Stigmatizing Ink

VANGARDIST, the “progressive men magazine” which “clustered a new Audience of fearless and adventurous but always style concious men of all ages” (sic) made the headline by printing its May issue using ink made of the blood of HIV positive people to allegedly fight social stigma.

At a time when those infected with HIV are more than ever stigmatized, in the developed as much as in the developing world, any initiative addressing stigma is welcome, as long as it does not contribute to perpetuating stigma, but that is exactly what Vangardist blood issue is doing.

So, how does it work?

As Jason Romeyko, Executive Creative Director of Saatchi & Saatchi Switzerland, the PR agency behind the stint explains,

With this unique project, we want to create a response in a heartbeat by transforming the media into the very root of the stigma itself – by printing every word, line, picture and page of the magazine with blood from HIV+ people. By holding the issue, readers are immediately breaking the taboo.

It is simply magical, hold a magazine printed with autoclaved blood from HIV positive and in a PR “heartbeat”, stigma is gone!

And that is where the problem lies.

It is not as if the magazine had been printed with any HIV positive blood; the magazine has been produced according to the most stringent controls and using processes ensuring that “the handling of a physical copy of the magazines carries no risk of infection, and is 100% safe”. Further, it is sold in a protective plastic cover.

The magazine will come in a plastic cover as standard, but a statement on Vangardist’s website assures readers the magazine is 100% safe to touch.

What does it say about HIV positive people? Put simply, that they are safe to be with or to touch as long as their blood is autoclaved to the stringiest of criteria and as long as they cover themselves in plastic (Rubber?).

To ensure there is no danger, we went through a sterilisation process at the University of Innsbruck in an autoclaving machine.

‘This is a standard procedure to deactivate all kinds of viruses in blood and is not only accepted in Europe, but also confirmed from the Medical Faculty of Harvard University to be a 100 per cent safe way to do so.

‘The blood was then tested after the procedure again to confirm that the autoclaving has worked 100 per cent (Mail Online).

Vangardist hopes it will stop people seeing HIV as “old news” and generate new debate about how to effectively manage the disease and ultimately eradicate the virus, reads the Mail Online. Ask the Farage and Bahati of this world to hold it and let’s see how well it works.

What Vangardist has really achieved is to perpetuate the image of people with HIV as a public threat that needs to be isolated if not sterilised by the most drastic means.

Julian Wiehl, publisher and CEO of Vangardist, grounds its action in the strange observation that there are “80 per cent more confirmed cases of HIV being recorded in 2013 than 10 years previously”.

However, as of December 2003 there were an estimated 40 million (34 – 46 million) people living with HIV and an estimated 5 million (4.2 – 5.8 million) new infection in that year alone compared to an estimated 35 million (33.1 – 37.2 million) people living with HIV and an estimated 2.1 million (1.9 – 2.4 million) new infection in 2013.

Avant guardVangardist makes the bold claim of being “ahead of its time” and of defining “the new identitiy of the man of the future” (sic). More than 20 years ago, Lady Diana was defining what being at the Avant Guard of fighting stigma was when she met and shake hands with people infected with HIV at a time when death was an ineluctable outcome of living with the virus.

Fighting stigma will take more than a heartbeat, and what this all smells of is that of a PR campaign to promote the magazine on the back of those living with the virus. It does nothing in itself and beyond itself to address stigma but certainly get the internet bubble and its navel watching aficionados raving about how clever and brilliant this is despite any evidence it will achieve anything positive.

Despite Vangardist claim, the world has not stop talking about HIV. It is talking about HIV differently and it is saddening that an alleged Avant Guard magazine aspiring to be the “media of the future” is just taking about HIV as it was talked about 20 years in the past.


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