About 21 hours ago, blogger Chelsea Fagan delivered the funniest tweet of all time unto us:
the other day a bartender told me his high school did a performance of RENT where they couldn’t say AIDS so all the characters had diabetes
— Chelsea Fagan (@Chelsea_Fagan) October 6, 2017
I mean, we’ve all heard of high school theatre censorship. The children’s version of Avenue Q cuts half the songs and replaces “The Internet Is For Porn” with “My Social Life is Online.” In my fourth grade production of Into the Woods, the entire second act was omitted, so all the characters end the show happy and alive and we never get into, like, the Baker’s Wife cheating on the Baker, or any of that unpleasantness.
And, God, one New Jersey parents group apparently mobbed a school board meeting last year, petition in hand, absolutely incensed about a production of… Pippin? “We don’t use bad words in our family,” said one mother — again, about Pippin, of all things. “I am a Christian woman and feel you are degrading me and my family because of what we live by.”
But clearly, common as this sort of malarkey may be, there is something particularly egregious about doing RENT and replacing all references to AIDS with diabetes. Fagan went on to say that all references to drug use were omitted, and characters instead took “insulin breaks.”
Like, at that point, just… do a different show? Why even pick RENT if you’re so unwilling to engage with the central themes of a show about AIDS? Can you imagine putting on Angels in America but replacing every instance of “AIDS” with “diabetes?”
Wait. Oh my god. Can you imagine?
PRIOR: I did my best Shirley Booth this morning, floppy slippers, housecoat, curlers, can of Little Friskies: “Come back, Little Sheba, come back…” To no avail. Le chat, elle ne reviendra jamais, jamais…
(He removes his jacket, rolls up his sleeve, shows Louis a small silver rectangle strapped to the underside of his arm near the shoulder.)
LOUIS: What? Tell me.
PRIOR: Diabetes mellitus, buddy. That’s my insulin pump. Lookit.
LOUIS: (very softly, holding Prior’s arm) Stop. Will you stop.
PRIOR: Don’t you think I’m handling this well? I’m diabetic.
PRIOR: I can’t find a way to spare you, buddy. No wall like the wall of hard scientific fact. Diabetes mellitus. Wham. Bang your head on that.
LOUIS: (weeping) Darn you. Darn you, darn you, darn you.
PRIOR: Now, that’s what I like to hear. A mature reaction. Let’s go see if the cat’s come home. Louis?
LOUIS: Rabbi, what does the Holy Writ say about someone who abandons a special friend at a time of great need?
RABBI: Why would a person do such a thing?
LOUIS: Because he has to. Maybe because this person’s sense of the world, that it will change for the better with struggle, maybe a person who has this neo-Hegelian positivist sense of constant historical progress towards happiness or perfection or something, who feels very powerful because he feels connected to these forces, moving uphill all the time… Maybe that person can’t, um, incorporate sickness into his sense of how things are supposed to go. Maybe monitoring blood sugar… and avoiding refined carbohydrates and processed sugar… and injecting insulin… really frightens him, maybe… he isn’t so good with needles.
RABBI: The Holy Scriptures have nothing to say about such a person.
LOUIS: Rabbi, I’m afraid of the crimes I may commit.
HARPER: Do you see anything about me?
PRIOR: You are amazingly unhappy.
HARPER: Oh, big deal. You meet a Flintstone’s Vitamins addict and you figure out she’s unhappy. That doesn’t count. Of course I… Something else. Something surprising.
PRIOR: Your husband’s pre-diabetic.
HARPER: Oh, ridiculous.
PRIOR: Threshold of revelation. I’m sorry. I usually say, “Darn the truth,” but mostly, the truth darns you.
HARPER: I see something else about you.
HARPER: Deep inside you, there’s a part of you, the most inner part, entirely free of diabetes.
ROY: Say it.
HENRY: Say what?
ROY: Say: “Roy Cohn, you are a…” Go on, Henry. It starts with a “D.”
HENRY: Oh, I’m not going to —
ROY: No, say it. I mean it. Say: “Roy Cohn, you are a diabetic.” And I will proceed, systematically, to destroy your reputation and your practice and your career in New York State, Henry. Which you know I can do.
HENRY: Roy Cohn, you are… Your blood sugar levels are very high. You have diabetes.
ROY: (a beat, then) Diabetes. Your problem, Henry, is that you are hung up on words, on labels, that you believe they mean what they seem to mean. Like all labels, “diabetic” tells you one thing and one thing only: where does an individual so identified fit in the food chain, in the pecking order? Not ideology, or diet, but something much simpler: clout. Who will pick up the phone when I call. Who owes me favours. This is what a label refers to. Now, to someone who does not understand this, diabetic is what I am because I have high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period. But really, this is wrong. Diabetics are not men who have high blood sugar levels. Diabetics are men who know nobody and who nobody knows. Who have zero clout. Does this sound like me, Henry?
ROY: This is not sophistry. And this is not hypocrisy. This is reality. I have high blood sugar. But unlike nearly every other man of whom this is true, I bring my insulin to the White House and President Reagan smiles at me and shakes my hand. Because what I am is defined entirely by who I am. Roy Cohn is not a diabetic.
HENRY: Okay, Roy.
ROY: And what is my diagnosis, Henry?
HENRY: You have diabetes, Roy.
ROY: No, Henry, no. Diabetes is what diabetics have. I have gluten intolerance.
Scene: Louis and a Man, dressed in leather, in the Ramble in Central Park. Louis and the Man are eyeing each other, alternating interest and indifference.
MAN: What do you want?
LOUIS: I want you to feed me donuts.
MAN: I want to.
MAN: I want to feed you donuts.
LOUIS: Feed me donuts.
PRIOR: Apartment too small for three? Louis and Prior comfy but not Louis and Prior and Prior’s diabetes?
LOUIS: Something like that. I won’t be judged by you. This isn’t a crime, just — the inevitable consequence of people who run out of — whose limitations —
PRIOR: Pathetic. Who cares?
LOUIS: You can be someone’s best friend and fail them. You can be someone’s best friend and not be able to —
PRIOR: You can, theoretically, yes. A person can, maybe an editorial “you” can be someone’s best friend, Louis, but not you, specifically you. I don’t know. I think you are excluded from that general category. We both know now you can’t.
LOUIS: I can.
PRIOR: You can’t even say it.
LOUIS: You’re my best friend, Prior.
PRIOR: I repeat. Who cares? I have diabetes! You stupid jerk! Do you know what that is? Friendship? Do you know what friendship means? We lived together — but only as roommates, nothing more, to be clear — for four and a half years, you animal, you idiot.
ANGEL: Oh who asks of the Orders Blessing
With Apocalypse Descending?
Who demands: More Blood Sugar
When Death like a Protector Blinds our eyes,
shielding from tender nerve
More horror than can be borne?
PRIOR: But still. Still. Bless me anyway. I want more blood sugar. I can help myself. I do. I’ve lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much, much worse, but… You see them living anyway. We live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that’s it, that’s the best I can do. It’s so much not enough, so inadequate, but… Bless me anyway. I want more blood sugar.