Nonsilence = Death, Too?
But the most damning part of Stagestruck is that final section, "Selling AIDS and Other Consequences of the Commodification of Homosexuality." Here, Schulman mercilessly dissects niche marketing, often with a wry sense of humor and an eye for detail normally absent from such critiques. There are particularly effective passages about gay marriage--specifically its false promise of equality--and about the differences in economic privilege between gay men and lesbians. In particular, she attacks businesses like the advertising agency Mulryan/Nash and Out Publishing.
"We always get criticized for not representing lesbians," sighs David Mulryan, who is misidentified as Dan in the book. Mulryan is deeply suspicious of the idea that changing the images in advertising will change anything. "Lesbians are underrepresented because they identify themselves as lesbians much less frequently than gay men," he says. "The reasons people do or do not self-identify are more complex than advertising can solve. This is a for-profit business. I get people to buy my client's stuff."
"We're in business to make a profit," Out president Henry Scott concurs. "We are not going to help you cope on $15,000 a year. I realize that our readership is only part of our community. But it is an incredibly affluent section and I'm very happy about that."
But Martin Duberman, professor of history at the City University of New York and author of numerous books on gay and lesbian history, notes that this constant "buy" message goes far beyond advertising and magazines. "In both their ads and editorial, these magazines are devoted primarily to consumerism," he says. "What's the hottest restaurant? What's the hottest disco? Where do you go on vacation where there will be other glamorous people? And these images are seen far beyond people who read these magazines. They're on bus stops and TV."
Schulman also turns her guns on POZ, which was founded by Sean Strub, who has had HIV for more than seventeen years. POZ is largely credited (or blamed, depending on whom you ask) for the increase in direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, which now encompasses everything from over-the-counter antacids to serious drugs like HIV-related antivirals. Schulman chastises Strub and POZ for dependence on advertising, along the way contending that other AIDS publications, like Body Positive and PWA Newsline, do not accept advertising. Body Positive's managing editor, Richard Brigandi, notes, "We do accept advertising and almost always have," and PWA Newsline's Cheryl Whittier points out that while her magazine "has never accepted advertising and never will," the organization's quarterly resource guide does contain it. Strub, who vehemently disagrees with Schulman's contentions, says he notified Duke University Press of this and also complained about Schulman's overall depiction of POZ in a series of letters and e-mail messages.