The 1980s has arrived, the soft orange and brown 70s are replaced by flashy neon, electronic synth beats and shoulder padding. It was an era of change and new insights. The neoliberal economics arise in the form of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, the end of the Soviet-Union started with Glasnost and Perestroika, China opens economically, the birth of the personal computer and Madonna shocked the world with like a virgin and like a prayer. The new series It’s a Sin deals with this decade. Set in 80s London, following a group of young people discover themselves under the constant threat of a new disease: aids. A story full of drama, sex, sadness, and laughter.
The Pink Palace
The story starts with Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander, lead singer Years and Years), who’s growing up in a typical English family: conservative with slightly overconcerned parents. In 1981 he starts studying law in London. Soon he will change to drama and English. Then we meet Roscoe or Gloria (Omari Douglas), who’s fleeing from his parents after a “special” trip to Nigeria is arranged for him. The farewell shows Roscoe’s personality in full glance, honest and extravagant. This is a large contrast with the shy Colin (Callum Scot Howells), a Welsh smalltown boy who started to work in a chic gentlemen’s clothing boutique at Savile Row. Together with Ash (Nathaniel Curtis) and Jill (Lydia West), who Ritchie met at college, they form a diverse group of friends. The five where able to rent an apartment in London which they quickly named the Pink Palace. It is the start of a new life full of pleasure and discovering who you actually are. However, fear of a new “gay” disease will soon end much of the happiness and will play a major role during the decade. In the series aids is introduced in a harsh and terrifying way, showing that aids was (and still is in large parts of the world) a death sentence.
The Pet Shop Boys
The title of the series was named after the song It’s a Sin by the British synthpop duo The Pet Shop Boys. Since I can appreciate the music of the Pet Shop Boys, I couldn’t resist adding a bit of additional information. The duo consists of vocalist Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe. They breakthrough with West End Girls followed by other hits such as Always on my Mind and Suburbia. Tennant wrote It’s a Sin in about 15 minutes in a moment of frustration and anger about his catholic upbringing. The song starts with a NASA countdown accompanied with bombastic synthesizer and ends with the catholic Confiteor: a prayer to confess your sins. The title of the series expressed the believe of aids as a sin, a punishment of god, which was shared in religious groups at that time. The aids epidemic is also a theme in other songs of the Pet Shop Boys. In the Latin beats of Domino Dancing for example: ‘watch them all fall down, all day all day. Domino dancing.’ Or the beautiful and melancholic Being Boring where ‘All the people I was kissing. Some are here and some are missing’ is said. By the way both videoclips contain a bunch of good-looking people all dressed up in homoerotism, so you might be interested.
Although the aids epidemic is the redline in the series, there are lots of other things that surprised me. Ranging from queer people who could not buy a house at that time or simply lost their job if they came out to Colin’s excitement after he eats a burger for the first time during a trip to New York. The parallels between the current and aids pandemic are also striking: social distancing, quarantine and fear of an unknown illness. With the fear complot theories and alternative types of medication rises: aids was invented in lab, it’s from the Soviets, it only affect groups of people beginning with the letter H, eggs and flaxseeds will protect you or drinking battery acid will cure it. Luckily, people tried to educate themselves, trying to get the latest scientific information and educate other people. In the series this is impersonated by Jill, she develops as an activist and spent her day in the hospital to sit next to dozens of sick aids patients who are abandoned by family and friends.
The series shows in only five episodes a more or less complete image of the aids crisis that struck the world about 40 years ago. Of course, the 1980s are a bit romanticized in the series with fancy clothes, evergreen hits and the sexual freedom what was present at the beginning of the decade. You almost want back in time through the series. However, it doesn’t make me completely nostalgic: the emancipation of the LGBT+-community has made a lot of progress, although it still remains under construction. In one scene Jill has an argument with Ritchie’s mother, the main lesson of this scene was that many lives could have been saved, if the stigma and shame around aids and the whole gay community wasn’t so large. Stigma and shame still exist, balancing between equality and being different. So in short, It’s a Sin gives an overview of a part LGBT-history in a modern, fun and moving way. I just would say: watch the series! The series will be broadcast in the summer by the VPRO or can be streamed via NPO plus or HBOmax.