Kaposi Sarcoma Lesions and the Social Construction of HIV/AIDS in the United States, 1983-1993

By: Kylo Patrick Hart  

This presentation explores the role of Kaposi sarcoma (KS) lesions — the bluish-purple blotches that typically appear on the bodies of individuals suffering from KS — in the social construction of HIV/AIDS in the United States during the period 1983 to 1993. It demonstrates how, from the moment that U.S. popular media and related forms of visual culture ‘discovered’ AIDS and began to regularly represent it, KS lesions served as a default way of depicting individuals in the advanced stages of AIDS and emphasizing their presumed ‘difference’ from everyone else in the same society. It further articulates a noteworthy series of qualitative shifts that occurred in using KS lesions to socially construct HIV/AIDS over the course of this ten-year period, to the extent that by the time the AIDS movie Philadelphia was released in 1993, KS lesions were being utilized to substantially challenge the pervasive 'us' versus 'them' dichotomy in U.S. society rather than to reinforce it.

media representation
Media Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Kylo Patrick Hart

Professor, Department of Film, Television and Digital Media, Texas Christian University, United States
Texas, United States

I am a professor and chair of the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. I am the author or editor of several books about media, including The AIDS Movie: Representing a Pandemic in Film and Television; Images for a Generation Doomed: The Films and Career of Gregg Araki; Queer Males in Contemporary Cinema: Becoming Visible; and Queer TV in the 21st Century: Essays on Broadcasting from Taboo to Acceptance.