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TV Ads that Attack AIDS Funding

By BuckcuB

aiddollar.gif - 3.39 K Ah, what a world, what a world! Just when you think your fellow humans can't sink any lower in their own self-interest, along comes a casual bit of sordidness to deepen that wretched pit.

Imagine, for a moment, that you're sitting in front of the television, watching a national cable news channel. The commercial break begins, and you glance idly out of the window while you sit on the sofa with some iced tea. (Okay, at least it looks like iced tea!)

"Hello, my name is (deleted), and I have AIDS," a nice-looking youngish fellow announces onscreen, as the first commercial begins. Well -- this is an issue of importance to you, so your attention is captured. "But I'm not here to talk to you about AIDS," the spokesman continues. Hmm, that's a little confusing! Let's watch some more.

Perched in a bucolic setting, the young man informs us that people with AIDS already have plenty of options and help available. No, we should be focusing instead on pancreatic cancer, he tells us. Not enough is known about this killer disease. More research is needed, more funding for that research. And then, at the end of the spot, he again assures the viewer that people with AIDS already have plenty of help available to them. "Just look at me," the young man announces blithely, standing to give us a good view of his healthy appearance and muscular body, clad in a typical suburbanite's clothing. Normal as can be. Then a voice-over directs the viewer to a toll-free number where he or she can donate to pancreatic cancer research.

Of course, no one would ever really produce and air a commercial like that, would they? No one would ever co-opt and downplay the AIDS crisis to 'sell' research for another disease. That would be crass, despicable, exploitive beyond belief, wouldn't it?

Well, dear reader, BuckcuB has the dubious honor of introducing you to the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. The foundation has, indeed, produced and distributed the identical commercial-spot described above, which is being aired on national cable channels.

The message of the commercial, however sweetly couched, is clear: AIDS research has consumed enough of the available funding, and it's time for other diseases to get a larger slice of the big green pie.

Those who don't follow this sort of thing may be unaware of the internecine sniping which has gone on among advocacy groups for disease research for years. Each group complains that the others grab too much of the funding pie. The multiple-sclerosis group protests that the breast-cancer group gets more than its fair share of research funding. The ALS ("Lou Gehrig's disease") group complains that MS gets an unfairly-large committment. Juvenile diabetes research-advocacy rants that ALS gets too large a funding committment. And so it goes, right down the line, until you reach unheard-of exotic diseases and genetic defects. Every group wants a bigger chunk of the research money, and complains like kids when Mom is sharing out birthday cake, "His piece is bigger, no fair!"

But until now, BuckcuB would like to point out, no group has ever sunk to the level of co-opting a "more-popular" disease, to sell the idea of more funding for research into a different disorder. Or of taking that argument to the television viewing public, with a criminally-misleading advertisement hosted by a co-opted spokesperson.

Complacency about the AIDS epidemic is itself growing to epidemic proportions. Donations to fund-raising events like AIDS walks have dropped sharply in recent years. A shocking number of Americans believe that the protease "cocktails" and new drugs are a "cure" for AIDS.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

AIDS is still infecting and killing people. The new drug regimens stave off death, for a while, for those who can afford and obtain them. They are shockingly expensive regimens, and all-but-impossible to obtain in many parts of the world.

Yet, here we have the Lustgarten Foundation, blithely implying to television viewers that the AIDS crisis is ended, and we need not support research for AIDS any longer. Pancreatic cancer, they tell us, is more worthy and deserving of our support.

There is no kinder way to put it: Lustgarten's advertisement is despicable beyond any poor condemnation that BuckcuB might make. The foundation is guilty of the vilest sort of cowardly, deliberate misinformation. Their spokesperson-with-AIDS, assuring us (for a paycheck) that pancreatic cancer is more worthy of our donations than is AIDS, is a new low for disease research-advocacy, and desperation is no excuse.
The Lustgarten Foundation is named after former Madison Square Garden and Cablevision owner Marc Lustgarten

It would be comforting to assume that the foundation's members suffer not from pancreatic cancer, but from congenital idiocy. Unfortunately, a different disease is the culprit, here.

That disease is greed.

Research advocacy groups may snipe at one another -- but they ALL snipe at AIDS research advocacy. AIDS does, indeed, receive a very hefty chunk of the available funding. Some from the advocacy groups for other diseases have grumbled -- occasionally in public -- that AIDS receives a disproportionate share. BuckcuB is not about to start passing judgement on which diseases are "more worthy" or "less worthy" than others. Neither should advocates for research funding.

But that's exactly the message Lustgarten's spokesman sends -- deliberately -- by beginning the spot with the announcement that he has AIDS. "We don't need any more money, we've had plenty," is the intentional inference, "Give money to this disease, instead."

Now, BuckcuB is a fair-minded sort of fellow. So he gave a call to the Lustgarten Foundation's New York offices. After all, it isn't nice to blast someone without giving them a chance to tell their side of it, and everyone knows BuckcuB is a nice guy. Speaking with a charming lady named Enes, who declined to make any comment on the record, Buck asked how the foundation felt about co-opting AIDS to make their public service announcement supporting pancreatic-cancer research.

A bit of paraphrase, here, dear reader; there are rules about "off the record" conversations.

The gist of our chat was that Lustgarten is trying to point out that when a lot of attention (and money) is focused on any problem, then a lot of new help and solutions often follow. They aren't trying in any way to diminish what a terrible disease AIDS is, she assured me. And Enes downplayed the tactic of using a spokesman with AIDS.

Okay, maybe the Lustgarten Foundation didn't mean to pooh-pooh the AIDS crisis, and the tens of thousands with the disease who don't look hale and hearty like the fellow in their commercial, on purpose. Maybe they really didn't intend to send the message that folks with AIDS have had their share of the research money, and now it's time to spend some elsewhere. Maybe their intentions were all good.

But the road to Hell, BuckcuB's Grammy always told him, is paved with good intentions. And in this case, Lustgarten sure asphalted a whole new offramp to Hades.

Related Articles from the GayToday Archive:
AIDS Funding & Congress

Healthcare Economics: The Threats

Insurance Protections Slammed

Related Sites:
The Lustgarten Foundation

BuckcuB's Bear Den
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

AIDS gets a lion's share of research dollars for some very good reasons. First of all, as Grammy also said frequently, "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." AIDS activists and funding advocates have been just about the squeakiest wheel ever heard in boardrooms and Congressional offices. Small wonder, BuckcuB points out, recalling the early days of the epidemic when it seemed that friends were dropping like flies, and there was nothing we could do to help them.

AIDS is a communicable disease, too. It's in the best interests of everyone to prevent the spread of HIV, which justifies a larger share of research funding. Yeah, Bucky's heard the arguments that "if people would just change their behavior..." Well, a hell of a lot of people have done just that. But not everyone. And there are plenty of people with AIDS who contracted the virus long before anyone had ever heard of the disease, when behavior wasn't an issue.

It would be nice to have a world with no disease at all. Until that happy day, medical science goes on working for solutions -- to AIDS, breast cancer, ALS, muscular dystrophy, all of 'em. That work takes money. But there isn't an endless supply of cash.

If the Lustgarten Foundation wants more money for pancreatic cancer research, instead of callously co-opting AIDS why not take a lesson from AIDS research advocates? Yell loud, yell long, and keep on yelling until you get what you need. But yell about YOUR issue.

What pisses BuckcuB off the most about the Lustgarten spot, is the utter uncaring thoughtlessness it exhibits. Was there not one person involved in the production who thought, for even a second, "Hey, maybe this is demeaning to people with AIDS?" Apparently, there wasn't. The spot is tunnel-vision to the ultimate degree -- "eyes on the prize" of more funding, and too bad who gets trampled in the periphery.

Now, BuckcuB knows there will be a few readers who think he's seeing red for no reason. Okay -- imagine this, then: A television commercial opens with a scene of a nice-looking youngish woman, healthy and normal-appearing. "Hello, my name is Jane Doe, and I have breast cancer," she calmly announces, "But I'm not here to talk to you about breast cancer. I want to talk to you about AIDS." Then she wraps up by reminding viewers of how little we still know about AIDS, but luckily great strides have already been made in helping breast cancer victims. "Just look at me," Jane says, standing up so we can all get a good look at her healthy, curvaceous form.

The television station's phone lines would be jammed within minutes by outraged women, of course. It's a simple and accurate analogy, and if anyone at Lustgarten had taken a second to think beyond their own greed, they'd have seen that their spot is an equal outrage to the AIDS community.

Finally, BuckcuB would like to point out that any organization THIS desperate for more income, should not be wasting money on television commercials! Producing them is expensive as hell. Buying air time is expensive as hell. Maybe that money should go to their cause, until funding increases to the point that there's a little extra for such on-air self-promotion. In the meantime, it doesn't cost a dime to go knocking on doors. And there are a lot of doors in the House and Senate office buildings.

Go knock on doors in Congress, Lustgarten Foundation. And quit knocking AIDS.

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