Writer and filmmaker Julio Vincent Gambuto published an essay recently, predicting that the return to “normalcy” in our country will involve the biggest gaslighting project ever put in motion. That is, media outlets everywhere, of all types, will not only be selling us on the critical importance of ramping up our lives in short order, they will also be telling us that the pandemic wasn’t as bad as we remember it. All the body counts, the dire shortages of medical personnel and equipment, the millions of unemployed workers, the government’s totally incompetent response to the crisis – those things got a lot of news coverage in the moment, but really….that was then, this is now, we’re over it, and it was all exaggerated, anyway. Best just to move on and not make a big deal out of it, not believe our lying memories.
I have no doubt that Gambuto is correct: the propaganda machine will be working overtime to bury the sad stories and the ugly headlines. We’ll be encouraged to look at the pandemic as a time when we all pulled together and spent weeks of quality time with our families. We honored the heroes who worked in the hospitals and warehouses and delivered our food. The negative parts will be swept under the rug. The TV slogans of, “We’re all in this together,” will change over to, “We’re all getting back to normal,” and that will be that. The unfortunate ramifications thereof will play out in the future, to our detriment.
The point in Gambuto’s article that really made me sit up and take notice was his assertion that the pandemic could be seen as a tremendous gift to the world. In that light, what we’re going through could be called the Great Pause. It’s a chance to push the Reset button. In our enforced collective solitude, we’ll have the opportunity to take a breath and evaluate our lives. Then, when we push Play again, we’ll know what we do and don’t want in our lives, what should be left out, and what should, conditionally, be allowed back in. As Gambuto puts it, because this Great Pause, “… is rarer than rare, it has brought to light all of the beautiful and painful truths of how we live.” And, by extension, how our country lives.
From a mile up, Gambuto offers an amazing perception. Taken at the extreme of objectivity, he’s spot on. The world has never stopped before, so we have a point of view no society has ever had. The essential question is, will the gift be accepted and internalized? I predict that the answer will largely be, “no,” for a couple reasons. First, most people just aren’t geared to think that abstractly. Critical thinking skills were abandoned in classrooms almost half a century ago, along with anything smelling even vaguely philosophical. The 1980s evolved into the “Me Generation” for a reason. Second, and more visible, there’s simply too much disaster going on for many people to look up and see anything beyond surviving today. If you’re the parents in a family of four and one or both of you has lost a job, the Great Pause is terrifying. If you contract the virus, or a family member has, and the illness becomes critical, that’s all you’re thinking about. If you’re a nurse slogging through 14 to 16 hours at at time, you don’t have time for contemplation. If you work in a warehouse or a grocery store and you risk your life every day, endless shifts and fear are most of what you know. If you’re self-employed, and your gig has dried up or your business has shut down, there’s no upside. In short, for the vast majority of people in this country, there IS no silver lining here: considering the metaphysical nature of this time in 2020 is not on the radar. Granted, we as a nation should not be in the dire straits we’re in; most of the debacle was preventable. But we have to deal with things as they are, and not how they should be. How they are is that people will be overjoyed to have jobs again, to go to restaurants and ballgames, to gather with friends. The Great Pause will quickly sink out of sight. And that, perhaps, is the worst casualty we’ll suffer in the long run.