an opportunity. Yeah, I know, that’s not what these live on television musicals are going for. This is not an afterschool special.
But I spent three years watching people struggle to live because they were balancing the cost of that magic daily pill and rent. I have talked to literally dozens of African American young men in Atlanta who KNOW their chance of becoming positive are 1 in 2 but who cannot even dream of affording the copays for Truvada (aka PrEP).
And honestly, Rent is no fun if have to pretend that we’re looking backward at a historical issue, a solved problem we can ignore in 2019. Because Jeff still doesn’t have access to PrEP. Larry walks around preaching abstinence because he is so mad at himself for becoming positive.
Stigma is not past. AIDS is not past. AND RENT? it’s not about the mid-90s. It’s about today. Skyrocketing rents, and a shortfall of jobs. A lack of respect for people in the comfort and sex trades. Racism faced in the interview room, the doctor’s office and the subway.
Rent isn’t fun anymore, but it’s so much more powerful than it ever was. And if that’s what it takes for Gilead to put/get an ad for Truvada in prime time, then I think I’m ok with it.
But please, let’s not pretend it’s just a fun musical. This is a celebration of life, not because it feels good to be young, but in the face of death. A DEMAND for life when the universe withholds everything good. That’s what it means to be queer in 2019, to be a Democrat, or a scientist, or a woman. We know that our lives really ARE threatened, and in the face of that shit, we are going to sing, and fuck, and resist, and LIVE.