Grim Reaper Scared Generation of Australians Against AIDS and Gay Men

On Tuesday I met with six staff from YACMU, Youth and Childrens Ministry Unit of Queensland Synod, Uniting Church, to start on an eight week course on emerging generations in conversation. The seven people in the room (+ one on speaker phone) were in their twenties, thirties and forties. We need a few older participants but we managed OK.

Click on the image below to play the video in YouTube (HD)

Grim Reaper AdOne fascinating reflection on Generation X centred around the impact of the Grim Reaper AIDS television commercial in 1987. In the government commissioned advertisement a cowled, bowling-ball-weilding Reaper knocked down men, women and children in a bowling alley.

The solemn voiceover: “At first, only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS, but now we know every one of us could be devastated by it. That’s why you should always use a condom, because you can never be sure just how many people you are really going to bed with.”

We reflected on how that ad, more than anything else, got people talking about AIDS in Australia. People who came of age later on have not had the same fear of AIDS.

Here’s a press release from 2002 highlighting the multi-dimensioned impacts of the Grim Reaper ad.

AIDS Pioneer Regrets “Grim Reaper” Demonization of Gay Men

Australia’s 1980s “Grim Reaper” advertising campaign was pivotal in changing heterosexual behavior but had the regrettable consequence of demonizing gay men, according to the country’s leading AIDS pioneer.

Grim ReaperDr. Ron Penny, who diagnosed Australia’s first case of AIDS 20 years ago, was on the government body that approved the campaign’s release in 1987. The Simon Reynolds-designed campaign featured a cowled, bowling ball-wielding Reaper knocking down men, women and children in a bowling alley. The campaign was one of the most effective ever launched in Australia, said Penny, who recently retired as head of Immunology at Sydney’s St. Vincent’s Hospital. But it struck an unfortunate blow to the gay community, which had already taken the lead in AIDS awareness and safe sex practices. “The downside was that the Grim Reaper became identified with gay men rather than as the Reaper. That was what we had unintentionally produced — [the belief] by some that the Reaper was people with HIV infection, rather than the Reaper harvesting the dead,” said Penny.

However, in terms of being “a wake-up call to Australia,” the ad’s impact was astounding, Penny said. “I think there’s never been anything on television or any media that has ever matched it in terms of impact, but no advertising can be without some downside, and that was never intended. But it at least made people aware and probably did change sexual practices of heterosexuals.”

“Prevention is still important, and I think that the new generation of gay men see AIDS as an uncommon disease and therefore taking risk has reappeared,” said Penny. “We’ve got to talk about what is a floor level that you accept — like motor vehicle accidents. You can’t guarantee that people won’t die on the roads, but you’ve got to do better than you’re doing.”

13 thoughts on “Grim Reaper Scared Generation of Australians Against AIDS and Gay Men

  1. lizzie

    can you please send me a copy of the actual video tv commercial for the grim reaper ad supporting aids. would be grately appreciated thanks.

    Reply
  2. angie

    can you please send me a copy of the actual video tv commercial for the grim reaper ad supporting aids. would be grately appreciated thanks

    Reply
  3. Ester

    I am researching AIDS and how it has effected Australians. It would be greatly appreciated if you could send me a copy of the Grim Reaper TV commercial.
    Thank You

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    I am currently preparing a university presentation on AIDS and it’s effect during the 1980′s. Can you please email me a copy of the Grim Reaper TV Commercial. Much appreciated.

    Thankyou,
    Lisa

    Reply
  5. Kirstin

    i am doing a group oral on HIV and how it has affected different populations and different age groups. in my presentation i will be required to use multimedia material and it would be greatly appreciated if you would be able to send me a copy of the grim reaper tv commercial over the internet to my e-mail. thankyou so very much.

    Reply
  6. chaya

    i am researching the concept of death and the grim reaper for my hsc extension 2 english and would very much appreciate it if you could send me a copy of the grim reaper ad. thanks.

    Reply
  7. Meliana

    I am doing a research on fear appeal and the grim reaper ads was identified in one of the resources. I would like to see the ads very much. Could you send me a copy of the ad please. Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Brad

    could you please send me a copy of the grim reaper aids campaign video as i studing the speard of hiv/aids in australia. thank-you

    Reply
  9. Tiffany

    Hi
    Can you please send me a couple of the grim reaper commercial, im doing a presentation on the spread of HIV and it would be much appreciated
    Thanks

    Reply
  10. adrian

    Looking for another AIDs commercial around the same time featuring the Crowded House song ‘All I ask’. Little girl climbing stairs. Any ideas or help where I might find this would be apreciated.

    Reply
  11. Nalla

    Would you mind sending me a copy of the Grim Reaper commercial.
    Also Do you have a copy of the Russian Roulette Commercial which could be forwarded to me.
    I am doing a presentation on history in Australia

    Reply
  12. suzanne

    Hi could I please use a copy of the Grim Reaper ad.. need it desparately for assignment at Tafe.. Thanks… MATURE AGED STUDENT

    Reply

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