The end of the world is either always happening or never happening. Every day, diseases ravage families and communities, economic systems fail to meet people’s needs and social systems pit people against each other. The spread of coronavirus has made this vulnerability particularly visible to people who are used to consistency.
As we’re muddling through the myriad abrupt and confusing changes that have been thrown into our lives by the virus and the University’s response, it’s important to have this perspective. Leaving chosen homes full of friends, losing springtime in Ithaca right as the crocuses pop up and wondering if or when you’ll ever don a cap and gown are surely gut-wrenching. But COVID-19 is disrupting lives in so many more, um, virulent ways.
Loss of income, housing, and support are already here. Lost lives will also come.
One of the uncanny consequences of the world ending all the time is that few of the things that we think are new and scary about this pandemic are truly novel. Artists have been noticing, thinking about, imagining and proposing solutions for bits and pieces of these catastrophes. Isolation gives us some time to hear them out.
1. Expand Perspective on Isolation
Lots of people are socially isolated regardless of quarantine for a whole host of reasons. ‘The Outside World’ can be a hostile place, in particular for people who are disabled or chronically ill. Some people who live mostly isolated lives have shared bits of their lives through YouTube, social media and podcasts. They show some of the difficulties of long-term isolation, but also challenge the pervasive and aloof stigma that isolation is universally unhealthy and unfulfilling.
Isolation isn’t new and it’s not unfulfilling. Do things you enjoy, use technology to keep up social connections and dedicate time to making the world a better place.
2. Read (or Re-Read) a Classic Dystopian Novel
If you don’t think you’re living in a dystopia, reading 1984 or A Brave New World is a great way to change that. Sure, we don’t live in a world exactly as Orwell or Huxley framed it, but there are striking parallels to be explored.There’s tons of dystopian fodder filling up YA sections, but something about Orwell and Huxley strikes the right nerve.
If you grew up with The Hunger Games, a return could also be instructive or meaningful. It was so much fun to read dystopian fiction as a kid, before a teacher told me that they are intended to be a warning or reflection for the world that they are written into.
3. Listen to some Folk Punk
The exact definition of folk punk is still unclear to me, but it’s riotous fun, careful cultural critique and all-around a helpful thing for moving through the world. There’s lots of great folk punk, and its genre cousin antifolk, out there for the listening, but here are a few go-to’s.
Dishing out comfort in times of crisis and thoughtful imaginations of a better future, Kimya Dawson’s got it all (plus some fun kiddie songs!). She’s not afraid to imagine without limit what our world could and should be, and she writes with unfettered earnestness.
Out of System Transfer played last semester at Cornell and delighted me with their pithy, screechy songs about anarchy, revolution and Alaskan sled dogs.
Against Me! is more hardcore than I am, but when I’m angry, they’re right at my level.
Mal Blum has had one of the most creative responses to Coronavirus tour cancellations I’ve seen: they’re hosting an online concert/Q&A livestream this Friday night.
4. Read a Book by Naomi Klein
This may not be either art or entertainment, but I’ll go for it. Naomi Klein’s recent books on climate change elucidate how the current climate situation is intertwined with a swathe of oppression and violence, and the need for them to be addressed in tandem. One of her earlier works, The Shock Doctrine, explains how crises (“shocks”) are leveraged by those in power to reinforce hierarchies and oppressions. Her works are clear and informative and may give us some warnings and inspiration for how communities can respond to the shock we’re living in.
5. Watch a TV Show About Something Unfamiliar
The world is wide and complex, and isn’t it wonderful that art gives us some window into it? Ramy (on Hulu) and Master of None (on Netflix) are two shows that put me in the living rooms of families unlike mine, and have been two of the many shows to shift my perspective on what living in America is like. While these are just depictions of other types of suburban young adulthoods, there are so many corners of the world brought into television by creators who want to bring to screen their experiences that are so deserving of an audience.
We’ll never fully know what it’s like to be someone else, and certainly a TV show can only get us a bit of the way there, but they may give us a glimpse of a world that we’ll never live in. Who knows? Maybe we’ll develop some empathy.
6. Make Some Art
Yeah, these are stressful times. Get your mind off of your life, try something new, don’t be afraid to be bad. Draw cartoons and mail them to your dad. Paint flowers with watercolors and mail them with a love letter. Or play your favorite songs on guitar just for you.
Katie Sims is a senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Thursdays this semester.