HBO Max’s It’s A Sin is a new five-part limited series about a group of gay men and their friends in Great Britain who lived and sometimes died during the HIV/AIDS crisis from 1981-1991. It is a critical hit and a must see.
Nevertheless, as a gay man who lived through it in the US, but didn’t die, it was the last thing I wanted to see or be reminded of during these pandemic days.
And yet…it was the first thing I began watching the very moment it dropped here in the States this week.
Well, many reasons. But the best that I could come up with is this begrudgingly timeless quote from an author long ago.
The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
—William Faulkner, 1940
Writer extraordinaire William Faulkner first gave us those words in a short story he published in Harper’s in 1940.
They have since been quoted many times, most recently by both Barack Obama and Peggy Noonan in an attempt to address the issue of racism in the late aughts, and will no doubt be referred to many more times over.
As a writer for none other than the Hindustan Times explained to us just three years ago, Faulkner’s words remain particularly prophetic because the past inevitably seeps into our present, informs it, even has a bearing on our future. The past cannot be wished away; neither can it be denied.
I would add this is the case no matter how expert we are at pretending and no matter how determined we are to move forward. The past, and its lessons, will ALWAYS resurface, whether you want to recognize them or not, and at times and in places you least expect it.
To not acknowledge it, learn from it, and at times live with it as you go on, is to be doomed – as too many countless others have warned – to repeat it.
How cliché. And yet, how undeniably true.
Take it from someone who is alive and well and just qualified to receive a Covid-19 vaccine.
Denial is a big part of It’s A Sin, but so is celebration and joyousness. Watching it reminded me that despite all my protestations to the contrary, those times were not solely tragic and funereal, colored forever in doom, gloom and sores of every type imaginable.
In fact and to its credit, none of the characters in this series are any ONE thing, and that goes not only for the young friends in their twenties at the prime of their lives but those middle-aged, older and even younger.
They are all a result of how they’ve allowed their experiences to shape them, the ways in which they choose to forge ahead or remain stagnant, and the harshness with which they treat not only others, but themselves.
How they existed and what they did back then is particularly resonant because of the harrowing drama of those times.
But as we all now sit in our homes (Note: Or wander freely), masked or maskless, hopeful, scared or bitter deep into our very cores for the future, it’s hard not to see our times as still yet another variance of their times.
Every decade has its costs and its joys and, if we’re lucky enough, we get to live through each to the next and adjust accordingly.
No one is saying denial doesn’t work in limited doses. I, for one, would have never sat down and written an original screenplay many decades ago that got bought and made had I accepted the true odds of that ever happening to a novice like me writing about the subject matter I chose to write about at that time.
Indeed, sometimes the only way forward is to defiantly block the facts in order to springboard you into defying the odds.
We humans all do this to some success and to some extent. However, experience also tells you (note: okay, ME) that this can’t be your ONLY strategy. Inventing your own reality means you also may be blind to the crumbling of the world around you with the thought your alternative world and your alternative facts will protect you.
Sadly, it’s not so. Not in the AIDS era of the 1980s, not in the latest pandemic era of the 2020s. Not even in the Deep South 1940 of Faulkner’s times.
The key is to be observant enough to acknowledge the cracks and take action before the crumbling starts. Patch it, consult an expert about re-cementing or entirely knock down the walls you think you smartly built before it’s too late.
Yeah, right, who wants to do that? But in doing so you might even let in those ideas or persons you banished to the outside and find out for sure if you were right or wrong about them all along. Imagine if you realized you were ignorant, selfish, misguided or had even misjudged while you still had time to do something about it?
This was the story of those five Londoners and their families in It’s A Sin just as it is the story of our survival in the midst of the worldwide pandemic we are now continuing to barely live through.
Any type of pandemic, much like any armed insurrection, is not any one person’s fault. Even if the worst, most xenophobic tropes were true and it was proven that a Chinese lab mistakenly unleashed CoVid-19 to the world and purposefully covered it up, that still couldn’t be blamed for the degree of medical severity we are now experiencing.
The politicization of masks, choosing economics and widely opening back up too soon over quarantining, turning our backs on our most vulnerable (note: essential workers, the poor, the non-Whites) and willingly letting them die early on and perhaps inadvertently become super spreaders through no fault of their own; a decided lack of interest in recent years of top international leaders to operate as a true global community and closely work together to ensure our mutual survival – arguably ALL explain the basic shutdown of the world as we once knew it.
Meaning, a virus, is a virus, is a virus. And people, are people, and continue to be, people.
All the homophobia, limited thinking and personal wall building and/or destroying won’t change the facts or the outcome once the stark realities of life has its way with you. Or us.
History is, at its best, a colorful kaleidoscope. But it isn’t always reliably pretty.
What it is is reliably prescient.