Why does pandemic-related TV feel so meaningless?
Today was the day I scheduled my first-dose vaccine appointment. It is also the one-year anniversary of what was probably a top-5 lowest feeling of my life, experienced eleven days into my quarantine due to isolation. I know this because I wrote a blog post about it. You will never see that post; it lives forever in my drafts, a messy, depressing, embarrassing screed. You just need to know that I'm doing much better than I was then.
But during what was ultimately a year with (I think) a significant amount of growth for myself personally, I still always felt this rage at the people who did this to us bubbling below the surface. At least every couple of days I would think about it and genuinely want to scream.
Throughout this pandemic, I've spent a lot of time using media for escapism, as most of us have done our whole lives. But there was also a fair amount of media produced about the current times. Most of it was terrible and made me feel things I did not want to feel.
Here's what I don't want: I do not want anything that attempts to relive the early moments of the pandemic when the world turned upside down. Maybe there will be a time for that, but for now, it just scares me and pisses me off. There was a nonfiction show that aired last fall that tried this. No spoilers, but if you want to know what show it is because you think you would have the same reaction to it that I did, you can find out by clicking this link. Critics were giving this show a lot of praise, praise I mostly agreed with, but they especially hyped up this one particular episode. The twist was, of course, COVID-19. During what seems like a pleasant installment, the pandemic hits, and the show has no choice but to veer off into the queasy beginnings of what we're all still living through.
But I also don't like any of the traditional media that tried to make us feel more warm, and more together. As misanthropic as that sounds, it was completely rote and uninspired, and I'm not just talking about shit like "Imagine". In the mess of all the Zoom reunions and jokes about masks, traditional media produced exactly two effective feel-good things to watch:
That's it. The rest was a complete waste of time, and that includes Parks and Recreation. Why is that? I think that episode and the one I talked about earlier are both made by extremely talented teams and even had the potential to be good. But they feel empty, because they're missing the feeling that's been here the whole time, but can be so hard to really feel because of all the malaise, and that is rage. Anything else that intentionally reminds me of this pandemic is worse than unsatisfying.
I've found that the entertainers who are actually good at talking about these trying times™ are the people who have the runtime, quick turnaround, and independence to really get into it, and the people who were already good at talking to their audience directly: podcasters, bloggers, and YouTubers. In the podcast space, Stay F. Homekins was a genuine beacon of light that talked honestly about the anguish of this horrible time. Corbin Smith's QUARANTINECAST 2020 was a similarly effective look at the frustration of it all, most notably in its terrific end-of-2020 episode "A Lengthy Survey on the Matter of Annoyance", in which a whole bunch of writers talk about the most annoying thing that happened to them that year (many go well beyond what we would typically call "annoying"). In the blogging space (or "blogosphere", as it's technically called), one of my favorite pieces of pandemic-related writing was Maria Bustillos's heartbreaking essay "The incalculable". And on YouTube, Some More News kept me and thousands of others up to date on the various ways society was being exposed as a lie that week.
Also on YouTube was this sharp video essay by Big Joel, titled "We Don't Talk About Donald Trump: A Case Study".
I haven't stopped thinking about this video since I saw it. For one, it's a really smart critique of the exact kind of thought process that leads to such a vapid COVID discourse. But I am also fascinated by how unique it feels. Hearing Henry say, "It was his right to murder us, and we know that for a fact because nobody stopped him" is painful, but also incredibly cathartic, because it looks at the situation with a clarity that we rarely hear for some reason.
I have consumed unfathomable amounts of media over the course of this pandemic. Watched dozens of seasons of television, played hundreds of hours of Apex Legends. It is undeniable that that has been a vital lifeline. But I also feel like for the first time in my life, escapism has failed me, because the emotion I really feel is just out of my grasp.