AIDS ist ein Massenm”rder

Theresa Bruskin

Here’s an ad that’s sure to get attention: a young couple, hands everywhere, burst into an apartment, tear each other’s clothes off and proceed to have steamy sex in every room. Then the man’s face morphs into that of Adolf Hitler’s and the words “AIDS ist ein Massenm”rder. Schütze dich!” flash across the screen.

AIDS is a mass murderer. Protect yourself.

The 45-second ad, part of an AIDS awareness campaign by the German organization Regenbogen eV, debuts on German television and movie theaters this week and will run until World AIDS Day on Dec. 1. Poster versions of the ad show women having sex with other dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein.

Dirk Silz, the creative director for Das Comitee, the advertising agency that produced the ad, said it was intended to “show the ugliness of the illness, not of AIDS victims,” he told the Guardian earlier this week. “If it wakes people up to the dangers of unprotected sex, we’ve been effective,” he said.

On its Web site, Regenbogen claims: “Up until now 28 million people have died. And every day there are 5,000 new cases. Which is why AIDS is one of the most effective mass murderers in history.”

It’s too early to know whether the ad will achieve its goal, or how pervasive the ad will even be: YouTube pulled the video off its site yesterday, claiming it violated the terms of use. AIDS awareness groups throughout Europe and the rest of the world are already condemning the campaign, saying it further stigmatizes and blames people who have AIDS, and health professionals seem to be split on the issue. Some say it brings to light the danger AIDS still poses in our society, while others say it won’t help the cause at all and will only turn people away from the issue.

I’m split on this as well. On the one hand, this kind of technique is nothing new, not in the fight against AIDS or otherwise. There’s the German ad from 2007 that shows a woman on her knees with a gun in her mouth that reads “Only 0.003 mm latex lie between life and death.” Then there are the French ads that show a naked man straddling a scorpion or a woman with an enormous spider between her legs and read “Without a condom you’re making love with AIDS. Protect yourself.”

Are they shocking? Do they get people talking? Do they make you think? Yes, yes and yes. But more often than not, these ads seem to lose the message in the symbolism. Most discussions I found on the issue surround what the ads seem to say about the people who contract and spread AIDS, not the disease itself. If someone gives you AIDS – knowingly or not – is that person as bad as Hitler? Does unprotected sex lead to death? Is AIDS Hitler or is the person with AIDS Hitler?

As one blogger at Stanford put it, “What happens to our impressions of people with AIDS when we are associating the disease with massive scorpions and gunshots to the face?”

What do you think? We’re a long way from the AIDS compassion efforts of 20 years ago, when the first hurdle was to stop the demonization of AIDS victims. Do these shock ads detract from those accomplishments? Or are they merely the next step in educating an increasingly desensitized society?

To see these ads go to:

Theresa Bruskin is a senior newspaper journalism and political science major. Contact her at [email protected]