Though I’m ashamed to admit it, my first thought when I heard the news that Charlie Sheen was HIV-positive was that he deserved it.
I’ve long been a Sheen hater. That his arrest for threatening to kill wife Brooke Mueller on Christmas Day in 2009 and the drunken and drug-fuelled hotel room rampage he went on in 2010 that saw porn star and escort Capri Anderson cowering in the bathroom, afraid for her life, were all swept under the carpet in favour of continuing on in his $1.7m per episode role on Two & a Half Men made my (tiger) blood boil. We’ve since found out that in 2011, around the time of his “winning!” meltdown, he was diagnosed with HIV so much of his spiralling out of control could be contributed to that. But he also shot his then-fiancee Kelly Preston in 1990, so maybe he’s just a reprehensible human being.
But just because Sheen is one person I think the world would be better off without, doesn’t actually mean that he deserves HIV.
I restrained myself from voicing my initial reaction because I knew it was wrong. I would never say or even think the same of a rape victim, so what makes HIV different?
Like I often do when I’m struggling with my feelings about something, I took to the interwebs to help work through them. At New York Magazine, HIV-positive journalist Tim Murphy equated the way the media has responded to Sheen’s news as that of the 1985 AIDS scare and that we need to do better in our stigmatised reporting.
If I hadn’t been a slave to online feminist spaces over the past six years, who’s to say I wouldn’t join in with so many others in blaming rape victims for their attacks, for example? Since feminist spaces are often progressive in other areas, such as civil rights, environmentalism and animal rights, if I hadn’t found them would I be a climate-change denying, anti-refugee, factory farm food-buying racist? Surely if I can train my brain away from these dominant ideologies, I can think objectively about Sheen.
So maybe I’m more worried that his HIV status will draw sympathy from the general public who are often so eager to forget his horrible past which, in addition to terrorising the women in his life, includes well-documented drug use, property damage and alleged child pornography consumption. When Sheen was at the height of his infamy in 2011, some of my friends would brush these allegations to the side because “he’s entertaining”. Yeah, I find gendered violence entertaining, too! Now that his erratic behaviour can be put on the backburner to dealing with a HIV diagnosis I dare say a lot of people will continue to overlook it.
But Sheen is just one person out of the 39 million living with HIV: why should he be held up (or torn down) as an example when nothing else he’s done is worthy of emulation? Just because he‘s patronised sex workers and was allegedly an intravenous drug user (which Sheen denied in his interview on the Today show) in the past doesn’t mean everyone with HIV is.
And that’s why it’s so easy to blame Sheen for his own misfortune. Engaging in these behaviours is a known risk factor in contracting the disease. But so is being an uncircumcised man or living in some parts of Africa.
Criticism, similar to the focus of the media on the Paris terrorist attacks over those in Beirut and the rest of the Middle East, can also be drawn to the concentration on Sheen’s diagnosis over the still very prevalent spread of the disease in other parts of the world.
And I guess that stems from the fact that, like the Avenue Q song, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”. We can’t stop the bigoted thoughts that pop into our brains from time to time but we can try to unpack them before we air them on social media or our IRL social groups. Having studied the anthropology of HIV/AIDS briefly at uni, I realise my initial feelings were not about the disease per se, but about this one individual who has it.
Right now, my position on Sheen’s diagnosis has shifted slightly but it’s still not necessarily an admirable stance: what a waste.
Sheen had all the privilege and opportunity—being from a famous Hollywood family and given chance after chance whenever he fucked up—in the world but he chose to squander it in a spiral of drugs, violence and crime.
Sheen didn’t contract or deserve HIV because of this but I’m not sure, whether in my personal or our collective opinion, that we can separate the two.
Gay male misogyny: “To assert you love dick doesn’t mean you have to feign disgust at women and their bodies.” [Broadly]
“Why Writers Run.” [The Atlantic]
And before you go blaming his frequent sex with porn stars for his status, adult performers are one of the most tested populations on the planet and can’t perform if they have a positive test. [Vocativ]
In entertainment, the American dream is Latino. [Vulture]
“… [The Kardashians] also exhibit an attitude toward their bodies that can only be called revolutionary. Women have long asked for fair vagina representation in media, for their vaginas not only to be sexual objects but to smell and bleed and pop out babies, and on their show, Kardashian vaginas do all that and more, which is very different than other pop-culture vaginas.”
Speaking of Kim, is she becoming more political? [Fusion]
How SlutWalk Melbourne has evolved in the past four years. [Spook Magazine]
HIV on HTGAWM. [This Ain’t Livin’]
“I Feel Bad About My Nose.” [Broadly]
“When asked if racism existed outside of Compton by SPIN magazine in 1990, Eazy-E replied, ‘The black police in Compton are worse than the white police. Chuck D gets involved in all that black stuff, we don’t. Fuck that black power shit; we don’t give a fuck. Free South Africa; we don’t give a fuck…We’re not into politics at all.’” [Talking Points Memo]
In praise of gender-neutral public bathrooms. [Daily Life]
Women can be pedophiles, too. [Broadly]
I wrote about how writing about Taylor Swift ruined my friendship. [Writer’s Bloc]
I also recapped Outback Championship Wrestling’s latest show.
And I hosted their podcast, chatting to Ricardo Rodriguez.
While we’re shamelessly self-promoting, I’m also at Bitch Flicks writing about Shondaland’s bad mothers. More bad mother content to come in next week’s collection.
How to talk to random women on the street: don’t. [The Nib]
The history of masculinity in fraternities. [The New Criterion]
The problem with #StellasChallenge. [Daily Life]
The Good Wife‘s Alicia Florrick’s wardrobe changes as her character does. I’ve just started watching this series so it’s interesting to see the looks I’m familiar with and how Alicia changes over the subsequent four seasons I’m yet to watch. [The Hairpin]
These lyric intelligence ratings from pop songs from the past ten years made my blood boil. More to come next week. [Seat Smart]
“Follow that”: a #WomensWrestling roundtable. [World Wrestling Entertainment]
I’ve always thought religion is bullshit, so when I saw a debate with the topic sentence “the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” as part of the Intelligence2 debate series, I bought a ticket with my friend Laura immediately.
Going in, we’d both had our minds made up that the Catholic Church certainly wasn’t a force for good in the world, as did 34% of our fellow debate-goers, a door poll reflected.
The affirmative side didn’t do much to sway anyone’s opinion, as lawyer Julian McMahon and Sister Libby Rogerson were pretty poor debaters.
McMahon spoke about how love is the driving force behind the Church and Jesus’ teachings, which has obviously been lost in a lot of hot-button religious topics such as gay rights, and instead we have the “language of The Simpson’s”. I’d say this was true even ten years ago, but the language of today is very much a cyber one, which is perhaps why the Church is losing influence and followers. (Albeit, speaker for the opposition, Anne Summers A.O., pointed out that followers of Catholicism have increased less than one percent in recent years.)
Sister Libby went on to talk about Catholics who volunteer and work in Indigenous communities and in prisons. I don’t know too much about how the Catholic Church has been more of a hindrance than a help in Indigenous Australia, but Laura was obviously upset by the Sister’s assertion, rolling her eyes and groaning. My beef with volunteering being a primarily religious domain is that yes, perhaps a lot of Catholics volunteer, but a lot of non-Catholics volunteer, too. For example, I’m agnostic and I used to volunteer at the RSPCA. As event facilitator Simon Longstaff said, quoting Thomas Aquinas, “Not even the pope has sovereignty over a well-informed conscience.” Amen to that.
In the face of criticism, Sister Libby said the Church is a “flawed, human institution” and makes mistakes just like anyone else. Where have we heard that before?
The affirmative’s only saving grace was Helen Coonan, who actually read from her notes instead of waffling on about dot points. She said there is no excusing the past injustices of the Church, but we need to focus on the present. Coonan spoke at length about the Occupy movement, using their non-hierarchy (un)structure and myriad of messages to undercut all anti-establishment movements. (SlutWalk comes to mind.) That’s the trouble with Occupy: those in opposition to it judge all movements by its measuring stick. But that’s another post for another time.
She spoke at length about wealth in the Catholic Church and using it as a metaphor for how the world should structure its monetary dealings. Hmm… To be honest, as well as Coonan spoke, her focus on economics kind of bored me.
To rebut this, Father Peter of the opposition said the Church favours the idea of “pray, pay, obey” and doesn’t give its followers a voice.
Still with the opposition—debating for the notion that the Catholic Church isn’t a force of good—consisting of Summers, the excommunicated Father Peter Kennedy and writer David Marr, they brought the house down with their poignant points.
Summers spoke about the women’s movement in relation to the Church which, when Summers and fellow Catholic school-educated feminists such as Germaine Greer were at school, consisted of either “being a nun or a mother of six”. She spoke about abortion, birth control and choosing whether and when to become a mother.
During the floor debate, one woman about my age tried to debunk Summers’ theory that women who subscribe to the teachings of the Church don’t make their own choices. The fact that her mother was born in the ’30s, has several (Catholic school?) degrees and NINE CHILDREN leads me to believe that she wasn’t making a choice to do these things so much as she was brainwashed to do them. As Marr said during his time, sex as a non-reproductive act is frowned upon by the Church.
Speaking of Marr, he was by far the best debater and is my new favourite person! He talked about sex as a sin and that followers of the Catholic Church are supposed to engage in “no sex at all, ever!” unless it’s between a married, heterosexual man and woman for the purpose of procreation. How boring!
He pointed out four main problems with the view the Catholic Church has of sex:
1. Celibacy as purity. And we all know how damaging that is to young sexuality, in particular.
2. Condoms being outlawed. When Marr asked the affirmative panel if they support the banning of condoms to stop the spread of disease, like HIV/AIDS in Africa, McMahon awkwardly and roundaboutly agreed with the Church’s position. He said that abstinence and sex only within marriage would stop the spread of disease in Africa, forgetting that in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo rape is rife and abstinence only sex education doesn’t work. His response was laden with racism and rape-apologist attitudes, in my opinion. For all his accomplishments, this debate illustrated that McMahon is severely out of touch with the realities of our world.
3. Homosexuals are bad, okay? I think we all know the Church’s stance on homosexuality, despite most Catholics, according to Marr, believing in granting the right of marriage to the gays.
4. Shame. That sex, being sexual and looking sexy is shame-worthy. I would argue that this attitude has permeated secular society, but that secular society also laughs in the face of point #1, and also prude-shames those who aren’t having sex, being sexual or looking sexy. You can’t win either way.
By the end of the debate, in which Coonan rebutted that “ordinary Catholics”—those who acknowledge and agree with most points from both sides of the argument, and who aren’t caricatures of fanatical militant Catholics—“need a voice”, which I certainly agree with, 57% of the audience was against the Catholic Church as a force for good in the world. Hope for atheism—or at least agnosticism, which is the philosophy I subscribe to—isn’t dead yet, which is more than I can say for the Catholic Church.