Let’s look at our choices for sedentary distraction these days. You can think about it, sitting there at home, flipping channels and seeing all those thousands of options, before finally settling on something you’ll get halfway through. But now is not the time to focus on our painfully short attention span. Now is a time to consider survival, and how many of our most popular entertainments have been preparing us to live in a fictional universe where everything has fallen apart.
We have zombies, immediate environmental catastrophe, aliens, monsters, evil plots, government ineptitude, horrible accidents, and yes, extinction event diseases. And we watch so many of these grim soap operas that, when something vaguely resembling the horror we escape staggers along, then somehow we think we will be the ones who survive.
Of course it all gets blown out of proportion, some loosely or tightly written plot, with either a heroic ending, or the end of everything; occasionally we find a figment of hope should our main characters get back on the road to nowhere (Yay! A sequel!) And we start to see in this fantasy a certain hard truth, one which reflects the hopelessness too many people in this fractured age attempt to bury through shrugging and blaming others, political activism (often little more than the same thing), or non-stop motion, a churning panic we can convince ourselves is nothing more than hard work.
I don’t want to condemn (and I certainly don’t wish to point fingers, at least on this topic), and I should admit that I suffer from many of these doubts as well. It is hard not to, one terrible thing happening after another, each making the other things worse. And we are hardly ever prepared for serious danger, often shutting off our minds and refusing to accept it. “I’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it. They’re just trying to scare you, to take something from you. It’s bullshit–it’s all bullshit! Yeah, some people are getting sick, and some are dying–but what about the flu? The flu kills a lot more people!”
Yes, what about the flu? Is that really what we wish to turn to in order to make ourselves feel better, another dread, killer disease that actually kills more people? Influenza has only been diminished through many years of hardship, with struggling geniuses not so much inventing a cure, but offering possible prevention. With the current virus nothing of the sort exists. You can’t take NyQuil or Theraflu for relief, because medicines like these only knock you out. And if you’re having trouble breathing, if your cough is narrowing and constraining your throat, things can only get worse.
But I was talking about apocalypse, which I do not wish to pretend this is (although the Vice-President of the US, Mike Pence, whom the President has put in charge of the Coronavirus Task Force, has refused to even bother taking a test. I suspect, being the hyper-religious kook that he is, he recognizes a biblical sign, the fact that the four horsemen seem to have all descended upon humanity). Yes, the end of the world (or end of humanity. A virus is more like our planet’s defense mechanism. I am sure she will be fine once all of us are gone). We often embrace “the end of the world,” rambling this phrase out half in jest, relating it to some gruesome work project set before you, or having to deal with all those kids and their parents at your four year old’s birthday party.
We are already primed for the end of the world. We seem to always expect it. We watch the action-adventure violence of people who would never really survive should such circumstances strike. We maintain hope in fiction, which I guess is why people started writing out such entertaining lies in the first place. As distraction, as something to get you through whatever plague (viral or otherwise) is ravaging humanity, day after day after day. We all claim to be survivors, but no, that isn’t the case at all. All we can do is struggle to put off the inevitable, like a star defensive lineman on an awful football team.