Paul Hogan’s shrimp aside, the 1987 Grim Reaper AIDS awareness ad is arguably the most famous piece of advertising in Australian adland history.
Now, some 35 years after it first aired, the somewhat terrifying work’s back in the news with claims the PSA – which only ran for 12 days when it first aired – actually did far more harm than good, namely to the local gay community.
The work made advertising “wunderkind” Siimon Reynolds’ career at just 21, propelling him from the obscurity of adland to becoming a household name. Re-visit it below:
The NSW government has now established a Special Commission of Inquiry into LGBTIQ hate crimes with the aim of investigating suspected gay hate crime deaths in NSW between 1970 and 2010.
Beginning last Friday, the inquiry is said to be the first of its kind in the world and was established in April, following recommendations by a parliamentary committee last year.
During the inquiry’s opening address last Friday, Senior Counsel Assisting Peter Gray SC said many of the deaths at the time were “lonely and terrifying” and involved victims who suffered discrimination before their lives were “tragically cut short”.
Also speaking on the first day, LGBTQI+ group ACON’s director of policy, strategy and research, Brent Mackie, singled out the Grim Reaper campaign for having a “particularly damaging” effect on gay people.
Mackie argued the campaign still resonated some 35 years later and, at the time, actually worked to whip up public hysteria around gay men, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS.
Counsel Assisting Christine Melis asked Mackie: “Is it your belief that AIDS was considered to have played a role in motivating assailants, there appeared to be a correlation between media coverage of AIDS and the level of violence?”
As reported on the ABC, Mackie replied: “It is my belief that it certainly contributed. I don’t think it was the sole reason … but it certainly contributed.
“The atmosphere was far harder in the second half of the 1980s, I think, especially as there was a lot of disinformation around HIV.”
The inquiry, which is due to deliver a report in July next year, has already accumulated and reviewed more than 120,000 separate documents, including 370 boxes of records.
The inquiry, led by Justice John Sackar, continues.
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