TV REVIEW

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The Independent Culture
On Monday night Horizon (BBC2) took you behind closed doors to attend a conference on recent developments in Aids research. There was not a lot of good news and much baffling talk, of "reverse transcriptase", "cytotoxic T cells" and "recombinant envelope protein immunogens". "Don't Die of Ignorance" we were warned, but the bitter truth is that the evasive biology of the disease hasn't offered its victims much choice.

Last night's Fine Cut (BBC2) approached the subject from an entirely different angle, recounting the history of the Government's response to the disease - an undistinguished cocktail of panic, moral piety and political self-interest. "It just feels like Herod's been put in charge of Mothercare," said one observer, putting the accusation into the present tense. Fine Cut didn't always make it clear where people were speaking from - either temporally or politically - but it obviously had the same intention itself, modulating from social history to an account of the current politics of the fight against Aids. The broad conclusion appeared to be that the heterosexual epidemic, the focus of the Government's main terror and most of its expenditure, had been largely a chimera, a smokescreen designed to insulate politicians from public distaste about what homosexuals actually do in bed.

Those gay campaigners who had made a strategic accommodation to the generalisation of the threat - calculating that an illness that predominately attacked homosexuals might receive little or no funding - now repented their decision. Vital money, they argued, had been spent on people at little or no risk, while information was deliberately withheld from those in real danger. Partly, this was down to a flurry of panic on the part of the Government, which reacted to the crisis with all the steely command of Corporal Jones in Dad's Army. The Terence Higgins Trust, for example, discovered that their telephone number had been attached to the first leaflet prepared for general distribution: they had five telephone lines at the time and the leaflet was going to some 40 million people.

Worse than that was the repeated decision to put sanctimony above common sense. Politicians played safe with their own careers at the expense of other's lives: Douglas Hogg was seen insisting that the distribution of condoms in prison "would encourage people to do something they wouldn't otherwise do", as if fear of official disapproval was the only thing keeping all those tattooed hands from wandering; John Patten, reacting to a tabloid panic about sex education in schools, withdrew explicit advice to homosexuals about safe sex as part of a vote-securing tantrum. There were ways, despite the Government's efforts, that gay men could protect themselves from their own ignorance - but the ignorance of politicians turned out to be almost as deadly, and there was nothing they could do about that.

"A Peace for the Wicked", a Network First (ITV) account of the cruelties visited on Germans evicted from their homes in Poland after the war offered an abundance of style and a decided shortfall of hard evidence. Kevin Sim's film was a composition of melancholy details and artful constructions (a little girl in a communion dress was made to walk about the empty village as a symbol of lost innocence). Sim had learned some lessons from Claude Lanzmann, the director of Shoah, whose baleful tracking shots through scarred landscapes were replicated here. But he didn't appear to have learned about documenting such atrocities in obsessive detail.

You were left with a powerful sense of a buried tragedy - suppressed by the survivors because they live with Polish neighbours, and by others because the knowledge was simply too uncomfortable. What you weren't left with was any clear sense of what the true facts were. It was subtitled "Tales of Ethnic Cleansing" and it would have been a great deal more shocking if the last five years hadn't educated us in the ready appetite with which ordinary people will kill their neighbours.

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