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.

10 comments on “The Lockdown Diaries 8: Does Everything Look Different Now?”

  1. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    We have known about the spread of infection and contact tracing since John Snow discovered the link between a cholera outbreak and the Broad Street water pump in 1854.
    We have had a system for notifying and contact tracing of infections since 1889.
    Instead of using it, we seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel.
    Can you imagine how Arthur would cope with the app? He won’t be the only one.
    I hope the social media community also comes to realise that if a thing gets enough likes, it doesn’t make it true.

  2. Roger says:

    “humans are socially reliant and will work together before fighting each other. ”
    Writers do seem to have the urge to believe the worst of themselves and everyone else.

  3. brooke says:

    if a thing gets enough likes…you can sell the data.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I know what you mean about being disturbed by scenes of people ignoring “proper” distancing. Have you noticed the new use of the V for victory sign? Now it stands for 2metres distancing. I’ve been promised a Mothers Day luncheon and a birthday dinner when conditions permit. People deliver things, knock on the door and run away. That used to be something only naughty little kids did. A friend sent me a video of a retake on an ABBA song “Quarantina” obviously filmed in England and very witty. I’m still laughing, though.

  5. Bronwen Rowlands says:

    “Suddenly everything I watch (and I’m afraid that’s pretty much all I can do at the moment)…” Christopher: I’m so sorry you’re ill. When you first mentioned your illness, you said you weren’t going to talk about it. Now that you’re talking about it, I worry that you must be worse. Is this the case?

  6. Debra Matheney says:

    Lawrence Wright did an expose of Scientology a few years back. I am a great fan of his journalism, but think I will pass on the novel. Too close to home.
    Hope everyone is taking care, especially you, Christopher.

  7. admin says:

    Coming out about cancer: This is my second bout (the first was many years ago) and I’m glad I talked about it this time because there are so many other people in the same situation.

    Cut away the mystery and all that talk of ‘battling’ and ‘losing the fight’ and you get a rather ordinary life challenge that can be tackled more easily without dread

  8. Richard says:

    Oh God, ‘Diamonds are Forever’. I rewatched that a few years ago and wished I hadn’t. Even the car/alleyway cockup couldn’t amuse me enough to forgive it.

  9. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    ‘Cut away the mystery and all that talk of ‘battling’ and ‘losing the fight’ ‘

    A family member was given a 15% chance of remission 30 years ago.
    He’s still going strong.
    He hates the ‘battling’, ‘brave cancer patient’ etc etc. He says you just have to get on with it, and bravery etc implies that you have a choice.
    Keep talking about it if it helps.

  10. Liz Thompson says:

    Talk about it all you want. We’re here to listen as well as read your books. Life’s easier with someone to talk to, which I learnt because of mental illness.
    My grandmother survived mastectomy at age 80, and lived well into her nineties. That was 40 years ago too, so cancer can be beaten. Odds are improving all the while, even with the damn virus.

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