Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gay Scholar Researching HIV Ads;
Requests My Help?

Okay, so I spaced off the original message from Thomas Strong because it seems so far-fetched for a guy like him to be looking for a critic like me to help with scholarly research.

He's contacted me again and will be at tonight's forum on social marketing targeting gays in San Francisco, and he wants to chat in-depth after the meeting. I'm growing more interested in what he has to say about the ads and their impact on gay live, than in trying to persuade him my criticism, and suggestions for better campaigns, should be part of his research.

It's just so heartening to know a real smarty-pants, who as far as I know, is not or has not been employed by or deeply connected to the AIDS industry in San Francisco, is going to be looking at and evaluating the social marketing campaigns.

I sure hope Thomas Strong speaks during public comment tonight. Here's his email to me today:

Hi Again,

Thanks for your message. I append below my original inquiry. I'm a US scholar currently based at the University of Helsinki, but I will be moving to Dublin in August to take up a position at NUI Maynooth beginning this fall. I will be sure to introduce myself to you this evening.

Dear Michael Petrelis,

I am a US cultural anthropologist currently based at the University of Helsinki (in Finland). I am also an avid reader of your blog. While my principle research has been in Papua New Guinea, I am currently starting up new long-term work on HIV in gay male communities in the US (and potentially, in gay communities elsewhere). One aspect of this research concerns ‘social marketing’ campaigns targeting gay men, and more generally, the way in which the gay male community is represented in relation to HIV today in gay and mainstream media, and in the ‘official’ discourse of public health.

I have found your criticisms of many of these campaigns, from their ‘messaging’ to the way in which they are funded and administered, to be both trenchant and unique and I thank you for your on-going writing about this and other subjects.

Right now I am at the very early stages of what I anticipate will be a long-term commitment and research project. I am calling the project ‘Positive Publics.’ I am committed to imagining a social future with HIV in it: as a vaccine or a cure continues to elude us, even as medications prolong life, this has become a more vital problem than ever. Positive Publics aims to uncover ways in which people in diverse settings are imagining and creating such a future.
An aspect of this will be to critique ‘official’ discourse about HIV -- discourse that I think is sometimes troubling for reasons you have been assiduously tracking.

I hope to describe and analyze histories of specific campaigns and debates about them, such as the ‘serosorting’ campaign, ‘HIV stops with me,’ and so on.
I lived for 10 years in San Francisco, from 1996 to 2006, and I vividly remember many of these discussions. I will be in San Francisco from July 8 to August 4 this year to begin sketching out this research, to make some contacts and to conduct some initial interviews. I would very much like to meet with you to hear more about your activism and writing and to learn more about your criticisms of some of the ways in which gay men are represented (and spoken to) today.

Would you be willing to meet with me and perhaps to be interviewed? I hasten to add that like all professional anthropologists, I am bound by certain guidelines with respect to research. Among these is the proviso that if you would like to speak confidentially or anonymously, I am happy to abide by that wish.

My contact information is provided here. I am also an avid user of Skype under the screen-name “Thomas Strong,” please feel free to contact me that way. I might add a personal note. My fiancee, Andrew Leavitt, fondly remembers your inspiring example of street activism in Portland, Oregon, the night that Measure 8 passed. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,
Thomas Strong, Ph.D.

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