Turning inner space into outer space

October 28, 2020

This pandemic is like the bleak, never-ending Barrens

The Barren Grounds, from

There is almost no mention at all of the Spanish Flu in popular culture.

People of that era looking for entertainment likely found it in celebrations of the end of the First World War. They wouldn't have had the stomach for yet more misery in the form of portrayals of a devastating pandemic.

Also, it would have been just plain difficult to describe the worldwide calamity created by the Spanish Flu. Millions of people died, almost every community was affected. How do you weave something of that scale in to the plot of a book or movie?

If I were to try to describe to future generations what the COVID-19 pandemic is like, I would compare it to a bleak landscape extending to all horizons. It's a terrain you have to cross, and even though everyone else is in the same situation, you mostly have to do it in isolation.

It makes me think of Farley Mowat's description in People of the North of the Barrens — that massive section of the Canadian arctic inhabited by few and explored by fewer. He quotes a letter from a former RCMP constable who had gone into the Barrens to pursue a murder suspect. He barely made it out alive.

I guess it was the emptiness that bothered me most. That damn and bloody space — it just goes on and on until it makes you want to cry, or scream — or cut your own damn throat!

It's not just the coronavirus that's taking its toll. The fear, despair and isolation have eroded many people's mental health.

For some this is a fatigue that refuses to go away. For others it is anger at the world or even the year itself, knowing all the while that it is irrational. Some say to hell with the isolation, go out and party, and get sick — they just don't care any more. Others despair that these times will ever end, that even with a vaccine ready in record time, things will never be the same again. We may forever be trapped in the Barrens.

And so I predict there will be precious little mention of COVID-19 in the popular culture of these times. We want to be entertained, not depressed.