The lock-downed toilet paper hoarding of March was followed by the cabin fever of April. May brought claustrophobia that spilled into the streets during June’s civil unrest.
The movie industry had collapsed by that time, but it feels gauche to bemoan the loss of Summer blockbusters alongside the consequential events of 2020.
Hollywood blockbusters are a metaphor for America itself: loud, expensive, shallow, obsessed with image, and really fond of firearms. But at their best, the heroes of Hollywood blockbusters provide an important place in our collective culture. They entertain, yes, but they also provide a shared language and an experience to gather around.
You, whoever you are, have been drawn to blockbusters, the best of which make us feel like we are a part of the action, on a heroic mission to save the day. You are captivated by the myths and, for a thrilling couple of hours, you believe it.
Those myths were entirely absent this Summer. For the first time in what has felt like forever, there hasn’t been a single hero to watch on a big screen, caped or otherwise. And it’s been a long, lonely Summer as a result.
In fact, the longer the COVID-19 pandemic wears on – due to failures of leadership, poor public messaging, refusal to comply with best practices, and an American individually that is, ironically, a staple of Hollywood blockbusters – the more we hunger for movies.
From Luke Skywalker to Ripley, Indy to Ethan Hunt, John McClane to Iron Man, America has had heroes to rescue us each and every Summer. But not this year.
Instead, the Summer of 2020 has been marked by anxiety, crippling loneliness, and an existential disillusionment with heroism. The human need for contact has become abundantly clear, even if it is anonymous physical proximity created by a mundane movie theater designed to numb us with Dolby sound.
Our Nerds on Earth Discord has been eerily quiet. Whereas before we’d chatter on incessantly about the upcoming Marvel movie we couldn’t wait to see, we now seem to mope about our days like downcast cartoon characters who shuffle aimlessly about as a tiny raincloud follows them along, just overhead, dousing them with cold rain.
Loneliness and isolation weren’t created by the coronavirus, it was just the pandemic that brought them to the surface. Both the big screens of blockbusters and the ubiquitous tiny screens all around us have been occupying too much of our attention for far too long.
Now the screens that entertained us have given way to even more screen time in form of countless hours of Zoom, necessitated because screens are now the place with catch up with mom, go to school, host birthday parties, and go to work.
This has been 500 words of grim reality that won’t be cured by a Hollywood blockbuster, even if it stars Captain America. Yet maybe Captain America’s heroic words can give us a bit of hope when he says, “I can do this all day.” Because we are faced with many more days of it and we will get through it.
Because although we don’t wear spandex and we aren’t blockbuster movie stars, we can engage in small, heroic actions. Comply with widely established best practices like wearing a mask. Vote for leadership that isn’t grossly self-serving. Take care not to spread harmful messages online. And just like the heroes in blockbuster movies, look out at the community that surrounds you and take action to make it a better place.