National Performances of Crying: Neoliberal Sentimentality and the Cultural Commodification of HIV and AIDS in Sweden

  • Dirk Gindt


After a prolonged period of silence on HIV and AIDS in Sweden, the year 2012 marked a watershed when author, playwright and comedian Jonas Gardell received rave reviews for Torka aldrig tårar utan handskar [Don’t Ever Wipe Tears Without Gloves], a trilogy of novels on the intersection of HIV and AIDS with homophobia in the early years of the epidemic. Critics almost unanimously hailed the work as a national epic and the state broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT) turned the story into an acclaimed miniseries. My objective here is to explore the tension between the need to document heretofore neglected historical aspects of the epidemic and the commodification of HIV and AIDS by contemporary cultural industries including the promotion of socially acceptable and financially profitable narratives. Using the interrelated fields of affect and queer theories, I propose a critical reading of: the large-scale promotional campaign and the well-orchestrated strategies on behalf of Gardell’s publisher Norstedts and SVT to market the books and TV series as the definitive narrative about the epidemic; the media discourse and the performative implications of the critical establishment canonising Tears upon its release; the storyline’s melodramatic conventions that make it compatible for mainstream consumption; the public persona performed by the author/playwright in interviews to claim individual authorship and authority of interpretation over the crisis; and the many testimonials and performances of crying that I assert worked as a display of neoliberal sentimentality at the expense of a critical engagement with the history of the epidemic and the challenges posed by HIV and AIDS in the present.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dirk Gindt
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Culture and AestheticsStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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