The Lockdown Diaries 8: Does Everything Look Different Now?
This endless talk of disease provides all sorts of ways to frighten yourself.
I’m now avoiding bar charts inaccurately comparing countries and infection rates. I foolishly thought the balm of fiction would help. Stephen Soderberg’s ‘Contagion’ is back topping the charts at Netflix. The kaleidoscopic star-filled biography of a virus told in passing days from Day 2 onwards has a group of epidemiologists, doctors, WHO staffers and a slimy Australian blogger attempting to make sense of what’s happening.
The film got many things terrifyingly right; the cruel haphazardness of disease (Not Kate Winslet!), the social distancing and contact tracing, the bat-to-pig-to-human transmission chain, overwhelmed services, fighting for food, vaccine delays, false solutions, stalled supplies, mass graves, self-isolated funerals.
It also missed a few key realities; government controls, communal work groups, increased social cohesion, and the general idea that humans are socially reliant and will work together before fighting each other. But this is a Hollywood film, so people always end up behind barbed wire jealously guarding oil drums with guns, an image that has come to define Fortress America in the world’s eyes. It was always there, from films like ‘The Omega Man’ through to ‘The Walking Dead’. Everyone always ends up trying to reach a fascistic compound where life seems worse on the inside.
Meanwhile, the novel that gets it right is ‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright, a Michael Crichton-like thriller that mixes fact and fiction as epidemiologists fight to prevent a virulent virus from reaching the hajj, the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca where three million find themselves kettled together and spreading viruses. New York Journalist Wright is clearly doing something right as he has drawn ire for being both ‘too politically correct’ and ‘too patriotic’.
More concerned with the arising issues than strong character development (a sacrifice one has to make with this type of novel), it’s a horribly prescient scenario that reveals how much of the global nightmare had already been foreseen and (mis)dealt with by politicians and scientists. I was not familiar with the idea of ‘virus sovereignty’ in which a nation’s leaders might decide to declare a virus a national resource in order to keep a copyright on its cure. Wright was the author of ‘The Looming Tower’, and his research is impeccable. It’s also a galloping read. I just hope his predictions of the second wave prove inaccurate.
Suddenly everything I watch (and I’m afraid that’s pretty much all I can do at the moment) takes on a creepy new air. Scenes of sharing food in crowded restaurants send a shiver down the spine. I’m watching the food fight from ‘Animal House’ and only seeing the failure of social distancing. Dialogue lines about being alone take on sinister new meanings. Last night I watched a horror film, ‘The Ruins’, in which four students find themselves unable to leave the ruins of a Mayan temple because the locals know that all who touch its unique plant ecosystem become infected. Suddenly it’s a parable of self-isolation.
Songs and even artworks are not immune from re-examination. Last month I made the huge mistake of attempting to rewatch the films of my childhood only to re-evaluate them in the light of present events. If any males wish to keep their adolescent fantasies intact I suggest they avoid seeing ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ again.
One change feels right; social media seems to be shifting from solipsistic self-obsession to ingenious ideas about community. Let’s hope it’s a difference that stays.