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Monday, February 27, 2017

Week 8: Fire in My Belly

I think the longer version of David Wojnarowicz's A Fire in My Belly is meant to evoke a rising, smothering sense of panic, eventually culminating in the burning, fast-paced, frightening series of videos from which the shortened version displayed in the Smithsonian was pulled that takes your panic and amplifies it, giving a sense of urgency, fear, and bewilderment. A Fire in My Belly demands an answer to the AIDS crisis, leading on criticisms of masculinity (in which the lucho wrestlers are compared to circus animals being dragged in circles on leashes and roosters fighting to death in the streets and in which boys breathe fire to try to impress passerbyers and earn a living) and capitalism (the Loteria cards, the crown and the boot, stood out to me, and part of the message denounced the commodification of masculinity, panning along toy lucha wrestlers and cutting from the monkey performing tricks to a blurred video of a performer balancing a rod on his face) and then shifting to images of all of this overlayed with death and fire. The culture of masculinity and capitalism are the culture that ignores the AIDS crisis, because AIDS primarily affected gay men, so Wojnarowicz criticizes that culture for its lack of compassion, its blindness, and its inherent toxicity to all of society. The video ends screaming its anger, fear, and frustration that, like a circus of pacing, caged animals or disabled street beggars and performers, people watch the AIDS crisis as if a sad and bizarrely cruel spectacle for their passing entertainment.

I'm sort of surprised that the museum curators decided to add audio to the shorter version of A Fire in My Belly, since I think the silence is part of what makes the longer version so powerful-- an echo of the silence of those watching the AIDS crisis burn and yet do nothing, but given the the lead-in is cut, I see why the protest chant is helpful to explain the video. The chant of Wojnaroicz at a protest itself becomes part of the horror show, when combined with the images of the mummies, it sounds ritualistic and eerie, waiting for an answer, demanding an end to the horror show of images on the screen. I was also surprised that they censored the video of the man masturbating, since the open sexuality was part of the message, centering how the entire thing is bodily and is a horror show taking place in the bodies of the people it effects as well as being very honest that HIV/AIDS often has to do with the sexualities of the people it effects.

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