Courtesy of Netflix

April 14, 2020

YANG | Before We Ponder Upon What Is Normal for Life After COVID-19, Watch ‘Sense8’

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Our culture has been drenched in catastrophe porn for decades. We fetishize the annihilation of the current because we loathe a future with no hope. But still, what is happening is difficult to swallow. We did not anticipate such a crisis to creep out of our post-apocalyptic fetish and strike us as the new reality. Many of us would willingly accept the coming of an apocalypse as our fate if it is something otherworldly, like The Walking Dead or The Road. Instead, this time we are told to stay at home and watch things fall apart. The dread is precisely in the eerie familiarity of what we are experiencing. It hits too close to home without obliterating the home altogether.

We are several weeks into this sweeping era of Miss Rona. The exact start of the period remains undefined. Our sense of time has been numbed during this ongoing phase of rapid transitions. We are constantly bombarded by information in the form of a morass with no clear point of return. An end to the era is up in the air with constantly extended timelines and contingencies contingent upon hypotheses.

Now, we are officially one week into Zoom University. Traumas and chaos persist in a different form as we are forced to to cling onto the normative temporality of life. We must hand in the assignments no matter what. We must pass the classes this semester no matter what. We must find our summer internships no matter what. We must graduate in four years no matter what. We must enter the job market no matter what. I’m not too confident in how we’re supposed to follow the predetermined trajectories of our life when the contexts that framed the world we were born into no longer hold true.

Our generation was born into a world defined by neoliberalism. All the contemporary injustices we are familiar with can be condensed in this term. For the two decades that constitute our entire life, we have been socially conditioned to be in the pursuit of neoliberal ideals to flee from uncertainty and instability. We have learned to rationalize the ubiquitous extension of the market and the associated precarity of such mode of livelihood – until now. Still, many consider this only a temporary nuisance that will be resolved in a timely fashion. Our free market will fix everything and prevail, right?

It seems we are more willing to accept the end of the world than the end of neoliberal politics.

We live in a different world now. Things won’t go back to normal in a few months.. Yes, we will certainly be done with lockdown and travel bans in the foreseeable future. We will eventually “reopen America” as politicians so enthusiastically proclaim, even though they’re referring to the economy while I discuss our society. But either way, we’re never going back to normal.

There’s nothing normal to go back to. Our world simply was not normal before COVID-19. The prior state was merely framed to be normalized. This mayhem is high time that we rethink our way of living. What might our future hold? What has to be changed from the status quo?

To cogitate on our life after COVID-19, Sense8 is the show to watch. The Wachowskis show follows the story of eight strangers across the world making sense of their newly discovered shared consciousness that transcends the limitation of human relationships in a physical space – Will from Chicago, Riley from London, Capheus from Nairobi, Sun from Seoul, Lito from Mexico City, Kala from Mumbai, Wolfgang from Berlin and Nomi from San Francisco.

Sense8 metaphorically resembles what it is like to use the Internet and social media. In a way, their tele-connection is analogous to how new media can be perceived as an extension of our body, our brain and our inner consciousness.Their way of connecting links their mental prowess with one another like a cybernetic system. At a time when people are radically refashioning our ways to stay connected, Sense8 is an avant-garde show to draw inspiration from. It offers a refreshing narrative that prompts the rethinking of our relationships in preparation for the post-Rona age. Sense8 essentially asks the question: What are we craving in our connections, our communities and our society?

Sense8’s ensemble cast is perhaps the most diverse  of the streaming era of television history. The sheer diversity it brings to the table is empowering. The eight characters who would otherwise never cross paths learn from and grow with each other through their transcendental bond. They challenge all forms of classification that divides us. Be it gender, race, religion, class, nationality or culture, Sense8 is telling us to conquer all by love.

It may sound interesting, but for entertainment-sake, is Sense8 a fun show to watch? I have to admit it is very challenging to deliver an intriguing pitch without ruining the fun. Spoiler-free summaries of sci-fi shows often suffer from sounding generic and abstract because they are about the unfamiliar and the unprecedented. Given how costly it is to build an otherworldly setting from a production standpoint, sci-fi shows are high-risk investments that are disdained by risk-adverse studios. This is increasingly the case with the implementation of algorithmic decision-making in the TV industry. In a way, Sense8 will probably always be too weird for a mass audience, at least according to AI.

Not surprisingly, Sense8 struggled with low ratings when it was first released. It simply was not adequately advertised. It was not until later that its robust online fan community resurrected the show on Twitter. But still, Sense8 didn’t avoid the common fate of sci-fi shows – it got cancelled after two seasons.

So am I telling people to watch a show that has been cancelled? Yes, and for very good reason. While the show is far from perfect, it sparked something unprecedented.

At the core of Sense8 is the audacious faith in human kindness. This makes the show distinct from the conventional sci-fi critique on neoliberalism that typically ends with the annihilation and then the rebuilding of civilization. The power of Sense8 is in how wholeheartedly hopeful it is about humanity. Analogous to the case of COVID-19, it is breathtaking to watch a society that closely resembles our own standing up to the same contemporary issues with a trascendental mentality that echoes radical sympathy and unconditional love.

That is exactly what we need before we ponder upon what is normal for life after COVID-19. I believe it is only normal if we focus on what is better for humanity.


Stephen Yang is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Rewiring Technoculture runs alternate Wednesdays this semester. He can be reached at [email protected]