Blink

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Finally finished up reading Jonas Gardell’s Kärleken/Sjukdomen/Döden (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar) trilogy (the TV version is also good). It’s strange to see the ‘backwards’ countryside of western Värmland represented (and to read about it). As a ‘foreigner’ living here especially it’s entertaining.

Near the end of the third book, one of the main characters (one of the only ones left alive) exits the train in Åmotfors, which is already a podunk, middle-of-nowhere, close-to-nothing town, and asks the guy who picks him up, “Ar det långt till Koppom?”

“Bah. Tar väl en kvart eller så. Och när vi väl är där får du inte blinka för då missar du hela tätörten.” Yes, that’s just about 100% accurate.

It was interesting to delve into these books as my first foray into reading books in Swedish. I knew I had to choose something that would hold my interest – and the story/tragedy of AIDS happens to be one of the things that still conjures up all kinds of emotion and anger – this huge sense of loss – even though I have no tangible connection to it. I feel deeply affected every time I think about it – and how pervasive the fear and scaremongering was. And also to realize how young people today understand so little of how the terror associated with this at-first completely mysterious and fatal disease rippled across society and more starkly exposed the hypocrisy and inhumanity of bureaucracy, governments and healthcare organizations (as well as average people – who didn’t care about this at all, in fact welcoming and even laughing about it on some selfish, shitty, brutal level as long as they believed it only afflicted gay men) while bringing the strength, resilience, organization and collective voice of the gay community into the light.

When I reflect on this period, it felt like “peak terror” went on for a really long time (I was a child during the height of this), but in fact, despite the havoc the disease wreaked, it was a relatively short period of time that it gripped public attention and also equalled an inevitable death sentence (the relatively brevity of the ‘epidemic’ period being little consolation to all those who did lose their lives)… I cannot say it was a mere blink of an eye, but like most things in life and indeed in the course of history, especially now with the 30-second attention spans of tweets, the demand for instant gratification and higher-stakes drama, the pain and fear of that period has lost its efficacy – at least for those who didn’t witness those years of uncertainty, illness and death.

2016-2020… the ills of the 80s on steroids

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As Britain careens toward its own economic, political and existential doom, I’m almost tempted to laugh except that pointing at the chaos is an entirely misplaced form of schadenfreude. Their chaos is probably only foreshadowing what worse ugliness is to come in the US. If much of England and Wales can vote the entire UK out of the European Union, much of America can vote the “reasonable parts of the rest of America” into the oblivion of a Donald Trump presidency. Who will be laughing then?

It will be a lot like the 1980s of Thatcher and Reagan – only much worse. More xenophobic, more reactionary, more chaotic, more violent. And even though I know many people care deeply, the fact that things are unfolding this way makes it feel as though no one really does. The current escalation of terror attacks (all blamed on Islam or racial unrest but underpinned more and driven by all kinds of other issues – socioeconomic and historical vestiges of colonialism and slavery) feels like a parallel to the various terrorism that took place in the 1970s, which then led to the 1980s of trickle-down economics, a continuation of the Cold War and constant threat of nuclear annihilation, the AIDS crisis, the escalation of the war on drugs/Just Say No and all the socioeconomic and racial implications of that (i.e. turning drug problems into a criminal justice problem rather than a public health issue), a lot of economic unrest (striking, etc. in the UK), Bhopal, Chernobyl, the famine in Ethiopia, Iran-Contra, Tiananmen… and a whole lot of other not so pleasant stuff.

The rest of this decade may be tumultuous indeed: like the ills of the 1980s on steroids. I hope I am wrong.