Tuesday, September 24, 2013

ACT UP's TV Ads from the 1990s

(Trouble getting the entire vid to play? Do a refresh to solve the problem.)

In late 1991, when President George Herbert Walker Bush's approval rating was through the roof and the punditry class said his reelection would be a snap, I moved to New Hampshire to start a chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power with the blessing and funding of the NYC and Washington, DC, chapters.

Regardless of polls, pundits and political candidates, our mission was to force everyone at the start of the 1992 primary season to answer one question: What about AIDS? With a lot of blood, sweat and too many tears for the dead and dying and those struggling to stay alive, we succeeded quite brilliantly in forcing AIDS on to the primary and national agenda.

The first issue-oriented television commercial of the New Hampshire and over all presidential primary was a thirty-second spot I created featuring ACT UP's highly-controversial "Kissing Does't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do" poster. It was supposed to air in January 1992, but after the station accepted my check to run the spot and place it on the schedule, it was pulled and never shown as an ad. However, the decision to not air it made the news on the same station that refused to show it, along with TV outlets in Boston.

Unfortunately, the only version of the spot I have is on Beta tape cassette suitable for use on a TV station and don't have the actual ad to show today.

However, a few weeks after raising a ruckus with the ad, my colleagues in ACT UP/Atlanta took the same imagery and created a commercial geared toward the Georgia primary. According to a history of that chapter, the ad managed to run on local TV stations.

My good pal Kenny Hodnett, who vlogs as GLBT1History on YouTube, transferred three television ads into a single video.

The first is ACT UP/Atlanta's February 1992 commercial, the second is from a joint ACT UP/DC and Queer Nation/DC committee shown in February 1996 on New Hampshire TV, and the final ad is ACT UP/San Francisco's spot that ran in June 1996.

I believe the footage of the late and hateful Sen. Jesse Helms used by the San Francisco folks is from his famous floor speech condemning the "damn lesbian" and Clintonista Roberta Achtenberg and the local Pride March and Celebration.

Here's the note that ran in the Wall Street Journal about the February 1992 controversy over the first use of the "Kissing Doesn't Kill" imagery in an ad:

ACT-UP is accusing a Manchester, N.H., ABC-affiliate with censorship for not airing a paid public issue ad which the station said contained "sexually explicit visuals." The spot shows photographs of homosexual and heterosexual couples kissing passionately and ends with ACT-UP's slogan "Silence=Death." 

A voice tells viewers to ask the presidential candidates about AIDS. ACT-UP spokesman Michael Petrelis said WMUR-TV in Manchester accepted the ad and sold him nine spots in which it would air, but changed its position days later. 

However, WMUR's vice president and general manager, Larry Gilpin, said that, although the station's programming department had accepted the commercial, he overruled their decision. 

"I decided this portrayal of sexuality isn't the appropriate way to communicate the problem of AIDS to New Hampshire," he said, emphasizing that it was the visuals rather than the copy that spurred his decision.

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