“Maybe We’ve Caught the Virus of Prophecy”: The Motif of the Prophet in “Angels in America” and “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves”

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  • Mette Bundvad
Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America: a Gay Fantasia on National Themes” and Jonas Gardell’s “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears without Gloves” both make extensive use of biblical motifs in their exploration of the AIDS-crisis in the 1980s and its effect upon the gay male community in New York and Stockholm, respectively. This paper explores the use of eschatological prophecy and prophetic identity in the screen adaptations of the two works (“Angels” by Mike Nichols and “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” by Simon Kaijser, with screenplays by the original authors).

Both works use the figure of the prophet to articulate the gay community’s experience of trauma and to investigate the identity crisis brought on by the AIDS-epidemic. Particularly interesting are the ambiguities inherent in the presentation of prophecy, which comes to symbolize both threat and solution in the two works. In “Angels”, eschatological and prophetic language is used to emphasize the severity of the threat to the gay community. However, as the protagonist, Prior Walter, reluctantly takes on the role of a prophet, the community is simultaneously given prophetic voice and agency. In “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” the references to biblical prophecy appear in particular in relation to the main characters’ experience of societal, religious, and individual attempts to erase their identity. While offering for the most part a negative view of the potential of prophecy, “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” also shows how prophetic identity can be appropriated as a strategy for retaining control of one’s own life-story. This is most clearly apparent in a climactic reenactment of Isaiah’s eschatological vision (Is. 11) which reinterprets the wish for a new world into a quest for maintaining one’s own identity.

The paper focuses in particular on the two works’ use of prophetic call visions (especially Isaiah 6 and Jonah 1) and visions of eschatological salvation (Isaiah 11 and Revelation 21). Discussing the ambiguities of prophecy in “Angels” and “Don’t Ever Wipe Tears” may also offer new perspectives on biblical depictions of prophecy – and the dual role of the prophet as a messenger of doom and a voice of hope.
Publikationsdato23 nov. 2014
StatusUdgivet - 23 nov. 2014

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