Updated: Dec 21, 2020
“Are you not entertained?”
—Maximus Decimus Meridius, from Gladiator
Proposition: The Corona Virus is a self-fulfilling prophecy because we're bored. Have you noticed that there's always something to worry about? There's never a pause or a moment to reflect. There's always a calamity. And not just in our personal life, but in the world at large? I'll speak specifically of America (since I'm American). Take the last four years. Donald Trump elected President presages the end of the world. What follows: Brett Kavanaugh and the #metoo movement. Then the Mueller Report and Trump's Russia collusion. A hot minute later, Trump's impeachment. On its heels, our present problem, concern, worry, doomsday pandemic: the Coronavirus. Have we not weathered many such storms? Watergate, AIDS, Mad Cow, George W. Bush? Remember the panic of Y2K? There's always sumthin'. And this hearkens back to the original proposition, that most human beings need something external to fill up their lives. We're extrinsic by nature, we humans. We need our days mapped out, the hours accounted for. It's funny to me, this edict from on high to stay home, to not go out and interact with others, to self-quarantine, to remain in isolation. Online, the gnashing of teeth, the wailing and bemoaning because everyone's bored out of their minds! What are we to do, stuck at home all day? Can anything be worse? Thank god for Netflix!
Well, being a lifelong introvert-artist who stays at home most of the time anyway, I haven't noticed much of a difference. In fact, one could say I've trained my whole life for this moment. But artists are "funny ducks", as my father used to say. Like Hamlet, we could be bounded in a nutshell, and count ourselves a king of infinite space. It reminds me of the Lars von Trier film, Melancholia. In it, the main character suffers from crushing depression with no relief. Then an asteroid is discovered that's headed for Earth and soon will snuff out all life. And while the rest of the world loses its shit, the depressed main character rises to the occasion and shines like a beacon! But that was a movie and this is real. And in real life, most humans need countless distractions to get through the day. (Can you say Social Media?) And of course it's not all bad, the day. Nor is it all good. It's mostly treading water, neither sinking nor reaching the shore. And this has become our lives, a kind of bland indifference, devoid of destiny and dreams. And between Davy Jones’ Locker and that chaise lounge on the beach is us, moving our arms against the current malaise, the ongoing nothing. Or rather, the ongoing not-much. Never underestimate boredom! So we seek something (anything) to keep the black dog at bay. Enter Social Media. Whatever happened to suffering in silence? Now a hangnail or stubbed toe is breaking news! We've always been bored. We're human beings! And we've always needed to fill this void so we don’t drop into Club Abyss for that last round. In the past, this has inspired great men and women to do great things! To face their own darkness and transcend it, and in the process, change the world! But with Social Media, the individual is subsumed by the collective. Instead of setting forth on the hero's journey (which must be begun alone), we've abandoned heroism altogether, and destiny is a thing of the past. We've shelved personal accomplishment in favor of the collective regard of the banal. But intrinsically, we sense something missing. After all, we're descended from great, resourceful souls who forged their own destinies. We didn't get this far by watching TV and giving in to mindlessness. But the world has changed around us. Beneath Social Media's daily bombardments we need greater and greater stimuli to feel alive. So out of this self-made ennui, we create greater and greater calamities to fill the virtual horizon. The latest: the coronavirus. A month ago, it was a global footnote. Now, we're in a post-Apocalyptic landscape—at least in the toilet paper aisle of the grocery store. And sure, this is a real disease with real people getting sick and dying. But when we zero in on every single statistic, it's hard not to see it as fear-mongering. In America, nearly 36,000 people die each year from car accidents. That's almost 100 each day. But still we love our cars and we drive as much as possible. Yet, we might feel differently if the news media reported every car fatality with up-to-the-minute diligence and end-of-days fervor. So how do we combat the boredom? As Betty Draper said in Mad Men, "only boring people are bored." So it comes back to the individual. To us. When we no longer look outward for fulfillment is when we can find our authenticity. Like it or not, we're each of us, unique. Although we do our damnedest to conceal it.
(This essay appears in my upcoming book, UTOPIA—short stories, poems, & essays.)