The movie, “Philadelphia”
- HIV / AIDS
- Compassion and the Universal Brotherhood of Man
“Streets of Philadelphia” – Bruce Springsteen
I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
I saw my reflection in a window
I didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin´away
on the streets of Philadelphia
I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins Black and whispering as the rain
on the streets of Philadelphia
Aint no angel gonna greet me
It’s just you and I, my friend
My clothes don’t fit me no more
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip the skin
The night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake
I can feel myself fading away
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss
or will we leave each other alone like this
On the streets of Philadelphia.
“Streets of Philadelphia” is an Academy Award-winning song, written and performed by American rock musician Bruce Springsteen for the film entitled, “Philadelphia” (1993) – the first mainstream film dealing with HIV/AIDS. The song went on to become a critical success globally.
The movie concerns Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) – a homosexual lawyer who works for a conservative legal firm in Philadelphia – an American city of gritty streets that is supposed to advocate compassion, consideration and brotherly love. When Beckett becomes infected with HIV, his employers fire him from the job for fear that he might infect them with AIDS. Beckett sues his legal firm in a last attempt to gain a bit of peace of mind & to fight against this discriminatory action/injustice. He takes the help of a lawyer – Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) – who is, actually, homophobic & thus initially not too sympathetic to Beckett’s cause. However, Miller soon discovers that Beckett is just like any other ordinary person that he sees daily on the streets of Philadelphia. Finally, Miller sheds his fear and contempt for lesbians/homosexuals in general & he decides to change his negative attitude towards homosexuality. He decides to help Beckett wholeheartedly in his legal battle, before AIDS claims his entire health & life.
That was the movie and most movies are normally fictional so I don’t think that a lot of people have given the essence of the film too much thought.
Shall I now tell you a story? Once upon a time, there lived a wonderful, old man. I might be able to remember his name someday – if you can wait patiently for a few decades, I just about might succeed. I’m rather inclined towards his name being “Tom, Dick or Harry’ – but anyway that really does not matter. One day, in a moment of great enlightenment and wisdom, he coined the expression, “Live and Let Live.” Each and every person marveled at his far-sighted vision. The reason is top-secret – you have to promise first not to publish it to the world. Well, the truth is that he had benefited from the professional services an excellent ophthalmologist who had surgically corrected his eye cataracts to perfection…….last but not least; this oft-forgotten, wise, old man had good and balanced judgement. Please do keep this expression at the back of your mind, would you?
On a more serious note – how much do you really know about HIV/AIDS? Well, the disease starts with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) – a retrovirus that progressively impairs and destroys the cells of one’s immune system. The infected person gets more susceptible to various infections as time goes by and his immune system becomes weaker and weaker. The most advanced stage of HIV is acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). It takes about 10 – 15 years for an HIV infected person to develop full-blown AIDS – the downward spiral can be slowed down even further with antiretroviral drugs. HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal)/indiscriminate sex and promiscuity, transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing of contaminated needles, and between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
It is widely known that HIV/AIDS tends to be more prevalent among the homosexual population globally – though it does not imply – by any means – that it cannot afflict the heterosexual population either. Sex is a basic biological need that craves satisfaction despite age, caste, creed, race or colour. Did you know that heterosexual men and women, all over the world, indulge in anal sex often and more importantly, many heterosexual people enjoy it. Why should the homosexual be the only one who fits this equation? Homosexual or bisexual – who are we to judge and condemn them? Who are we to stand on judgement as regards the ethics of such behaviour? After all, we should not forget that sex is undertaken – more often than not – by consensual adults. So what’s the issue? I mean sincerely, what is the huge issue??! I will tell you what the hue and cry is all about. It is our prejudices, our contempt and discriminatory attitudes and behaviour towards homosexuality, as a whole. Have you ever considered that all human beings evolved initially from animals? Isn’t there a distinct possibility that there could be a lot of homosexual animals too? Humans however do not condemn animals for their homosexuality because animals, especially dogs and horses, profess unconditional, undying love and loyalty for their masters. Doesn’t it strike you thus as distinctly strange and incomprehensible how human beings can then be so judgmental and critical of their own fellow-beings – people of their own kind?
Homosexuality is a way of life – it is a sexual orientation that many people choose voluntarily because it makes them feel comfortable and happy. How does it matter what a person’s sexual orientation might be? They are not forcing you to do something that you are uncomfortable with, are they? How do we know what causes such behaviour? It could be genetic too, you know! A homosexual essentially does ‘his own thing’ and leave you to do yours. It’s his life, at the end of the day, isn’t it? It may not be your life – or even the best way of life – but it is his life nonetheless.
In this soulful song, the lawyer, Beckett, mourns his fatal illness and the sudden and complete loss of all his so-called friends and acquaintances. He has grown miserably thin, gaunt and frail and everyone takes great care to put a fair distance between him and themselves – lest he infect them. At night, he hears his infected, ‘black’ blood pounding in his veins and he is filled with intense fear and the dread of an imminent, horrible death. A death that is more likely to come sooner, rather than later. Even his faithless male partner has abandoned him to the winds. He is left at the mercy of the world – he had always thought that the dirty, rutted streets of Philadelphia professed the universal brotherhood of man, compassion and brotherly love – but the reality then – as it is now – shows that few people can or will be humane in such a circumstance.
To be perfectly honest – if someday my son were to come to me and tell me that he has decided to lead his life as a homosexual, I would not be exactly thrilled to bits to receive such news. It would be too much of information to digest at once. But I do think that I am a reasonable and sensible person – if nothing else. In the end, I am certain that better sense would soon prevail. I would infinitely prefer not to lose my son.
Homosexuals just want to be accepted – not tolerated. Tolerance is an act of ‘giving in’ to something grudgingly and against one’s better judgement – it is not acceptance. Homosexuals and lesbians are a part of our society – not the fringe of it. Give them as much respect and acceptance as you would expect others to accord you – it is only being fair, after all.
On a lighter, ending note – James Bond, the fictional and extremely popular British secret agent, is world-renowned for his policy of “Live and Let Die” and the last time I noticed I hadn’t miraculously changed to Jemima Bond, so I’ll just settle for the easier option of the two – ‘live and let live’ and I sincerely hope that others would do the same for me too!