Who knows why something goes viral on the Internet? That's not a rhetorical question...seriously, who knows? I don't. I'm still a little baffled that my various Twitter feeds. etc., filled up today with an artifact from 1982, as reported in a book that was published in 2001. Maybe because it is just so unbelievable to our modern ears -- the remarkably callous reaction of then-President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, Larry Speakes, and to a lesser extent the White House press corps to news of "a gay plague"...the then-newly-discovered disease called AIDS,
Here's a mind-boggling excerpt:
MR. SPEAKES: What's AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don't.
MR. SPEAKES: You didn't answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
It would be another four years -- when some 20,000 Americans had died of the disease -- before the Reagan administration showed signs of taking the epidemic seriously. (Maybe today's media would have called it "Reagan's Katrina" -- except of course the death toll was many multiples higher.) The Gipper didn't mention "AIDS" until a 1985 news conference -- and not in a prepared speech until 1987.
But we already knew that. What's stunning about this 1982 press briefing (and a few others) is how such blatant, over-the-top homophobia -- at the White House, no less -- did not raise a single eyebrow at the time. Just 31 years later, homophobia still exists (although I'm sure the GOP will tweet to the contrary). But a majority of Americans support gay marriage, and news just in the last day that a top actress and an Olympic athlete are each in same-sex relationships isn't particularly earth-shattering.
I wonder what stupid thing that people are treating callously and laughing about today we'll look back on with horror in 2044.