The iconography of Eve : Epidemiologic discourse in New Zealand's response to HIV/AIDS
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis seeks to explain the complex responses to HIV/AIDS in New Zealand. The discourses, themes and ideologies of previous epidemics are examined according to their impact on understandings about HIV/AIDS. This thesis argues that a significant outcome of such responses is the identification of 'Eve’, the sexual icon that recurs in popular discourse of epidemics like leprosy, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. The 'Eve’ icon is seen as representing the Garden of Eden view of woman; sexual woman, feminisation as a socio-sexual process, and specific women. Popular and public health responses are described in previous epidemics of leprosy, bubonic plague, syphilis and cholera. New Zealand's experience of the 1918 influenza epidemic and 1916-1962 poliomyelitis outbreaks, and the history of syphilis specifically, indicate how a deadly affliction like AIDS might be construed in the local context. In particular, the discourses associated with these prior and current diseases are linked, showing a commonality of themes related to victims, blame and sin. Discourses about HIV/AIDS are examined with respect to the theories of Sander Gilman (iconography) and Michel Foucault (discursive power and sexuality). Three case studies involving major actors in New Zealand's response to HIV/AIDS (the media, parliament and community groups) link the organisations according to discourse and image-making. Local and overseas news items are examined for their iconogpraphic content in stories about AIDS icons, including New Zealand's Eve van Grafhorst. Discourse production is then analysed in parliamentary debates about HIV/AIDS, and in strategies of the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective. The thesis explores how iconography from prior epidemics that are particularly influential in the New Zealand context are evident in responses to and by gay men, sex-workers, and New Zealand's principal AIDS icon, Eve van Grafhorst. Discourses about syphilis and other epidemics expressed an ethic of blame directed toward marginalised individuals such as gay men, sex-workers and injecting drug users in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Paradoxically, this ethic of blame also led to the deification of Eve van Grafhorst. The media, parliament and community sector influences on image-making in New Zealand's AIDS context has led to icons being both victimised and served by discourses about AIDS.