Dahlia Schweitzer: How to stop coronavirus panic? Analyzing Hollywood outbreak narratives offer clues
As enjoyable as fictional outbreak narratives may be to watch, do not confuse Hollywood entertainment for our current reality. Do not get caught up in the panic of sensationalized sound bites. Do not get distracted. Do not be manipulated into fostering ignorant fear or hate. We are not living through Steven Soderbergh’s “Contagion” (2011) or Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” (1995). What we are living through is the reckless destruction of American infrastructure.
As I discuss in my book “Going Viral: Zombies, Viruses and the End of the World,” the outbreak narrative reveals and exploits anxieties related to three types of increasingly ineffective boundaries: first, between your personal body and your fellow citizens; second, between individual nations; and third, between “ordinary” people and potentially dangerous disenfranchised groups.
Understanding these anxieties can help us deal with the very real crises we now face. Significantly, the outbreak narrative also exposes various ways these anxieties have been constructed and commodified. While it is true that fear may be a result of a particular situation, it is also a product of social construction, shaped by cultural scripts that instruct people how and of what to be afraid.