Tracing the rich tradition of AIDS legends in relation to current scholarship on belief, Diane Goldstein shows how such stories not only articulate widespread perceptions of risk, health care, and health policy, they also influence official and scientific approaches to the disease and its management. Notions that appear in narratives of who gets AIDS, how and why, are indicators of broad issues involving health beliefs, concerns, and needs.
Since reports of the first cases of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, contemporary, or "urban," legends about origins of the virus, modes of transmission, deliberate infection, withheld treatment, and minority genocide have proliferated. Told cross-culturally, stories recount HIV-filled needles in movie theatre seats, pinpricks in drugstore shelf condoms, semen in fast food, and HIV-positive sexual predators. Though fascinating, intriguing, and often frightening, these narratives more than merely entertain. They warn and inform, articulate notions of risk, provide political commentary on public health actions, and offer insight into the relationship between cultural and health truths. As parts of community discourse about the nature of disease, legends provide powerful information about cultural understandings of the virus.
In Once Upon a Virus Diane Goldstein explores the story-making activities that have surrounded the AIDS epidemic, focussing on the potential implications of legend discourse for public health. When taken seriously, with respect for both the narratives and their tellers, AIDS legends enable understanding of perceptions of risk, reveal local views of public health efforts, and highlight areas of health care and education that need to be improved. Goldstein demonstrates, however, that AIDS narratives not only articulate perceptions of disease realities, they also create those realities. Told within scientific and official sectors as well as lay communities, legends play a significant role in medical, legal, and educational responses to the disease and its management. Through a series of legend case studies, this volume explores how narrative constructs the way we interact with disease, creating cultural scripts for both personal and scientific decision-making.