When “Locked Down” premiered in January, it provoked eye rolls from critics. Telling the story of a pair whose imminent separation is placed on maintain by a stay-at-home order, it was among the many first motion pictures to be completely written and filmed throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
As its title suggests, the story addressed modern struggles. However detractors posited that the movie missed a possibility to discover the shared anxieties of nationwide lockdowns, whereas others conceded that it may need been higher obtained with the advantage of a number of years’ hindsight.
When the undertaking was first introduced, the pandemic had been raging for months although vaccinations have been nonetheless a distant dream. The story of a relationship examined by way of a compulsory stay-at-home order may need appeared, from a studio perspective, like a no brainer: In fact folks may relate to it.
However for audiences which will have been a part of the issue, in keeping with Karen Dill-Shackleford, a social psychologist at Fielding Graduate College and editor of the journal Psychology of Fashionable Media.
“There are two methods of dealing with trauma: lively and passive coping,” mentioned Dill-Shackleford. “Some folks like to interact extra with the information surrounding the pandemic as a result of it makes them really feel as if they’ve some management over it. Others cope by way of avoidance, and for them escapism is essential.”
Crucially, nevertheless, there is no such thing as a single kind of story audiences need to watch, she added. “We now have totally different wants relying on our lived experiences, and people wants additionally change as we course of our trauma.”
All through the early months of the pandemic within the US, many viewers gravitated in the direction of reveals and flicks that they had seen earlier than. “Folks don’t desire any surprises within the media they devour after they have sufficient uncertainty of their every day lives,” Dill-Shackleford defined. “They should know that every thing seems OK ultimately.”
Inundated with every day updates about case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, some folks could have discovered consolation in re-watching reveals as a result of they did not must pay shut consideration to what was taking place on display, Dill-Shackleford added. When actuality calls for our fixed concern, it could be comforting to disengage from the surface world and let our minds amble by way of a narrative about mask-less youngsters discovering a promenade date.
On the different finish of the spectrum, nevertheless, loads of viewers have been searching for out depictions of fictional pandemics. Because the virus instances surged throughout Europe and closed in on the US within the first months of 2020, so too did downloads and streams of 2011’s “Contagion,” a film about an American girl who returns from a visit to Hong Kong because the unknowing provider of a novel respiratory virus. By mid-March, shortly after the World Well being Group declared Covid-19 a pandemic, “Outbreak” (which portrays the frenzy to comprise a fictional, ebola-like virus in California) grew to become the ninth hottest film on Netflix within the US.
Erase or embrace?
This bifurcated strategy to media consumption could have left storytellers uncertain of whether or not — or to what diploma — they need to broach the social, monetary and bodily points surrounding the pandemic. Ought to they lean into the trauma by providing consolation and solidarity to viewers, or ought to they ignore the pandemic fully by depicting an alternate actuality through which the phrases “social distancing,” “lockdown,” and “important employee” had by no means entered the mainstream lexicon?
The reply, in keeping with Dill-Shackleford, is a convincing “it relies upon.”
“The choices to painting the pandemic on display are extra intense than different storytelling choices,” she mentioned. “Writers and administrators do not know which a part of their viewers they’re offering a service for and which a part of their viewers cannot deliver themselves to look at.”
This is not the primary time studios have confronted such quandaries within the wake of a lethal occasion — and their approaches have assorted. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as an example, manifested in Ishiro Honda’s 1954 movie “Godzilla” as a creature that wreaks havoc on helpless residents. Reasonably than shying away from fears of nuclear holocaust, the film mirrored Japanese nervousness round nuclear destruction.
Conversely, after 9/11 many US storytellers prevented tackling the tragedy head-on. A number of TV reveals that have been set in or round New York, like “Intercourse and the Metropolis,” and “The Sopranos,” merely eliminated the World Commerce Heart from their opening credit following the assaults fairly than analyzing the impression it may need had on the characters’ lives.
Some reveals have taken an analogous strategy to Covid-19. The brand new “Gossip Lady” reboot, as an example, started filming final November, although Covid-19 seems to have been eradicated within the fictionalized New York Metropolis through which the story is about.
However collection revolving round frontline healthcare employees and grocery retailer staff, like “Gray’s Anatomy” and “Superstore,” clearly felt extra obligated to painting their experiences on-screen. Probably the most distinguished examples of pandemic storytelling got here from season seven of ABC’s comedy “Black-ish,” which explored the methods Covid-19 affected members of the Johnson household as they work, attend faculty (by way of Zoom) and reside in shut proximity to at least one one other.
At one level, father Dre (Anthony Anderson) slumps down on the sofa and admits that he is been feeling irritable and anxious, complaining that “nothing feels regular.” His anesthesiologist spouse, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), shakes her head sympathetically and responds, “Nothing is regular, Dre. We’re disinfecting containers … I microwaved our mail yesterday. So it is comprehensible that you just’re burdened, sweetie. We have no of our regular coping mechanisms … We’re used to dwelling life with certainty and we do not have that anymore.”
Dill-Shackleford mentioned that this sort of on-screen trade demonstrates the therapeutic potential of media. “In some ways — and particularly as we’re struggling within the second — we depend on these tales to make us really feel as if we’re not alone,” she mentioned.
Advantage of hindsight
At this stage within the pandemic, Dill-Shackleford mentioned, depicting Covid-19 stays a double-edged sword. Even amongst viewers who’re comfy speaking concerning the occasions of the previous 18 months, there may be “a sure stage of exhaustion” with the subject.
“With some folks (who’re) changing into vaccinated and beginning to slowly carve out a brand new regular, the very last thing they need to do now could be be reminded of the top area they have been in a 12 months in the past,” Dill-Shackleford mentioned.
For others, particularly these dwelling in areas with surging instances and hospitalizations, we’re “nonetheless in the midst of dying and illness” and “coping with points with vaccine hesitancy,” mentioned Chrysalis Wright, the director of the Media & Migration Lab on the College of Central Florida. “Some folks merely haven’t got the space,” she added, to “sit again and luxuriate in” a film exploring these heavy themes.
Wright believes future renderings of the coronavirus pandemic ought to flesh out the nuances in the way it affected totally different segments of our societies.
“When sufficient time has handed for us to replicate on this period, I would love to see motion pictures and tv reveals that take into consideration these experiences,” she mentioned, including that the impression of Covid-19 varies in keeping with folks’s backgrounds. “For instance, present how the pandemic disproportionately affected Black Individuals; talk about the rise in hate crimes in the direction of Asian Individuals.”
Those that went by way of significantly traumatic experiences, reminiscent of shedding family members, shedding a job or fighting psychological well being points, could naturally draw back from content material that forces them to relive their ordeal. However, Wright mentioned, most of the people will profit from having these tales produced for mass consumption.
“Even if you cannot abdomen sitting by way of these motion pictures or tv reveals, it is vital for different folks to have the ability to perceive the far-reaching repercussions of the general public well being disaster from different views,” she added. “Seeing totally different experiences represented on display helps set up empathy between folks of various backgrounds.”
As nations world wide try to revive a semblance of normalcy, audiences may hunt down narratives that showcase early pandemic experiences as a method of attaining closure, mentioned Wright.
“If we see a personality shedding their job, fighting working from dwelling, or navigating distant studying, it validates us,” she defined. “If we did not do it completely, it is superb as a result of no one did it completely.”
No matter viewers’ present media consumption habits, each Dill-Shackleford and Wright hope that future portrayals on the pandemic will encourage discourse about particular person and collective experiences alike.
“If a present or film chooses to handle the pandemic, I hope they achieve this in a method that helps their viewers assume by way of the occasions they’ve lived by way of,” mentioned Dill-Shackleford.
“There is a bidirectional expertise between ourselves and the media we devour,” added Wright. “Media displays our experiences and, on the identical time, it influences our behaviors and future experiences.”
Prime picture: Jude Regulation within the 2011 film “Contagion.”