America’s Weaponization of Social Groups

Angels in America uses the split-screen technique to illustrate how Americans have created intense political divides that pit our issues against one another when in reality we all share the same struggles. In scene 7 of Millenium Approaches, Prior and Harper overlap in one another’s dream/hallucination. Both of them commiserate about the issues they are facing — Prior gawks at himself as a young man left alone to die of AIDS, all dolled up in full drag; Harper grovels over being isolated by her emotional problems in a Valium-induced haze. When they dive into conversation with one another, Harper tells Prior that her Mormon church doesn’t believe in homosexuals and Prior retorts that his ‘church’ (the gay community) doesn’t believe in Mormons. Harper goes on to say, “Imagination can’t create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions […] So when we think we’ve escaped the unbearable ordinariness and, well, untruthfulness of our lives, it’s really only the same old ordinaries and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth. Nothing unknown is knowable. Don’t you think it’s depressing?” (Kushner 33). Harper is describing a conundrum that impacts us all — that our struggles that present as uniquely painful every time they appear in our lives are actually just recycled core issues we have already experienced, to which Prior can wholeheartedly relate. In tandem with their interaction about Mormons and queer people holding the same valence of beliefs about the other group, this notion of everyone’s problems repeating and reworking under a false sense of novelty implies that the two of them are actually more similar than different.

The split-screen design when these two characters address their own unique issues simultaneously serves to exemplify a general disconnect in American society at large. Prior, a gay man, has a personal battle with AIDS and speaks to the AIDS epidemic in America as a whole. Harper, a Mormon, is battling addiction amongst other psychiatric issues, and speaks to a greater problem of internalized religious pressures and their impacts on mental health. They seem strikingly different and inherently opposed to one another, as their ascribed social groups are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Ultimately, both are fighting illness, trying to uphold their personal values, and sharing a profound sense of loneliness. This contrast is illuminated by the split-screen technique, as it places their independent issues side-by-side to illustrate that they are really similar in nature. Further, greater societal dilemmas mutually underscore Prior and Harper’s issues, as per their conversation about how misery is just a perpetual rearrangement of core problems (loneliness, disease, ostracization, etc.). Harper positing that “nothing unknown is knowable” in reference to her own depression, which Prior empathically confirms applies to his life as well, demonstrates a universal understanding that despite our opposing views, we are all bound to cyclical suffering. By shedding light on these two opposite-coded characters’ comparable struggles, Angels in America addresses how the pervasive “othering” by organized social groups prevents us from addressing the root of our problems, which can be mutually understood when the veil of politicization is lifted. 

One thought on “America’s Weaponization of Social Groups”

  1. I really enjoyed reading your interpretation of this split scene in Angels of America. It ultimately tells us how there is a strong chance of empathy and solidarity between groups from opposite sides of the political spectrum when there is a sincere endeavor of reaching out to each other, making it possible to see the many underlying similarities. This scene of Kushner’s play reminded me of an anecdote told by Eli Clare: his family acceptance of his aunt’s girlfriend, recognizing her as part of the family. She found respect where it would be least expected. I can say that understanding about Queerness is not only acknowledging another person’s idiosyncrasies but also perceiving bridges of connection where support can actually take place.

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