This is not a zombie apocalypse

Far from the horrors of Contagion, by Soderberg, this real life version is strangely uplifiting.

Last night I watched Contagion. What was it about a pandemic disaster movie that appealed to me right now?

I was craving an overview. When you are in living through history, it can be helpful to have an artist’s perspective, a birds eye view. An artist like Soderberg is renowned for his ability to weave complex scenarios, individual stories into one narrative. I wanted to know: how does the story develop? How does it end?

I was impressed with the first half of the film. It was eerily close to the news footage that we have all watched in disbelief over the past few weeks; the spaceman outfits, the speed of shutdowns, the failures of leadership, the empty stores and lack of vital equipment all rang true.

No writer could ever anticipate arias sung from balconies would become a social movement in solidarity and resilience. Noone would have imagined that a veritable army of 4 million citizens would volunteer to help their overstretched NHS in one day. Could anyone have predicted that Beethoven’s Ode to Joy would go viral? No writer could have forseen that free online content would keep us calm and help us carry on.

Ode to Joy played by the Rotterdam Philarmonic Orchestra

Hollywood gives us violence, carnage and rage because that makes a good story and sells tickets at the box office. The picture here in England is mostly polite queuing and quiet concern: instead of breaking into our neighbours houses, we’re happily doing their shopping.

Suddenly we have a reason to know people next to us we may have previously ignored. Conversely, dear ones far away are drawn close. If I am going to be doing Facetime with my friends anyway, it makes little difference if they are here or abroad.

Our boundaries are shifting, have shifted in a week.

On TV I carefully study the bookcases, wallpaper and random objects behind the heads of the many experts, journalists and politicians who now talk to us from their attics, home offices and livingrooms. It would seem that however clever and important they are, at home their workspaces are much the same as mine. I feel I will be sad when these intimacies are tidied away again. It’s a great leveller.

Hopes, fears, laughter, recipes, infographics, anger, frustration, nonsense, tips and jokes. We are building resiliance, helping to adjust to the New Normal. Now that we’re here, it’s real, the door is closed, each person is coping in the way they know how to cope with extraordinary circumstance. Today my devout Catholic mum is streaming her Sunday service and I am downloading a yoga class.

Some are reading, cooking, playing. Some are praying. Some are sitting alone afraid, drinking wine. But we are sharing all this with eachother — on the phone, on social media, in short snippets of conversation over the garden fence, “How are you finding it?”. We are listening, agreeing, helping.

In an effort to organise locally, I, with many others have had to haul myself over my techno-shyness into a new arena of teleconferencing. Attending multiple zoom calls, contacting other volunteers and establishing trust, solidarity and friendship with strangers. Unthinkable a week ago.

Yes there are conspiracy theorists. But possibly lessons have been learnt and the relevant platforms (you know who I mean) have pricked up their ears since Brexit and the Trump election. The big media companies have been holding the line with a constant reiteration of the message: Stay at Home, Save Lives. Which was quickly reiterated as ‘Stay the F*ck Home’.

We have considered what it means for Our Generation, whichever generation we are. We have considered what this means for The World. Closer to home we have discovered perhaps for the first time, the joy of a local grocer, fishmonger and butcher. Yesterday I received a delivery of fresh fresh veg at my door from a man I have barely met who left a crumpled note detailing the price and his bank account. Such trust.

On a grander scale we have witnessed our governments abandonment of the rules of Western Capitalism as if they were actually listening to the demonstrators in Hazmat suits outside Downing Street who demanded (was it really only two weeks ago?) “Pause the System”. With many experiencing for the first time the warmth of state blanket and the homeless finally housed we wonder:

Money is pouring into the health service, gourmet restaurants are preparing nurses daily lunch and in my city health workers can park anywhere for free. Finally the perks are going where they are deserved. The world is tipping on an axis and the compass now points towards humanistic values. Yes there is fear. But there is kindness in quantities no Hollywood producer could imagine.

Contagion features a lone scientist working on a vaccine. The current picture is an international collaboration on a scale never seen before. Teams of Chinese doctors in Italian hospitals, transglobal vaccinne testing and a race to find a cure that may be compared in history books to the Space or Arms Race. Who could have imagined that the world could respond collectively with such grace? In a world obsessed with military might, where health and social care budgets have been downgraded for decades, who could imagine that health workers would walk out of their hospitals to be dazed by collective applause?

We are uniting as family, neighbours, friends, citizens of the world. We are helping eachother across the street and across oceans. Far from the horrors of Contagion, by Sonderberg, this real life version is strangely uplifiting. An air of social concern has swept across our shuttered streets. OK not everyone is behaving. There is still inequality, there is still injustice. And for many the closed doors are a jail sentance. There are undoubtedly issues unravelling that we cannot yet see….

But what we can see gives us reason to hope. The truth, as always, is stranger than fiction.

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