Life inverts art?
This week I recalled (faintly) a 1971 made for TV “ABC Movie of the Week” entitled, “Death Takes a Holiday.” In the story ‘Death’ is personified in human form for a three-day weekend to try and discover why humans so tenaciously cling to life. For three days, while ‘Death’ interacts with the main characters—who are on a vacation retreat—, no death is visited on anyone anywhere on earth. It was a remake of the (1934) film-version starring Fredric March and based on an earlier play of the same name. 1934 movie trailer:
The novel coronavirus pandemic makes it feel as though the premise of the film has been inverted. Now, in our grief, it feels as though most everything has taken a holiday—that is, except the suffering/death we’re learning to associate with Covid-19.
Curious words have been getting some high profile usage lately: apocalypse/apocalyptic. I’ve seen doctors, nurses, and other interviews on TV news, many using the terms “biblical” and “apocalyptic” when they describe the reality they are witnessing as health professionals in their experience of the pandemic.
Is the Covid-19 pandemic apocalyptic, then?
Apocalypse, it’s a word that has some exposure/currency in secular society (it has a pop-culture conception and familiarity, e.g., such as the 1979 film, Apocalypse Now, for instance). However, it’s also a technical term in the theological realm—e.g., a literary genre built on a particular worldview. The pop-cultural understanding tends to emphasize the eschatology (end-time narrative) aspect of apocalypse. While eschatological language does play a part in apocalyptic literature, over-emphasis on end-times can miss the prophetic dimension of apocalyptic narrative. Theologically, apocalyptic narratives serve to affirm and apply to present-history legacy/current judgments of the prophets. That is, frequently apocalypse points to real-time-history to uncover/reveal prophetic wisdom/truth.
‘Apocalypse‘ is a Greek word meaning “revelation,” an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling.
So, last Wednesday on The Today Show, in considering the present recession, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell said: “This recession is different, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy, quite the contrary…” [my emphasis]
Now, I don’t doubt in any way that Powell genuinely believes what he’s saying. There are ways to look at it that produce the same conclusion that he draws. I do wonder, however:
- How can an economy producing a half-million homeless people be fundamentally right?
- How can an economic system that does not have fundamental troubles produce three individuals who together own more wealth than the bottom 160 million Americans?
- How can a trouble-free economy create a nearly impossible situation for the 50% of U.S. workers trying to make ends meet with a low/minimum wage job?
- How can an economy be right when it creates a reality in which between 20-60% of Americans (and many small businesses as well) live from paycheck to paycheck and so have no savings set aside for a rainy day? —this calls for another discussion because, for instance, a 2015 Nielsen study found 25% of American families making $150,000 or more a year live paycheck to paycheck. However, I’m not referring to that. I’m talking about people who are struggling to even modestly meet basic life expenses (e.g., taxes, rent/utilities/food/transportation/healthcare/clothing) in America. Again, Rent Is Too Damn High!
- How can an economy that is not fundamentally unjust create a system in which an estimated half-million families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills?
I’d assert the current pandemic is technically not an apocalypse. The Covid-19 story [the reality of this pandemic] is disqualified as a true literary apocalypse because “could not be known apart from the unveiling” isn’t applicable here. Serious inequalities have been visible to many people for some time. Still, I would argue that for many—who, for as many reasons, could not previously see them—the Covid-19 crisis does indeed surface/reveal some very troubling facts about our economic system.
While our unsustainable economic inequality has not been hidden from view, systemic affluence/privilege affords many people preoccupation with all manner of distractions. This keeps systemic injustice in the (Orange [ER]) shadows of the privileged. Safer-at-home orders and attending economic-shutdown created by the Covid-19 pandemic have cut through our distraction and presented the inherent injustice of the U.S. economic system in stark relief.
See also: Easter Apocalypse
[this post approx. 815 words (3 mins)]
I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?
Note: I know, trying to introduce a big-picture idea like Spiral Dynamics (a complex developmental anthropology) in this format is ambitious. So, I’m using a serial-approach. Blog introduction (June 30, 2018). First in series (July 1, 2018).