I have been plagued (no pun intended) by a sense of a déjà vu these last few weeks.
At first, I brushed it off as too obvious. If some people have had the sense that life is being written by a fourth grader
I and a whole lot of other people have had the sense that life is actually being written by the creators of Z-Nation, Resident Evil, and the Walking Dead (just check out this eerie photo of Atlanta, where the Walking Dead first takes place). At the start, it seemed like every newspaper and cable tv news segment were part of the opening scenes to a zombie apocalypse movie (which is in fact exactly what the copy writers at the Independent wrote below this photo gone viral (ha!) of Thailand after the lock down there).
And who else hasn’t had the sense that the writers of these disaster/viral apocalypse books and films were fortune-tellers? Only the writers of shows and films like 3% (Netflix’s Brazilian dystopian show) and Elysium predicted with eerie accuracy a time when low-wage workers are left behind to serve the uber wealthy who are safe in a bubble of their own and have access to food, state-of-the-art medical equipment, and technology while nations which had first shut down their borders after a period of robust ultranationalism have all but disappeared. Seriously, Coronavirus has ruined dystopian, disaster, and zombie apocalypse movies and television series for me, they were supposed to be escapist fantasies with a mild acknowledgement that they are projecting a distant possibility of our future if we don’t heed the warning signs.
But it turns out that these apocalyptic news segments and films and series were not the sources of my déjà vu. Although, I will say that as the death toll has risen and our streets, restaurants, and offices are emptied and shuttered, I suddenly see the Walking Dead in a whole new light. It is an extreme, and physical version of the gorgeous and haunting HBO series The Leftovers.*
Nor did I have the sense that it’s the glitch in the Matrix that’s the source of my déjà vu either–our computer overlords script happy realities for humans.
Out jogging in my now very hushed neighborhood this morning, it finally occurred to me:
Every night, on NBC, I’ve been watching Ross and Phoebe debate each other. One a respected scientist, the other throwing around personal unscientific opinions and personal hopes and beliefs that things will work out. And every night, I’ve seen Ross forced to swallow his pride, hide his expertise, and give room to Phoebe’s asinine arguments and unfounded beliefs.
Yes, I did just compare the current president of the United States to Phoebe from the tv show Friends. I mean, come on! You know you all heard Ross’ voice there! And I know you see it too, now! (Ok, fine. Phoebe is adorable and sweet. But would you take medical advice from her?!?)
A while ago, David Hopkins wrote a brilliant piece about the Ross-Pheobe phenomenon and our society titled, “How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization.” We don’t trust or believe experts anymore, but funnily enough, everyone is an expert and has a valid opinion (confused for fact) and demands acknowledgment that they are correct. Which has lead to a whole series of “Don’t confuse your Google search with my MD/PhD in…” mugs being sold and placed on the desks of dejected and, as a very real consequence of the devaluation of education, unemployed experts. Cases in extremely relevant point: the shut down of the CDC office in China and the firing of the pandemic response team. (And don’t even get me started on anti-vaxxers who don’t believe decades of research and the billions of people on the planet who have been vaccinated–including themselves–but believe one faulty study.)
Unlike Hopkins, though, I don’t blame NBC or Friends for the downfall of society. They just bet and capitalized on a growing trend in society. (Ok, so maybe they helped exacerbate the situation.)
But I am almost tempted to think that NBC–which was the home of the president’s former reality tv series, the Apprentice–is scripting our current reality.
Except for the fact that NBC has never really been into viral apocalypse films and series.
Oh wait, never mind.
They own Syfy.
And they are both part of the Umbrella Corpor.., errr, I mean, Universal conglomerate.
*When a third of the population mysteriously vanishes, those who remain, the “leftovers,” are left to deal with the psychological trauma of life, love, and even pain interrupted as they mourn their vanished. The zombies of the Walking Dead are the biting, brain eating physical versions of that guilt as they loose loved ones over and over again as the unstoppable contagion spreads and humanity devolves into something wholly psychotic just for the sake of survival.