Elizabeth Taylor is well known for her ardor on behalf of medical research to cure AIDS. She speaks of it whenever she is interviewed on television. She does ads on its behalf. She recently appeared in the middle of a photograph with, among others, Richard Gere (who is also keen on saving Tibetan culture), Natasha Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Nelson Mandela, David Baltimore (the biologist), Greg Louganis (the Olympic diver), Ashley Judd, Eric McCormack, Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Rosie O’Donnell, Kenneth Cole, Desmond Tutu, Elton John, Alicia Keys, and others. The ad, which appears in recent magazines, reads, “We all have AIDS if one of us does.” But what has it cost these people to have posed for this photograph, in which they all (apart from Mr. Mandela) appear barefoot with their trousers cuffs rolled up? Perhaps a few hours’ time. For all I know, many of them may give six-figure and even larger sums for medical research to find a cure for AIDS. But there is an element of the virtucratic about this advertisement. By virtucratic I mean that it is an ad propelled by the need to demonstrate caring concern on the part of the men and women who posed for it. “We, all of us famous, care deeply about this killing disease,” the ad’s not-very-secret subtext reads. “What about you? Don’t you care? If you do, prove it. Ante up. Show that you are just as caring, just as wonderful, as we.” Why do I look at the people in this ad and to myself mutter, “Ah, the usual suspects, once again proclaiming their goodness.” Because AIDS has affected so many people in the arts and show business, it has become one of the central charitable causes for celebrities. Here the charitable can sometimes shade off into the political, with the disease and the gay liberation movement melting into one cause.
--Joseph Epstein, author of Friendship: An Exposé (Houghton Mifflin, 206)