Making Friends With The Apocalypse
My friend Dan decided to by a flat near us in Barcelona and told his wife to only look in the areas he had marked on the map. Why those areas? They were all a certain height above sea level. How we laughed at him. He was right, of course; Barcelona was extended into the ocean and soon could be reclaimed. That’s why the inland cathedral is called Catedral Del Mar; it was once on the coast. Foresight pays off, although I draw the line at Preppers stocking up on beans (the last thing you’d want in an enclosed space, I’d have thought).
When it comes to apocalypses we tend to get it wrong every time. The first thing the British should really do is stop reading newspapers. It is in the interests of our national press to whip up panic. The Daily Mail has a truly grotesque history of publishing propaganda, from proudly supporting Hitler and Le Pen to condemning ‘non-Britishness’ and ethnicity. As recently as 2014 its cartoonist Mac published this tasteful image parodying earlier German cartoons that portrayed Jews as fleeing rats.
Formerly respectable national journals are running with coronavirus headlines that, this week alone, have used the words ‘panic’, ‘fear’, ‘plague’ and ‘mayhem’ to sell their dying papers. The depressing reaction to the virus feels like a direct parallel to the ‘AIDS: Gay Plague’ years in which the worst possible approach was taken in bringing information to the public. The ‘sinister iceberg’ campaign created widespread panic without providing any help or explanation.
I can imagine the creative team fussing about the iceberg’s lighting instead of considering the provision of helpful information. As a result gay people were demonised, shunned and beaten up, but much worse happened after. When a friend of mine died, the hate-filled family who had thrown him out of their house as a teenager swooped in after his funeral and stripped his home of everything, throwing his partner onto the street. When half the people you know socially or work with are dying or dealing with the death of a loved one, you quickly learn to resolve matters practically rather than panic.
And so here it is once again, albeit in a weirder, milder phantom form that involves panic buying, accusations, misinformation and a sheer lack of logic. Although my husband has clearly misunderstood the concept of stockpiling, as this week he returned from the shops with a kilo drum of confit de canard. If the world ends, we’ll be fine for fancy French starters.
Rather unexpectedly, this particular social panic is changing our thinking on the workplace. The book fairs are all being cancelled, including the London Book Fair. But when everyone is in the same boat, people start looking to team up and create workarounds. Did we ever need all those international conferences and forums when most forward-thinking companies (not Disney, apparently) installed real time video conferencing facilities? How about all those cities which rely on international business tourism – can they now start to address local needs? And as someone who has worked from home for 15 years, I can tell you, you wouldn’t get me near a corporate office no matter how many primary-coloured slides and sandpits you put in it.
Tomorrow: The truth about working from home.