Volume 4, 1998
Bioethics and Medical Ethics
The Social Representation of AIDS: Groups at Risk
I will analyze the links that have been established between sexuality and death in the social representation of AIDS, formerly expressing the silent agreements in the "risk groups" category. The increasing number of women infected with the HIV virus reveals that for individuals who do not identify themselves within the "risk group" category, AIDS is "someone else's" illness. To make this hypothesis explicit, I will start with an interview with former basketball player "Magic" Johnson who in 1991 publicly announced that he was HIV positive. In a sentence, Johnson revealed the significance of social discourse about AIDS in the eighties: "Now we are talking about life and death . . . AIDS was for me a gays and drug-addicts disease, formerly, not of a person like me." This revelation of an American idol showed that the HIV virus had reached those who identified themselves as heterosexuals. What happened after this announcement? The first response was to identify individuals who behaved bisexually, as their contagion certainly would have happened as a result of relations with the "risk group." This imaginary identification of sexual behaviors served to sustain the social representation of AIDS as a disease of marginal groups.