*This article contains spoilers for It’s A Sin*
The hit TV drama ‘It’s A Sin’ focuses on the tragedy that the AIDS crisis produced in London during the 1980s. The misinformation, uncertainty, anxiety, rational and irrational reactions to the emergence of this new disease strikes a resonance within the COVID-19 world that watchers of this series can identify and empathise with.
Whilst HIV and COVID-19 are two very different diseases, this show illustrates what reactions to pandemics can do to our friendships, familial relations and to our ability for physical closeness
The series centres around a group of friends who move into a doss house called the Pink Palace where they can freely engage in their sexual desires free from the shame of the outside world. Notably, drama student Ritchie leaves a parochial homophobic household, and the Nigerian immigrant Roscoe escapes a deeply religious family that aims to eradicate his homosexuality. Jill, the only female within the group, practically becomes a mother to the male majority, expressing kindness and lack of judgement, especially as the disease begins to take hold and spread. In fact, Jill attempts to research HIV, equipping herself with knowledge to understand and help those falling victim to the virus. She also actively helps another friend Greg (known as Gloria) who also contracts the virus, taking over his responsibilities and leaving groceries on his doorstep.
Are people really heroic for helping those in their communities or should it be an instinctive reaction especially at a time of crisis?
These acts of kindness have also been apparent during the Coronavirus pandemic when individuals acting selflessly were perceived as heroes helping those that were isolating in their communities. BBC Radio 4 recently introduced a questionnaire created by researchers at Sussex University which surveyed people’s attitudes towards kindness across society, attempting to show whether kindness makes a significant impact within communities, especially at a time when human contact was reduced. Yet participants actively writing down when they have been kind arguably draws false conclusions about kindness- surely this is inherent? There is progressively more scientific research that reveals we are born with an innate predisposition for kindness according to Dr Richard Davidson the founder of the Centre for Healthy Minds. Thus, are people really heroic for helping those in their communities or should it be an instinctive reaction especially at a time of crisis?
Whilst Jill attempted to support individuals suffering from HIV through her research, Ritchie primarily reacts to the disease by rejecting its existence believing it to be a profitable strategy for pharmaceutical companies, because of the rumours and misinformation that were circulating in society. This same uncertainty reflected the early days of Coronavirus in which mixed messages, sensational headlines, conspiracists and COVID-19 deniers facilitated by social media were widespread in society leading to hostility and animosity. As Olly Alexander who plays Ritchie states ‘This is a period show about the 80s, it blew my mind. It’s so interesting how history repeats itself, and how misinformation is so prevalent’. However, whilst Coronavirus was the headline news every night, during the early days of HIV there was very little information communicated by the media. As the writer of ‘It’s A Sin’ Russell T Davies asserts ‘Part of the problem with the HIV virus is that it wasn’t on the news. It happened in silence, it happened in fear.’ Whilst COVID-19 deniers believed the virus did not exist, in the initial outbreak of HIV many of the deniers deemed that it would only affect those considered sexually deviant (homosexuals) creating more stigma and divisions within communities.
These divisions led to thousands of people dying alone without their friends and family surrounding them because of the homophobic stigma attached to HIV. Even Ritchie, who died at home with his family, was not in the company of those who understood and accepted him. Moreover, because of the false information circulating which suggested symptoms were contagious, patients would be isolated in hospitals, separated from other patients, as well as loved ones. Whilst Jill is helping a quarantined Gloria, the camera pans to her washing herself agitatedly in the shower when she returns to her apartment. This Lady Macbeth-like cleansing was to eliminate any infection Jill wrongly assumed she may have picked up from Gloria’s home. Jill, like many others believed that Gloria’s condition was contagious, even though HIV cannot be transmitted through the air. Viewers were left heartbroken as Neil Patrick Harris’ Henry Coltrane died cut off from the world. Whilst his protégé Colin was able to visit him before his death, he enters the ward in full PPE, not too dissimilar to the current COVID-19 world in which medics mask up to avoid infection and relatives cannot be in the wards due to the danger of contracting the virus themselves.
Whilst HIV and COVID-19 are two very different diseases, this show illustrates what reactions to pandemics can do to our friendships, familial relations and to our ability for physical closeness and kindness both in the 1980s and 21st century.
In article image 1 courtesy of thepinkpalace via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
In article image 2 courtesy of russelltdavies63 via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
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