We know, inevitably, the Pandemic of 2020 (and sadly, 2021) is going to eventually work it’s way into fiction. Humans use fiction to make sense of things, humans use real events in fiction to ground them, and known things sell books.
But what will the Pandemic of 2020 do, specifically to American media and fiction? I asked myself that recently – and then found myself standing on a precipice of imagination, looking into the unknown.
The Pandemic of 2020 is, for America, an unmitigated disaster, with 200,000 people dead as of this writing. We’re humiliated in the eyes of the world, our politics in chaos, our social media clogged with conspiracy theories, and no end in sight. Right now the biggest source of Pandemic fiction is people lying about the situation or making up stories to grift money or excuse our failure.
How do we fictionalize this?
If we step back, the Pandemic of 2020 looks like a badly written novel. If you had composed this a decade ago, would anyone have believed it? America having the worst outcome in the world? The CDC losing face? 200,000 deaths? This would be a made for TV movie or hack novel at best.
I asked myself again, how do we fictionalize this?
So as I stared into this abyss of the unexpected, I’ve come to a few shaky conclusions. Perhaps this is in my own head as I try to cope with the insights as well as the Pandemic.
First, I don’t expect to see “Pandemic In Fiction” as a theme for awhile. We’re still in the middle of it, and crass and exploitative as some media is, I don’t see this becoming widespread. Also we’re sick of it, and there’s little market for it when you’re living it.
Second, I expect any fictionalization of the Pandemic of 2020 will be politicized or seen as politicized. You can tell the most honest researched story, and some hack pundit will decry it for hits and to push products. In time this may pass, but not for a few years.
Third, I expect to see many a fiction piece that are political fiction of the Pandemic of 2020. Some will indeed have agendas, pundit ranting aside, and you can expect plenty of apologia and non-apologia. It is my hope this is minimized in the face of harsh reality, because even if I agree, crass fictionalization of important things may not do any good.
Fourth, I expect fictionalization of the Pandemic will have no middle ground. It will be done in wild metaphor or fantastical parallels in world of magic and science fiction – or it will be tales based on real life. The uncomfortable middle ground where we mix hard fact and big dreams will be too ambiguous, too uncomfortable. We’ll want the abstract fantastical – or the painfully familiar – because that middle ground is where speculation runs and harsh truths emerge.
We’re ready for Godzilla and Alien Plague, or for two people at a coffee shop decrying the state of life. We’re not ready for fiction with enough fact that the speculation cuts us.
The near future of Pandemic Fiction is going to be not much different than we have now, a mess of politics and agendas, the fantastic and the on the nose, and people arguing over it. It is my hope in time we can confront our experiece and our history with the power of imagination, but for the short-term I fear a muddle is where we’re headed.
May we reduce the time we’re in that muddle so our writing may clearly illuminate the human experience, our lessons, our losses – and those responsible. Because we’re doing it half-assed now.