Instructor Reflection – Fear is Contagious: Is AIDS? (10.1)

By Justin Hodgson, Indiana University

This course focused on how the digital (technologies, practices, media, circulation, etc.) could participate in the rhetorical and cultural capacities of memorialization. We looked at key practices and implications of public memory and their manifestations in monuments and memorials, and then attempted to leverage those into rhetorical strategies, working in and through the digital as a different kind/type of memory/memorial space. The larger project for that semester asked students to (a) create a digital narrative in relation to a self-selected focal object, entity, or event, (b) create a digital video project extending the ideas/issues of that digital narrative, and (c) bring all these together in a website designed to combine narrative media (text and video) with images, information, and the interactivity of a website (creating a rhetorical, memorial webtext). This project stems from part two of that process, with Rachel extending her narrative from part one into a fuller examination of the public memory of AIDS by engaging in a digital remix/video exposition kind of practice. But more than just focusing on AIDS as a national, public memory (and the way that memory transformed over time), Rachel grounded it in something of significant interest to her local Indiana University community: e.g., the story of Ryan White and, by extension, Indiana University and the Indiana University Dance Marathon. While the video exposition she presents here spans a wider range of key figures than just White (which was extended even further in her final project for the course), this project (1) provides a snapshot of the public reaction to AIDS, (2) highlights the rhetoric surrounding AIDS/HIV early on, and (3) through figures like White showcases how misinformation and fear spread, with those latter elements being perhaps worse than the spread of the virus itself.

Beyond its engaging content, what really stands out to me as the instructor for this project is both its execution and its rhetorical impact. First and foremost, this piece mixes interview footage captured by the author with existing clips and media – blending a historical broadcast narrative with contemporary perspectives. Second, those personal interview segments further ground this piece in the IU community. And third, the production itself is clean; by weaving together multiple clips and layering them over a music track, this piece not only presents a telling narrative, but does so with both audio and content consistency. Meaning, even as the visual elements jump from clip to clip, person to person, there is a genuine sense of continuity throughout the video. Collectively, then, this project is of a notable quality not only because it has solid technical execution, but because it also has solid rhetorical execution. It is engaging, informative, and ultimately leaves a lasting impression on viewers, and I think as a teacher there isn’t much more we can ask from students when including this kind of assignment/activity (no matter the course focus).

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