If there is one thing that Covid-19 virus has shown us so far is how distorted is our collective civilisational mirror. How obsessed we have become with entertainment and anything ‘interesting’ – equating it with everything valuable in life – and, in the process, how much we have neglected ‘useful’. Aldous Huxley had put it very pithily in the foreword for his probably most famous book ‘Brave New World’ (Revisited) – and as remarked upon by Prof. Neil Postman in his book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’: ‘the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”‘.
Now, straighforwardness, simplicity of everything (particularly life itself and its core values), simple pastimes, simple jobs, simple lives, simple narratives, simple pleasures are back with a vengeance. Because we have no choice. We are yanked out of our infinite trivial comfort zones and distractions and, just for a few weeks at least, another landscape of life is in our view. In that Alice-like landscape, at least for our whoresome eyes (to paraphrase Keith Richards), everything is upside-down.
What used to be boring, menial, low-paid, socially dissed and toxic jobs denominating losers, have turned out to be, when life gets stripped of all of its meaningless status symbols, the most important, the most valuable, the most useful occupations. The lifeblood of a society. Shelf-stackers, till people, drivers, seamstresses, various mechanics, civil engineers, health planners, nurses, teachers, cooks, statisticians… Suddenly, the whole panoply of the invisible and the irrelevant have been thrust into the public eye and, even more than that, public relevance.
A hitherto wretched delivery guy on a bike has acquired a near-saintly social gleam, reminiscent of The Postman.
We now see it in our houses, too. I once read a research figure stating that a significant percentage of the UK adults (I think it was something around 40%) are incapable of staying in their rooms without any distraction for more than 15 minutes! I don’t think it’s much better anywhere where the ‘Western’ lifestyle has been adopted, or at least aspired to. Despite all the cable channels, endless internet, incessant chat on social networks, we can’t move around. We are locked in. It’s how Guantanamo would have looked like if it were designed by Netflix.
To no avail, because we still can’t escape the walls. We have to face our everyday ourselves more often than we are used to, our partners, children, relatives, flatmates… Warts and all. We have to think of getting supplies in, making food, obsessively cleaning, filling in kids’ time, negotiating peace in the house. We are now forced to be all those things that we have turned up our noses to. We have to be teachers, cleaners, cooks, family entertainers, crying shoulders, priests, more frequent lovers, mask and glove protocol reminders, health info intelligence officers… We have to be responsible in different, more real, more tiring ways. Career suddenly seems like a distant concept. Mission in life is survival. Priorities have shifted, at least for some. Hopefully, for good.
Social capital is getting redefined as well. It is more important to know the A&E guy who can get you to hospital quickly, or the local doctor who may triage you into the ICU over the guy who lies on the stretchers next to you. Knowing a pharmacy sales person can save you those precious few masks or packs of diabetes pills. These are the people we would now like to have around our dinner table. All investment bankers, marketing executives, YouTube influencers, real estate agents and other charismatic ‘silicon sisters and management misters‘ can go and fuck themselves! We now need useful solidity, refreshing, life-saving boringness of ‘just’ professionals in non-glamorous, essential, fundamental, everyday matters.
Hopefully, we will re-allign our civilisational optics, at least a little. We will be reminded why all those professions matter, as they deal with life itself, outside of the artificial, modelled, hyped up, glamourised and mythologised predatory and parasitic strata who have been revealed, beyond any doubt, as nothing more than societal value vampires. They suck our life blood, and we are mass-trained to love them for the skill they show in doing it, to aspire to join them. To stick our necks out happily, gladly, to receive the blessed bite.
This wretched virus may turn out to have a silver lining, too, like the last world war. The immesurable suffering of tens of millions, global destruction and some of the worst atrocities ever commited in the history of the human race were a wake up call. We got the New Deal, United Nations, European Union and many other planetary instruments that kept the enemies of ‘the better angels of our nature’ at bay. Until now.
This pandemic is already tragic. It will scar Italy, Iran, maybe Spain, probably forever. But, it may also expose naked – despite many warnings in the last 10-15 years – the true nature of the modern extremist, predatory, cruel, segregating and planet-destroying financial system. What the Isis is for Islam, and KKK for Christianity, Neo-Liberalism (and its corresponding Euro-Asian Neo-Feudalism) is for capitalism.
In the process, it may show how distracted we were by the global Dopamine Industrial Complex, otherwise known as the ‘entertainment industry’. How amused to death we have become. How negligent of our true priorities. How distracted. How boredom-hateful. How attention-illiterate. The Age of Corona may reset us, at least a little. It may remind us of what REAL life actually is and that all of the most important things in life, as someone once said, are both free and already around us. But we, almost Matrix-like, need to be able to see it.
Corona could be our Red Pill.
Lazar Džamić is a lecturer in Digital Marketing at the Faculty for Media and Communications in Belgrade and one of the foremost brand and marketing strategists in the region, with more than 20 years of strategic marketing experience in one of the most competitive markets in the world.