The German government has produced a series of amusing Public Service Announcements about Covid-19. (Yes, you saw that. I used “amusing” and “Covid-19” in the same sentence.)
The videos resemble those videos that documentarians put together with interviews from survivors of some great tragedy. The older person reminisces, and some actor portrays that older person in the flashbacks.
The conceit? That the heroes of the pandemic . . . stayed home. Ate. Played video games. Got bored.
The Germans show them with medals and with scrapbooks and with a mask pressed between the pages of a book. The theme: we had different plans, but the world called on us to make a sacrifice. The world called on us to do . . . nothing. Or in German, one of the language’s shortest words. “Nix.” Nothing.
You can see these videos here. https://www.radio.com/kluv/news/german-health-department-releases-funny-covid-19-psas
The conceit is fun for a variety of reasons. Just by existing, the videos grant hope. We are going to get through this, they say, and people will want us to remember, to add to the historical record. There is a future.
But they’re also fun because of the stories of heroism. The real heroes of this pandemic are our overstressed healthcare workers. My God. Holding an iPad so people can say goodbye on Skype. Hugging the dying. Putting in twelve-hour days with no time off at all.
And then there are the virologists, the epidemiologists, the scientists, as I’ve been saying all along. The superheroes who are coming to rescue us.
They have a vaccine now. Several, in fact. And we’re on the cusp of having them delivered. The day before I wrote this, the U.K. approved a vaccine and is working on getting it to the population. We have plans, nationally and statewide, to deliver the first doses of vaccines which will go—here in Nevada, anyway—to health care workers, first responders, people who work in prisons and nursing homes and other enclosed environments, nursing home residents, and . . .…
And then we wait. For the next batch of vaccine to be delivered. And the next and the next. If we’re lucky, we’ll all be vaccinated by August.
The problem is that the U.S. has a large population that’s anti-science. They don’t believe in vaccines or in the ability of our medical community to help them. Their disbelief is as infectious to the people around them as the virus is, and just as deadly.
We all need to do our part. Not just by staying home, but by getting the vaccine when it’s available.
Recently, a Twitter post went viral. It said (and I paraphrase) that we have to remove the idiom “avoid it like the plague” from the English language because apparently humans don’t do that. Yeah. I know. Who would have guessed?
Oh, wait. All of those writers of post-apocalyptic fiction, who chronicle the human failures that lead to the apocalypse. Sometimes I listen to the news, and I think I’m in one of those awful prologues to a post-apocalyptic movie. Or some sideways thriller, with the news on in the background, harping on this virus, virus, virus.
It feels weird to be here, actually living two prongs of a science fiction novel. Prong one is the disaster, with the attendant human stupidity of the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers (not to mention the politicians who are flaming this idiocy). Prong two is the heroic scientists and the truck drivers and the freezer manufacturers and the planners who get the vaccine to everyone.
Forty years from now, historians will write about this period. They’ll dissect each action, figure out who was to blame or what cause led to what effect. They’ll get those of us who are still alive to relate what we did or didn’t do in this time, and they’ll try to get a sense of it all.
Or maybe not. There aren’t a lot of histories about the 1918 flu pandemic. Most of what’s written is combined with the aftermath of World War I, which pretty much got subsumed as the prologue to World War II.
I don’t think the lack of writing about the flu as a straight historical narrative is an accident. There’s not a lot of writing about the Bubonic Plague either, not as a straight historical narrative. As part of something else, yes, but not standalone—unless you’re dealing with a history of science book or a history of disease book or a history of medicine book.
I don’t think that’s an accident, either. We humans don’t like to be sick, so we don’t like reading about being sick. Besides, surviving plagues and pandemics looks a lot like what we’re going through right now.
Those who want to avoid the illness stay home, stay away from others, do nix as the Germans said in their PSAs. That’s tough to write a dramatic narrative about.
The dramatic narrative belongs to the health care workers, the first responders, the governmental officials who aren’t sleeping because they’re trying their damndest to keep their constituents alive. There’s drama in that, maybe more so now, because medicine is not in the dark ages (literally).
I’m sure there will be books about the race for the vaccine. The opening chapters will be harrowing, as the virus spreads like wildfire around the world. There will be an example here and there of what one community is suffering through, and how many people died—the continual sounds of sirens in the night (as reported by my New York City friends) or the nightmarish conditions in Italy in April or the sheer early terror in Wuhan.
But then the topic becomes too big for historians, and they’ll pivot. They’ll find the perfect hero scientist to illustrate the vaccine part of the story, the CEO of some corporation to illustrate that part of the story, and the creative person in some small town who makes it possible to get the vaccine early to tell that part of the story. Historians will identify the villains, big and small—those politicians who actively killed their constituents with their terrible “it’s a hoax” advice, the people who are trying to profit from the vaccine, and probably some villain I haven’t even heard of yet.
It’ll make for good reading, or good watching, primarily because it’s not going to dwell on the sickness itself. It’ll focus on the active parts of the story. Not the kid trying to get comfortable on his couch while watching videos, like the German PSAs show. That’s not drama. That’s . . . real life. Life in 2020, as we all wait.
What an extraordinary time we’re living in. The one thing I do know about those future documentaries is this: It will be impossible to convey the depth and breadth of this crisis, impossible to show all its destruction and its effects, impossible to show the everyday heroism that we’re seeing in hospitals around the world.
When the histories really are written about this time, they’ll only capture a tiny bit of it. I hope the historians do watch those PSAs, though. Because they really do capture the now. And the difficulty we all have remembering that what we’re doing is important.
Even if we’re just sitting on our butts. Every day. Waiting for the future to arrive.