Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves as a reparative fantasy
This chapter analyses Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves (Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar), a trilogy of novels by Jonas Gardell (2012–13) and a three-part TV drama (2012) on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Stockholm in the 1980s, as an intense occasion of affective historiography. While enabling the gay community to revisit the trauma of HIV/AIDS, to mourn the victims and to communicate the injuries to the mainstream audience, the transmedial epic also engaged in a politics of nation. While issuing a fierce accusation of homophobia against past Swedish society, through processes of resignification and transference, the epic and its extensive media coverage reframed the HIV/AIDS-stricken bodies as objects of compassion, restoring the self-image of Sweden as a caring nation, a welfare state and folkhem, a people’s home. In a reparative and fantasmatic gesture, it concludes in a Christian dream of redemption for both queer subjects – celebration in life, turning of shame into life – and the nation, provided that ‘we all wipe each other’s tears without gloves’. Analysing the epic and its media framings, the chapter examines the terms by which gay history may be incorporated into a national narrative, and how vulnerability may become a resource for the nation-building.
The power of vulnerability interrogates the new language of vulnerability that has emerged in feminist, queer and anti-racist debates about the production, use and meanings of media. The book investigates the historical legacies and contemporary forms and effects of this language. In today’s media culture, traumatic first-person or group narratives have popular currency, mobilising affect from compassion to rage to gain cultural visibility and political advantage. In this context, vulnerability becomes a kind of capital, a resource or an asset that can and has been appropriated for various groups and purposes in public discourses, activism as well as cultural institutions. Thus, politics of representation translates into politics of affect, and the question about whose vulnerability counts as socially and culturally legible and acknowledged. The contributors of the book examine how vulnerability has become a battleground; how affect and vulnerability have turned into a politicised language for not only addressing but also obscuring asymmetries of power; and how media activism and state policies address so-called vulnerable groups. While the contributors investigate the political potential as well as the constraints of vulnerability for feminist, queer and antiracist criticism, they also focus on the forms of agency and participation vulnerability can offer.
This chapter introduces the main questions addressed in the book and thoroughly accounts for the concept of vulnerability, its various theoretical legacies and uses in feminist, anti-racist, and queer scholarship, and key role in present-day discussions about power, agency, and the media. Vulnerability is addressed both as a concept and as a political language. The authors highlight four aspects of how this language operates: as a human rights discourse, as a language easily appropriated by dominant groups, as a contested language invoking long-running debates in queer, feminist, and anti-racist media cultures, and as a language translated into cultural policymaking. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns exemplify how the public articulation of experiences of injury, trauma, and hurt can turn into powerful movements. However, in neo-liberal media culture, vulnerability operates as a political language not only for disadvantaged, but also for privileged groups. Claims of vulnerability can translate to claims to agency and voice, but these claims can have completely oppositional political consequences, depending on who is making them. Drawing from Lauren Berlant and Judith Butler, the chapter sheds light on this and other paradoxes that the concept of vulnerability evokes, and asks: what does the language of vulnerability do?