The Daily Agenda for Monday, October 22
October 22nd, 2012
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Surgeon General Urges Frank Sex Ed to Combat AIDS: 1986. While the Reagan White House would become widely remembered for its reticence to discuss the AIDS epidemic, the administration’s point man on health matters, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop had no qualms about addressing the topic head on. On October 22, 1986, Dr. Koop issued what The New York Times called “an unusually explicit report to the nation” calling on schools and parents to have “frank, open discussions” with very young children and teens about AIDS.
Koop wrote in the report, “Many people, especially our youth, are not receiving information that is vital to their future health and well-being because of our reticence in dealing with the subjects of sex, sexual practices and homosexuality. ‘This silence must end. We can no longer afford to sidestep frank, open discussions about sexual practices — homosexual and heterosexual. Education about AIDS should start at an early age so that children can grow up knowing the behaviors to avoid to protect themselves from exposure to the AIDS virus.” His report also addressed several myths that were floating around about AIDS, stressing that HIV was not spread by common everyday contact like shaking hands, hugging, kissing, coughing or sneezing, nor is it spread from contact with toilet seats, food prepared by people with AIDS, or eating utensils.
This report marked the end of a long and puzzling period of silence about the AIDS epidemic, both from the administration and from Koop himself. He later wrote in Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor that in 1983, Assistant Secretary of Health Ed Brandt had excluded him from the Executive Task Force on AIDS, an act which was the start of a long series of battles he had with others in the administration who effectively muzzled him from speaking on the topic. He was even forbidden from talking to Congressional representatives about it. That exclusion finally ended in the summer of 1985, after Brandt had left and Koop was able to join the task force and become the administration’s public spokesperson on AIDS. In February 1986, Reagan asked him to write a report on AIDS, and Koop worked feverishly not only to complete the report, but to get it past some in the administration who opposed any discussion on AIDS. After Koop’s press conference on October 22, some in the White House made a last ditch attempt to modify or “bottle up the report,” as he put it, but “eventually the presses rolled, the mail trucks ran, and the report went out.”
Lord Alfred Douglas: 1870. Nicknamed “Bosie,” Douglas was best known as the lover of Oscar Wilde. Their affair began at around 1891 even though Wilde was already married and had two sons. Friends described Douglas as spoiled, reckless and extravagant, perhaps in a bid to emulate Wilde’s own flamboyance. Douglas’s father, The Marquess of Queensberry, soon became suspicious of the relationship between his son and Wilde, and tried to disown him. Douglas refused, and tensions escalated. When Queensberry publicly insulted Wilde by leaving a visiting card at a club on which he had written, “For Oscar Wilde posing as a sodomite,” Wilde responded by suing Queensberry for libel. When Queensberry was declared not guilty, attention then turned to Wilde himself, who was arrested and tried for sodomy and “gross indecency” based on evidence presented at Queensberry’s trial. Wiled was convicted in 895 and sentenced to two years of hard labor. Douglas was forced into exile in Europe.
While Wilde was in prison, he wrote his famous letter, De Profundis, to Douglas, describing in detail what he felt about him, and making clear in no uncertain terms that the two men were lovers. He was never allowed to send it while in prison, although he may have sent a copy after his release. After Wilde’s death, portions of De Profundis were published in 1912, which led Douglas to denounce Wilde as “the greatest force for evil that has appeared in Europe during the last three hundred and fifty years.” He also began a “litigious and libelous career,” suing and being sued for criminal libel over the next decade. In 1923, he was convicted of libeling Winston Churchill, saying Churchill was part of a Jewish conspiracy to kill the British Secretary of State for War, for which Douglas spent six months in prison. Apparently that experience made him more sympathetic to Wilde’s experience, and his attitude softened. He died in 1945 at the age of 74.
Robert Rauschenberg: 1925. Born to a blue-collar, fundamentalist family in Port Arthur, Texas, Rauschenbeg studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the Académie Julian in Paris, and at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. It was at Black Mountain College where Rauschenberg studied painting under Josef Albers, a Bauhaus founder, but the strict Bauhaus principles of “uninfluenced experimentation” taught Rauschenberg to do ”exactly the reverse.” The otherwise experimental nature of Black Mountain however encouraged him to explore and collaborate with a wide range of interdisciplinary artists, including performances with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham.
He had married, briefly from 1950 to 1953, and that union produced a son. After that marriage ended, he spent a year with painter Cy Twombly before embarking on a personally and professionally fruitful relationship with Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg and Johns remained together for the next eight years, exchanging ideas, critiquing each other’s work, and together establishing a new approach to art. Their personal relationship and professional collaboration would end up defining a new approach to art, one which sought to bridge the gap between art and life — especially the deeply introspective and sometimes obtuse art of Abstract Expressionists. Their approach was to combining found common objects — quilts, newspapers, tires, brooms, and all kinds of salvaged objects — with images from pop culture, as a kind of foreshadow for Andy Warhol’s work a decade later. Rauschenber called his works “combines,” and some of his most famous ones were Monogram (1955-1959, which included a stuffed goat with a tire around its abdomen) and Canyon (1959). In Factum I (1957), he created a painting that the spontaneous drips, splashes and smears of paint popularized by Action Painters like Jackson Pollack, and then questioned the entire process by faithfully reproducing his painting in Factum II.
After Rauschenberg’s relationship with Johns ended in 1961, Rauschenberg began working with silkscreen printing for a series of paintings what included news photographs. He designed sets and costumes for Merce Cunningham, and other experimental choreographers. In 1983, he won a Grammy Award for his album design for the Talking Heads’ Speaking in Tongues. In 1998, the Vatical commissioned a work based on the Apocalypse to commemorate the controversial Franciscan priest Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who reputedly displayed stigmata on his hands, feet and side, and who had died in 1968. That work covers a massive window of Pio’s new pilgrimage church in Pio of Pietrelcina, which was designed by Architect Renzo Piano. The work was a particular challenge for Rauschenberg, who grew up in the austere Church of Christ and who hadn’t attended church since his twenties. “I bet you’ll be a Catholic before you finish the project,” the Franciscan prior in charge of the project told Rauschenberg. “And I suppose you’ll be an artist,” Rauschenberg replied. He died in 2008 at his home on Captiva Island, Florida.
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