Content/Trigger Warning: Image of Covid-19 patient, Death
The Horror Film Timeline.
There are a plethora of plague movies, virus narratives, and outbreak scenarios littered across the tapestry of filmic history. They are supposed to be illustrative of how people ascend to humanity, descend into villainy, and how a nation may respond to the benefit or to the detriment of its citizenry. Upon reflection of 2020, and the abominable response to COVID-19 by various states and the national government, I pontificated about the power of cinema and its enduring legacy of escape and education.
Moreover, the cineplex as we knew it may never recover. The film industry has ground to a halt and any films that were slated for release are flooding to streaming services. After much deliberation, I thought I could make a serialized list of the best, worst, or most prescient epidemic/pandemic films but there’s an infinite number of those. Conversely, I could have waxed poetic about how great so many were about predicting the past, present, and future of pathogens. Alas, there are YouTube videos or essays aplenty with cinephiles or experts in the field of medicine about that subject too.
With over a million people (perhaps two million soon) killed globally by this particular virus, it’s imperative that I’m honest and go beyond the movies and address the reality of pandemics. The response to any number of them is honestly a roll of the dice, wherein we could exist in the timeline where the globe took this pandemic seriously as soon as viral videos and information began to surface out of Wuhan, China. Or, we could be in the now, where much of the globe is underwhelmed by the rapid spread and decimation of the virus, with many giving a collective shrug of the shoulders and letting the virus run its course and hedging its bets with “herd immunity”. Obviously, the United States and many other nations lost this particular roll of the die and are in the horror film timeline where death is more acceptable than mass life.
What Is Normal?
Hindsight, ironically being 20/20, I knew that the United States could go either way in regards to our pandemic preparedness model. Feelings about past presidents George Bush Jr. and Barack Obama aside, they both had robust pandemic response teams, a CDC (Center for Disease Control) that gave no quarter to conspiracy theories, and cabinet appointees that had the infrastructure and wherewithal to lead.
Experiencing the circus that’s been the last four years really puts into perspective how important and lifesaving commonsense can truly be. Misinformation and conspiracy have become the standard by which many political actors have fallen in-line with the Trump machine. Now, that a series of newly elected officials are being spread out across the political sphere at the state level and nationwide, maybe we have a chance to put a plaster on some of the damage done by the outgoing administration. Of course, only time will tell how, where, and if we are in four years' time.
Due to so many of us being so far removed in age from the last global pandemic or our location in the world, it’s clear that we were woefully unprepared for what the reality of pandemic life is truly like. It's not glamorous like some films made it out to be, an adventure on the open-road seeing the sights and sounds of fallout, or swashbuckling with an anti-hero or military leading the charge to squash the disease.
Reality has been far more eye-opening.
Breadlines — economic collapse — the medical community overwhelmed.
Those normalities of a global pandemic are to be expected, but we weren’t prepared for the loneliness, isolation, or devastation of what mass death actually looks like. Or were we? Many introverts or homebodies were emotionally and mentally prepared for being by themselves. Those that have tried at every opportunity to be with others, party and travel as normal were not. Living solitary lives was more navigable for many of us due to the ubiquity of the Internet, but for others lack of face-to-face interactions has been unbearable. Death we have become accustomed to the point of monotony from various sources, i.e., police and mass shootings, but not from a microscopic killer or ravager of the body with a name like COVID.
For many of us, experiencing this global pandemic has been like being in the shoes of the Scrooge character, forever changed by learning the err of our ways and vowing to be better people upon reflection of ourselves and a world in dire need of compassion. The remainder are stuck in the quagmire of greed, selfishness, and external ugliness that’s allowed hundreds of thousands to die, and the remainder of us left alive without resources or refuge.
Let’s not be naive, this was the world we were living in before this point, but the grim reality of pandemics is that it accelerates or exacerbates whatever circumstances were already present in the first place. Lest we forget, housing and food insecurity was already tenuous pre-pandemic, alongside racially/ethnically targeted violence(s), but we were able to reckon with them differently in a world not teetering on the brink of collapse due to a medical monsoon that left no life untouched or household unscathed. Now, we have to reckon with that tidal wave of junk we’ve stuffed into the closet, that we know will come careening out as soon as the door handle turns.
Pandemic Movie Tropes.
I suppose we have seen some of the more bombastic or outlandish movie scenarios that films have hypothesized about the apocalypse. Skirmishes over food and supplies, those in power directing resources to those with the most clout and capital, people with the pseudo-tin-foil hats that refuse to believe the virus is even real, or doomsday bloggers that believe the government made the disease in a lab to cull the populace, people with unimaginable wealth and resources hiding away in their mansions-desert islands-bunkers, etc. waiting for the disease to blow over and equally profiting from it, and leadership veering in two different directions as heroes or despots.
We’ve witnessed the myriad of all these movie tropes because they don’t emerge out of the ether via celluloid but out of the lived experiences or imagination of human beings. We have posited nightmarish settings to screen because the world we live in is terror incarnate, with constantly oscillating threats and fears to tap into. For example, all of our kaiju, monster, alien, and slasher genres are interconnected as what-ifs that fall into the category of uncontrollable events. They are how we made sense of a changing world with the macabre bleeding into the edges. They were how we coped when all hope seemed lost and normalcy was a phantom memory…if it ever existed at all…
Image of COVID-19 Patient and Mass Graves.
The reality of life amidst an actual pandemic and not one of the tv or movie variety is that it's wretched, truly and unfathomably, wretched. No single film or the entire ___demic genre itself could have prepared us for the horrors of this. We…well, some of us have experienced this devastating reckoning.
Life is precarious.
Death is constant.
Exhaustion is par for the course.
Slapdash and suspicious vaccines don’t mark an end for the virus just because we want it to be over. There are millions (if not billions) of ‘long-haulers’ that may never fully recover to a healthy way of life as they previously knew it. Many are still blatantly navigating the world maskless, many will never get immunized (for a myriad of reasons), and plenty are still mass gathering even with the inherent risk and danger known. The past 12 months have felt like a decade, even though we’re only in year one of the pandemic. The new year is steadily approaching and I wonder what 2021 will even look or feel like. A roll of the die says more or less of the same. Maybe we’ll get (un)lucky and get an admixture. With all of the allusions I’ve been making, I might as well state it, pandemics are a gamble. You don’t know what apocalyptic scenario you’re going to get because ‘we’re all in this together’ — beyond the movies.
Please maintain social distancing. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. 🖤
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