When "The Real World: San Francisco" had it's original run on MTV, I was in the 4th grade. It was 1994 and a blessed thing had occurred -- BASIC CABLE had made it's way into the Latz house (even if only for a short minute ;).
Just like so may other ten year olds before and since, I was completely mesmerized by MTV. I grew up dirt poor with only a handful of TV channels (most of which did not actually work) in a very culturally isolated small town.
As I'm sure you can imagine, the existence of MTV completely changed my music collection and those first experiences seeing music videos (such as Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and Green Day's "Basket Case") no doubt spawned my love for putting images and sound together in the work I do today.
Then one day I was channel surfing one day after school and I caught a little of this show -- "The Real World". The more I watched , the more I noticed Pedro Zamora. He was charamatic, charming, funny, intelligent, and unbelievably handsome (I'll admit -- I totally had a little kid crush on him;).
Then I found out that Pedro had AIDS. That didn't make him any less handsome or charismatic in my eyes, but I was certainly stunned and saddened to know that he was sick. I'll admit, even in the 4th grade in 1994, I had heard about AIDS and understood enough to know that it was a bad disease that killed you. Outside of that, I was pretty ignorant as to how HIV/AIDS is caught and contracted. You have to remember that this was the early 1990's and on top of that, I lived in a small town that had yet to wake up to the real need for in depth AIDS education in public school. What was even more scary and sad that I was far from being alone in my ignorance.
Pedro Zamora, however, was instrumental in changing that forever.
Pedro's background as an AIDS educator certainly gave me a glimpse into what it's like to live with AIDS (and to live with someone with AIDS) , the drugs used to treat AIDS, what a low T-cell count means, the misconceptions about AIDS transmission and -- most imporantly -- how to protect myself and a potential partner from getting and spreading this aweful disease.
Even more than that Pedro's easygoing and charasimatic personality and his willingness to have his his struggles documented on what is now widely referred to as "Reality TV" showed me and the world that AIDS doesn't just happen to certain people. HIV/AIDS does not care what color you are or what your economic situation or your sexual orientation or how nice a person you may think that you are.
AIDS can be contracted by me or you or any one of us in an instant. One of the most fundamentally important messages that Pedro left behind is that it is ultimately our responsibility to educate ourselves about how HIV & AIDS are spread, practice safe sex , and get ourselves tested regularly (particularly if you know you are engaging in at risk behavior -- but even if you're not, you should still get tested regularly and use protection).
It completely wigs me out that myself (along with a lot of the country) were completely ignorant to AIDS related issues back in the early 1990's. Since then, there has certainly more on television, in magazines, on the news , etc about how dire the AIDS epedemic is both here and abroad.
However, it is now 2009 -- nearly 15 years since Pedro passed away and left behind a legacy of activism and knowlege on AIDS related issues. I am not totally sure if anyone else has run across this (and please let me know if you have -- I would be very interested to hear your thoughts) but I have run into a fair amount of college aged kids who seem to believe that the AIDS epedimic isn't that severe and that they do not have to protect themselves. The misconception that "AIDS can't happen to me" seems to be perforating the younger generation on an ever increasing scale and the potential consequences of this could be devastating.
I want to stress a big point here. I did not just put up this post merely for entertainment purposes. While entertainmnt and the sharing of art/artistic inspiration is a big part of what this blog is all about, this goes so much deeper than all of that. Pedro's legacy is one that is still relevant even today. Millions of people are becoming newly infected with HIV every day in the United States. I sincerely believe that there is a whole new generation of kids out there who may be unaware of how urgent the AIDS epidemic both here in their own back yard.
There are are increasingly scary numbers of people who I feel are blowing off the urgency of getting tested , staying educated and safe. With so much emphasis recently put on so called "abstinence only education" , I believe that this is only served to further the misinformation concerning the AIDS epidemic to a whole new generation. I really hope that I'm wrong, but I truly feel that there is a new crop of young people who are destined to repeat a lot of the same mistakes that were made in the very beginning of the AIDS epidemic. This could, ultimately, bring about a rapid and devastating rise of new AIDS cases within the next decade.
A new generation may very well repeat history unless people wake up and pay attention to the fact that AIDS has not gone anywhere and that the danger is still very tangible and real.
I recently watched the recent bio-pic on Pedro entitled "Pedro: The Movie". You obviously don't have to listen to me. I'm ultimately just one person with a little art blog and a really big mouth.
However, I feel like the movie (which will be reviewed on "Out The Other Side" in the near future) and Pedro's story are something that a new generation urgently need to see.
Pedro's legacy touched millions and even after his death, his story is still informing and helping so many. However, I am ultimately excited and pleased that his life is being made into a movie and urge everybody to go out there to either check it out on MTV.com or on MTV . I'm not urging this to be a walking advertisement for MTV (you don't need that...I'm sure you're fully aware of how to find MTV). I am urging everyone to go see it because while I do not feel that by seeing that everyone will suddenly make better life decisions, I do feel like it's a moving story that will touch you and make you connect to a current issue. It's an issue that I feel is being too readily swept under the rug by the younger generation.
Pedro was an exceptional human being and he did so much for the understanding of HIV and AIDS in his short 22 year life. While I realize that he was just another face on the television screen to a lot of people, the message and knowledge he left behind surpassed his time on "The Real World" and is a message that is just important today as it was when he passed away.