“Viral” has recently repositioned itself in the lexicon of America. While many have long understood the word in the sense of its etymological roots found with “virus” – roots that have undoubtedly negative connotations in normal conversation – it has slowly developed its own positive meaning. With the advent of the internet, the term no longer simply relates to ‘disease’ or ‘poison’; rather, it now describes the sharing and online popularity of something – be it a video, picture, or post.
To a creative mind, this provides a verbal marketing platform that can attract the eye of the 21st century citizen. And that’s exactly what Yasmine Elli, Martha Fareed, Raquel Medina, Mollie Penberthy, and Claribel Valdovinos, all UCLA students taking a “Make Art Stop Aids” course, have done. Combining the force behind internet virality with the seriousness of the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the students hopes to raise awareness via social networking, sharing, and YouTube.
They titled their project “Spread the Viral Video, Not the Virus ” – it’s a short video with all the flavor of an undergraduate film project without a budget, but it carries a poignant message nonetheless: 21 percent of people with HIV don’t know they have it. It’s up to you to get tested.
Spread the Viral Video…
I got the chance to speak with Yasmine Elli about the video, and as a fellow UCLA Bruin, I was excited to hear about the projects going on at my old campus. She explained to me that the idea originally arose because of Professor David Gere‘s class, “Make Art/Stop Aids”, where he challenges students to use cultural production as a means to curtail the spread of AIDS. Elli noted that Professor Gere emphasizes defeating the stigma behind AIDS: rather than looking at it as foreign or something only existing in the headlines, we must begin to “make people aware that it’s a real thing.”
Building on UCLA’s 48 hours to Action, an annual performance to honor World AIDS Day, the group prepared a video just short of 30 seconds. In it, a handful of what looks to be students and faculty (or perhaps some graduate students) recite the words we should all be saying “I am not HIV positive.” The video culminates in an oratory crescendo, almost to a point where you turn down your speakers.
Fittingly, they ask, “Did you hear that?”
…Not the Virus
The video leaves us on the fact that 21 percent of those with HIV don’t know they have it. For any disease, that number is too high. When we begin to consider that HIV may indeed be more serious than other STDs, namely because it can supress the immune system so severely that one may come down with pneumonia or brain infections, it becomes imperative that we each actively work to raise awareness, encourage testing, and provide the tools for safe sex.
As argued in an NPR article by Veronica Miller, executive director of the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research,”HIV is the only serious illness so drastically underdiagnosed and undertreated in this country.” Maybe Elli and her classmates can change that, or at least start to.
Spread it and Stop it
My favorite part of this project is how it easy it is to spread the word. Just click share. Even if only one person get themselves tested – even if that one person saves one life – then this whole project is worth it. And that starts with you. So, while this started off as a college project by some committed students, we have the opportunity to create a real movement – a real solution.
Like it, Love it, Share it, Spread it. You never now – it might be yourself you’re saving someday.
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