First, I want to thank my family for being with me through all of this. I could not get through this without them. This has been a trying time for all of us. I’m here today to announce that I have tested positive for the coronavirus. I’m coming forward in the hope that I will continue to inspire people suffering from this horrible burden to keep bravely fighting and dreaming. I also hope this will help break the stigma white men have attached to this condition and the sufferers of it…
That is a little taste of what will no doubt be a feature of our lives in the coming week, as famous people take turns staring in their own corona drama. It has already started a bit, with people like Tom Hanks and others announcing they have tested COV-positive, but the flood gates will surely open once we run out of hoarding stories. You can be sure that musical performers are plotting some sort of corona-aid performance, perhaps done on-line, to draw attention to themselves.
We live in an age in which everything is a performance. Not just any performance, of course, but a morality tale. The “famous person making the dramatic announcement to the public” version is pretty common. Twenty years ago, famous homosexuals would have dramatic coming out ceremonies. Some would make a drama of announcing they got the AIDS. The point of the performance is for the actor to get both sympathy and admiration for being a heroic victim, bravely fighting on.
Our politicians got in on the act in a serious way back during the Exploding Mohammad pandemic of the last decade. Whenever a random Mohamed would detonate in a public place, the politicians would organize a public piety festival. They would lock arms and march around symbolizing unity. Maybe there would be a candlelight vigil. The candle makers really boomed in the exploding Mohamed times. The media would show a few cute white girls crying and hugging at the event.
Ceremony and ritual, of course, are essential elements of every human society, even the most primitive ones. The point is to reinforce and refresh the shared reality we call our common culture. Ceremony reminds us of the rules that define us as a people and the ritual ties us to the history that made those rules. The point of them, often the explicit point, is to strengthen the rules that not only bind the people to one another, but legitimize the social order and the people at the top of it.
Those dramatic arm-locking displays by politicians after a Mohamed exploded were about making sure no one questioned the people in charge and the logic of importing these exploding Mohameds. Similarly, the celebrity announcing that they are the victim of something, real or imaginary, is about social signaling. The celebrity is free-riding on some trend in order to bolster their status as a famous person. They are a good person and deserve to be rich, famous and influential.
We are seeing a version of this as local officials compete with one another to see who can impose the most outlandish conditions on people. First someone banned public events, which led to everyone doing it. Then it was public gatherings, even private ones, then the forced closure of retail establishments. Now you have this loon banning gun and alcohol sales. Not to be outdone, San Francisco is banning people from leaving their homes. The city’s bum population is exempted, of course.
The people doing this put on their best concern face and bravely march to the nearest bank of cameras to perform their serious act. You see, they really don’t want to do this and they regret having to make such a big deal of it. It’s just that events have forced them to bravely impose a huge cost on others so they can get some public adulation and the dopamine rush that comes from it. You haters out there snickering are just running dog lackeys of the coronavirus!
Of course, the reason we have a panic right now is the politicians have been influenced by the expert drama queens. These are the people who play experts on cable chat shows and internet sites. They come up with impressive looking claims about how this will be an unprecedented plague, not seen in human history. Never mind that these people have been wrong about everything in the past. We don’t have time for that. The world is at risk unless we act now! The crowd cheers and the curtain closes.
If the lunatics in charge do manage to pull the roof down on civilization this time, it will be a fitting final act to our Dionysian age. Politics is always about morality, but in a democracy, it is a never-ending morality play. The various actors appeal to our emotions, rather than our reason or even our self-interest. The winner is the one who gets the loudest applause. That always comes from wringing as much emotion from the crowd as possible. The good pol always leaves them in tears.
Compounding it, we live in an age of plenty. Well, we used to. The post-scarcity age removes the obvious reasons for having a ruling class. That means the people in charge, especially the petty tyrants of local government, must always find reasons to remind the public that they are still needed. That means manufacturing crisis and drama. Every change in the weather is now anthropomorphized. Light rains storm Harvey now requires schools to close and people to shelter in place.
That’s what we are seeing with the corona show. Public officials and their suddenly famous science people are performing their role in a live action role playing game called pandemic. Instead of having a paintball retreat, the ruling class is forcing the rest of us to skip work and hoard toilet paper. They get to feel like heroes, while the rest of us wonder if we will be standing in bread lines next month. Rest assured though; our nations actors will be okay. They are brave and concerned.
Part of what makes this work is that some portion of the public is willing to play the role of concern troll, the usher that tells members of the audience to behave. When someone points out the idiocy of a curfew in San Francisco, a city with tens of thousands of bums crapping in the streets, there is someone in the crowd to lecture him about the seriousness of the situation. Over the next weeks, everyone will be hectored by these idiots on social media and in their daily lives.
In the end, something that has been obvious for a long time, but is now becoming quite clear, is that this process ends with a real crisis. The final act leads to a real threat to society and the real need for competent leaders. If they do manage to crash the system this time, public tolerance for girl politicians suddenly drops to zero. Everyone suddenly figures out what things really cost and the price of the public drama queen makes them a prohibitive leisure item in a time of want.
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