Study Guide

Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika Visions of America: The Reagan Era

By Tony Kushner

Visions of America: The Reagan Era

Aleksii Antedilluvianovich Prelapsarianov: And what have you to offer now, children of this Theory? What have you to offer in its place? Market Incentives? American Cheeseburgers? Watered-down Bukharinite stopgap makeshift Capitalism! (1.3.1)

Aleksii criticizes his countrymen for allowing the influence of American capitalism to finally infiltrate the Soviet Union. This battle of political ideologies – capitalism vs. communism – was at the center of the Cold War. Though it is hotly debated, many say that Reagan's greatest legacy was the successful and peaceful ending of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. In the quote above, we can see that Aleksii thinks this is all a really bad idea.

Prior: That ludicrous spectacle in there, just a parody of the funeral of someone who really counted. We don't; faggots; we're just a bad dream the world is having, and the real world's waking up. And he's dead. (2.1.4)

President Reagan is remembered by many as anti-gay, and his administration has been accused of encouraging the homophobia that already existed before it took office. Click here, though, to read an argument that Reagan's relationship with the gay rights movement may have actually been a little more complicated.

Prior: It's 1986 and there's a plague, half my friends are dead and I'm only thirty-one [...]. (2.2.118)

The AIDS epidemic was totally out of control by the time 1986 rolled around. Reagan and his administration has been widely criticized for its long silence regarding the AIDS epidemic in America. Many LGBT activists have accused the administration of ignoring the disease because it was thought to mostly impact gay men and African Americans. Thousands of Americans, many of them gay men, died before the administration formally acknowledged the disease. A whole movement arose with the slogan "Silence = Death."

Prior: Maybe I am a prophet. Not just me, all of us who are dying now. Maybe we've caught the virus of prophecy. Be still. Toil no more. Maybe the world has driven God from Heaven, incurred the angels' wrath. (2.2.123)

Here Prior seems to imply that AIDS might be Heaven-sent in some way, that perhaps the angels sent the plague as a message to humanity that it's time to stop progressing. The idea that AIDS was a sign of God's wrath was definitely floating around during the Reagan era. Televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson claimed that AIDS was God's way of punishing homosexuals. Though Prior theorizes that Heaven sent the AIDS epidemic for totally different reasons, they're all suggesting that the disease is some kind of divine message.

Roy: Americans have no use for sick. Look at Reagan: He's so healthy he's hardly human, he's a hundred if he's a day, he takes a slug in his chest and two days later he's out west riding ponies in his PJ's. (3.2.61)

Roy is referencing the assassination attempt made against President Reagan in 1981, during the first few months of Reagan's presidency. As you might imagine, this was a major event. Want to see a video of the assassination attempt? Click here.

Joe: Oh if people like you didn't have President Reagan to demonize where would you be?
Louis: If he didn't have people like me to demonize where would <em>he</em> be? Upper-right-hand square of <em>The Hollywood Squares</em>. (3.4.31)

Here Louis makes a joke about the fact that Reagan was a Hollywood actor (and not a particularly good one) before he got into politics. Louis suggests that Reagan got elected by painting left-wing people like him as evil while making himself look like the embodiment of all that's good. On the other side of the fence, Joe suggests that the left gains strength and solidarity by portraying Reagan as a monster. This is just the kind of political debate that would have been going on all over the country during the Reagan era.

Prior: There are thousands of gay men in New York City with AIDS [...]. (4.1.100)

This statement from Prior gives us a snapshot of just how hard AIDS was hitting the gay community during the Reagan era. Thousands were infected in New York alone.

Radio (In a British accent): ... one week following the explosion at the number four reactor, the fires are still burning and an estimated... (Static)... releasing into the atmosphere fifty million curies of radioactive iodine [...]. (5.5.4)

Just before Prior shows up to confront the angels in Heaven, we see them listening to a radio. The disaster the radio announcer is talking about is the nuclear meltdown that occurred in Chernobyl, Belarus, in 1986. This was an absolute disaster for the Soviet Union and fueled a worldwide debate about the safety of nuclear power.

Louis: The Berlin Wall has fallen. (Epilogue.2)

One of Reagan's most memorable moments as president was when he gave a speech outside the Brandenburg Gate and told Gorbachev that if he was serious about reform he had to tear down the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall had long been a symbol of the divide between east and west, the communist world and the world of democracy and capitalism. Check out Reagan's speech here.

Louis: Gorbachev is the greatest political thinker since Lenin. (Epilogue.2)

Louis thinks Gorbachev is absolutely brilliant for instituting the policy of perestroika in the Soviet Union. This policy of new economic and political freedom eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Many celebrate Reagan for bringing the end of the Cold War, but others would give more credit to Gorbachev.

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