The Life Ball in Wien, Austria, is Europe’s largest charity event and, from the looks of it, one hell of a party. I didn’t know it was happening until after I’d arrived and started seeing people painted gold and wearing little more than ivy leaves. The costume ball, this year ‘earth’ themed, is a charity event for AIDS treatment and research. In 2010, it is in association with the UN AIDS Conference and even former President Clinton was here to celebrate.
The beautiful people were out in force, looking to see and be seen, as they made their way toward the red carpet in front of thousands of on-lookers. Every costume, from fairies to centaurs, was carefully designed to avoid covering his or her washboard abs. Even if I had known, I would have had to work out for months just to feel comfortable looking half as good as the other guests, let alone dressing up in ram’s horns and a speedo.
As I wandered around the Viennese Rathaus Platz where the party was getting started, I noticed hand lettered signs stuck on bushes, or pinned to fences. The notes were scrawled on notebook paper, and written in at least French, German, and English. They said “HIV is not the cause of AIDS.” The revelers didn’t take notice of them. One soot painted pair of men whose costume consisted of torn swim bottoms and red AIDS ribbons picked up one of the notes to glance at it and then set it right back down. No angered crumpling, no sneered looks.
Since when, I thought, is HIV not the cause of AIDS? After dinner, I made my way back to my hotel room and the big event was being televised. Impassioned speakers thanked the guests for the money raised in search of a cure, and spoke of progress with retro-viral drugs—drugs which wouldn’t have had much effect if AIDS were not caused by a virus. Young groups of musicians from nations with high risk of AIDS such as Cambodia and South Africa, performed Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on mirimbas, gamelans and recorders even as rain showers began and drenched them.
While they were getting soaked, I discovered a new conspiracy. 9-11 was a government plot. Global Warming, a liberal elitist sham. The moon landing? Fake. HIV causes AIDS? No way. Who knew? I didn’t even realize there was a question and meanwhile, like the member of the herd that I am, I’d gone on believing that HIV is actually the cause of AIDS.
I’ve always been a skeptic, so I didn’t immediately believe the AIDS deniers. What could be their motivation? Anti-gay racists? The good news is, unlike Holocaust deniers who seem pretty clearly anti-semetic, AIDS deniers don’t have a clear agenda at all. Some of them believe that AIDS is a disease brought on, not by a virus, but by the sinfully delicious act of homosexuality (what’s so delicious about it, is as much a mystery to me, just as heterosexual sex is to many gays.) Others see it as a corporate plot by pharmaceutical manufacturers to sell expensive medication.
One thing is clear. The scientific establishment, with its thousands of researches on the government and drug company payrolls, is ignoring the views of a tiny minority of bonafide scientists, at least one or two of which actually studies in the field of biology. AIDS denialists can’t all be lumped together either. Some believe that HIV is a virus, although a harmless one, while others insist that that AIDS itself is only a disease of poor people and drug users weakened by their situations. (Of course, blacks are poor and gays use more drugs than everyone else!)
The rain and storm didn’t hold back the revelers from their party and hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to feed the establishment’s hunger for money and AIDS research, even if they just can’t see through this scam that the whole HIV thing is just a blind alley. Seemed like a really great party to me.