We were expecting fire and brimstone; instead, we got endless discussions about how to work from home. But can the tedium of coronavirus help us picture a better world?by Caspar Salmon / April 8, 2020 / Leave a comment
Nobody said it would be boring. We were expecting fire and brimstone, the breakdown of civilisation, food wars, and wild-eyed neighbours foaming at the gills. What we got instead was rolling news, lesson plans, celebrity content, cookery tutorials and a Sunday Skype with nan. Looking back now it seems obvious: of course the scything illness, when it came, would take over gradually, becoming a disease of our collective consciousness more than a ravaging plague.
This isn’t to minimise the horrors of the pandemic for those who have experienced it first-hand—but it seems striking that even as the situation develops, so many are still attempting to live normal lives. The very abnormal thing in our midst feels like a collective disease, a needling worry; lightly infecting our actions, rather than shutting us down entirely.
The question of why movies never show people going to the bathroom is a seesawing one throughout one’s life: when I was a teenager I thought it so spicy and far-out—“wait, whoa whoa whoa, guys, it’s true, why does Indiana Jones never go to the loo?” Later on, of course, the more sensible adult kicked in. The question was absurd, the deranged ravings of a puerile mind. Of course movies never show toilets. They’re here to show a synthesised version of real life, and must cut to the chase, give us the good stuff—they aren’t a compendium of facts and drudgery.
Nowadays, as a critic, I have started to swing back around on the toilet question. I want to see one movie—just one—in which characters need to be excused at a restaurant before pudding; a movie where someone’s bowel complications make them cantankerous; a man under-washing his hands. I would love all this, and other everyday things besides: I would kill for just one scene, in any film, depicting somebody checking their phone casually rather than for receiving plot information, and laughing at what they see onscreen.
But the movies are afraid of banality: more so than novels, which have generally proven more adept at incorporating the humdrum. The film world has tended to focus on pure action, and on heightened scenarios that favour drama over realism. For this reason, it may be that many people have a visual lexicon for illness…