• Current Events
Ben Vanelli

This article by Ben Vanelli ‘21 takes a look at how the media, specifically Hollywood, will handle and represent the COVID-19 pandemic. 

How many modern tragedies have we experienced? And I don’t mean as a species -- think of the tsunamis in Japan, earthquakes in Haiti, or the 40 million people still stuck in the middle of the contemporary slave trade. I mean as Westerners -- as Americans and Europeans, Japanese people and Latin Americans, the biggest demographics of Hollywood, California, USA. 9/11 comes to mind-- I wasn’t born then, but the media definitely used it at the time, with Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising, Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour, and especially Paul Haggis’s Crash. What about that unofficial war in the Middle East? I have not been affected one bit by that, but the likes of Jessica Chastain, Jeremy Renner, and Kathryn Bigelow have been made into Tinseltown superstars because of it. 

Then COVID-19 happened, and with it, the countless, and I do mean countless, amounts of phrases that are now forever associated with it (“Unprecedented times,” “social distancing,” yada yada yada, I know you’ve heard them all). And now the question is, what’s Hollywood’s move? How about literature and music? Poetry, comic books, video games? How do they use the pandemic to appeal to an audience?

Big news: it’s already happened.

Locked Down became the first project of note about the pandemic’s effect on the world to be released, and saw a January 2021 release on HBO Max. Haven’t heard of it? Well, it wasn’t exactly a critical success, despite the star power of Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Wikipedia labels it as a “romantic comedy heist film,” which is exactly the kind of schlock we as a populous should expect from Hollywood’s ignorant take on an event as big as a global pandemic, as they chose to focus on a crime-romance, above all things, instead of an in-depth, or at the very least, sentimental, look on how this event has affected the lives of people who were already in bad shape, pandemic or not. Besides this, Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie became the first film to be entirely written and filmed during the pandemic. But while its two characters are indeed confined to a single house as the setting, its plot has nothing to do with COVID. Now we can wonder: what will come next?

While it may be possible to compose most or all of an album with this pandemic as a single subject, the topic just doesn’t seem to hold the same devastation as 9/11 did, for reasons unknown. As for television and film, I can definitely see mini-series and documentaries coming out of the COVID era, some of which will probably be very precise and emotional. But when it comes to Hollywood, I get worried. When they read a script, the only question on a producer or executive’s mind is “How much money will this make me?” Unfortunately, this means that small-topic and intimate films about the pandemic’s more macabre effects could be few and far between, at least in my mind. Instead, it’s likely that we’ll see more big-budget crime takes on the isolation aspects of the virus or movies whose only gimmick is that it’s happening during COVID. 

That’s not to say that these movies and shows can’t be good, and if they are, then I say enjoy them. But the fact that there’s already a lack of empathy in Hollywood’s takes on one of the deadliest viruses we’ve ever seen as human beings is telling. The message it delivers is that these people either do not know or do not care how the average American has been affected by this thing. And while I have hope that there will be a good amount of media that handles the virus with the empathy, respect, and maturity that it deserves, I believe with no doubt that there will be plenty of entertainment industry pinata parties celebrating a box office success that gave little more to audiences than two hours of popcorn-munching, mindless entertainment at COVID’s expense.