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By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Nov 25, 2006

Dress Up Against AIDS
Condom Couture by Adriana Bertini
December 1, 2006 to March 11, 2007

Dress Up Against AIDS features fourteen magnificent garments designed and produced by Brazilian artist Adriana Bertini, made entirely of men's and women's condoms rejected by industry quality tests. By appropriating an object of protection and using it to create works of vibrant and original style, color, and texture, Bertini seeks to raise awareness of and inspire the use of condoms, the critical vehicle for preventing AIDS. These colorful, sensual clothes, including ornate evening dresses, vivid skirts and tops, and elegant suits, demystify and destigmatize condoms and "refashion" them as objects associated with pleasure.

If a cheap cure were found tomorrow and AIDS were eliminated worldwide within six weeks, how would the Beautiful People react?

It would break their hearts.

For wealthy sexual libertines -- and I make no distinction between gays and straights here -- AIDS has first and foremost been an occasion of fun. There was a decade or so in which AIDS was regarded as inevitably lethal, and that period was attended by a measure of anxiety, but once the wealthy gained access to drugs that spared their lives, the AIDS Quilt went into mothballs and the disease came to provide the glitterati with non-stop amusement.

Take the traveling exhibit posted above. The claim that condoms need to be "destigmatized" is absurd, and the notion that this particular exhibit would raise the awareness of the ladies likely to attend is more absurd still. The project is frivolous, but frivolous in an intentionally dead-pan, Benetton-ad-like way. AIDS gives progressives an excuse to treat sexual irresponsibility as a responsible choice, and in their world that's both witty in itself and a doorway to further carnal amusements. It's as if the Joffrey Ballet offered a Brie for Biafra famine-snack during the intermission of Sylphide. Yet whereas there's nothing especially naughty about starving, it's precisely the undercurrent of sexual naughtiness that makes AIDS awareness the most amusing tease in town. "Dressing up" is frolicsome girl fun, and by "Dressing Up Against AIDS" they give away the real purpose with a wink. Their Marie Antoinette-ism takes delight in mischievous sham-sympathy for the less fortunate. In this case the joke hinges on the mental picture of tens of thousands of infected Africans staring at the ceiling of some hospice while their benefactors -- in a gallery at UCLA -- twitter around the displays of "colorful, sensual clothes" made of latex. Condom Couture -- get it?

Not that they let their laughter show. That would be in poor taste. They manage to keep a straight face by sublimating their amusement into moral indignation directed at -- you guessed it -- those who teach that the right path is abstinence and marital fidelity. Not all progressives go so far as those who claim that AIDS victims were murdered by the Pope, but nearly all work up a good head of self-righteous huffiness in pretending to believe that Vatican intransigence is the irresponsible position and that HIV-related deaths prove their case. It's undeniable that if the Catholic teaching were put into practice there would be zero AIDS deaths. But prosperous Western liberals are not about to tear up the fabric of their own lives by admitting the claims of sexual integrity: chastity, temperance, and (sometimes heroic) renunciation. That's why the Third World AIDS casualties are such a welcome distraction. The dead and dying give libs permission to make believe that condoms need to be demystified and destigmatized, and that entails declaring innocent -- or even noble -- the sexual lifestyle in which condoms are instrumental.

Next time someone tries to brow-beat you by suggesting you're insufficiently attentive to AIDS and the role played by latex devices in its containment, consider what kind of seriousness is behind Condom Couture, and ask yourself what he stands to lose and what he stands to gain in the conflict. Who, after all, remains behind on the ground in Lesotho or Kampala, when the news crews and the documentary film-makers have departed, to feed the victims and change their soiled bed-linens and raise their children? The Flaggots Color Guard and the UCLA Department of Fine Arts? No, but the Missionaries of Charity and similar organizations: earnest, sober dispensers of unflashy kindness. Simple folks. Folks who just can't see the fun. Folks who will probably never Dress Up Against AIDS.

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  • Posted by: Joseph Paul - Nov. 28, 2006 7:58 AM ET USA

    Di, why the attack on Marie Antoinette? She never did say "Let them eat cake" but that lie of her enemies has stuck over the centuries. It was her mother-in-law who said that. Who was it who said "Tell a big lie often enough and people will believe it"? Marie Antoinette herself was a good queen and a very brave one. Shame on you, Di.

  • Posted by: Fr T (UK) - Nov. 26, 2006 8:02 AM ET USA

    How long before Mrs Anthony Blair turns up at an epsicopal reception wearing one of these? She'll no doubt declare something along the lines of "Women still do not get due respect in the Church which is why, in the opinion of many people, it gets some things wrong like its teaching on contraception." (from her essay in the book "Why I Am Still A Catholic", edited by Peter Stanford).

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Nov. 25, 2006 5:32 PM ET USA

    Hammer, one guesses that they will sweat a lot. Sooner or later.

  • Posted by: Hammer of Heretics - Nov. 25, 2006 4:19 PM ET USA

    I hope the purchasers of this "condom couture" all get a bad rash. On second thought, that wasn't very nice. I hope they just sweat a lot.

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