• Unblock TV Box Reveals All About COVID, America, and Maybe Sweden

    June 10, 2020

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2020


    So is this it? The last COVID column? Writing from New York I feel behind the curve (we’re still locked down) much as returning from Iraq and wanting to tell everyone what I saw only to learn most people had already changed the channel.
    We didn’t all die fighting over the last ventilator. Human colonies still exist in Georgia and Florida. Six Flags is gonna reopen soon. Joe Biden re-appeared in public (masked so he couldn’t hack up a new “gaffe,”) Trump is still president, the stores are full again with iJunk from China and despite any real imagined “Second Wave” (remember ISIS? The Yazidis? Kurd genocide?) it looks like most Americans are kind of done with this. We tend to binge watch now anyway, and the good part is over.
    Not for me. To pass the time inside while I wait for America’s governor to realize the COVID zombies on NYC streets are actually just our homeless emerging from the subways to molt, I’ve been watching TV news from around the world.
    I bought a Chinese-made streaming device of ambiguous intellectual property rights morality that delivers over 700 free TV stations from around the globe. I’ve made a little obsession watching COVID news from dozens of countries in English where I can find it, some in languages I know a little of, some in languages I can’t even identify. Grossly unscientific as well as probably a little illegal, but if you watch enough of it the patterns become very, very clear.
    No nation on earth tore itself apart over a virus response like the U.S. There was plenty of debate globally over the right thing is to do, but it all appeared intended to be productive and not politically-motivated destructive in nature. Not to say the U.S. media didn’t try to show the leadership they claim the world wants from us; while the BBC headlined new vaccine trials, CNN ran a report based on “sources” claiming the four countries which make up Great Britain are at odds with each other over how to respond. CNN even helpfully reminded Americans “Wales and Northern Ireland too often feel like an afterthought.” Indispensable nation FTW!
    In Italy, the news simply reported the Prime Minister announcing the sensical “We’re facing a calculated risk opening in the knowledge that the contagion curve may rise. We have to accept it otherwise we will never be able to start up again. Italy would end up with a strongly damaged economic and social structure if it waited to relax distancing measures until a vaccine becomes available.” The headline on what would have triggered calls for impeachment if not in the U.S. translated into something like “Relaxing social distancing is a calculated risk.”
    Perhaps most importantly of all, I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their leader was literally trying to kill them, to the point nightly news in America is still weeks later falsely reporting Trump wanted people to drink bleach. This is more than one item on this list. It is the core of America’s failure, the willingness to believe their government is not simply men who make mistakes, but men out to kill them. You can’t get past that, forgive it, correct it.
    No other media I found globally did what the NYT did on May 24, just ahead of Memorial Day, devote its front page to the names of COVID-dead Americans, the first front page in four decades to be just words, no photos or graphics. One has to go back to LBJ and the Vietnam War to find something similar — hey hey LBJ how many kids did you kill today? people chanted — holding the president himself directly responsibility for the deaths of individual Americans. LIFE magazine later devoted most of an issue to the photos of the men who died in Vietnam one week (which included Memorial Day 1969), a shocking sum of a failed policy. In 2020 the social/MSM toadies took the Times’ bait, and superimposed images of Trump golfing over the names. For readers who know history, the connection to Vietnam was undeniable. The direct responsibility link seems however more a creation of 2020 than the realization it was in 1969. The message’s intent was unambiguous: he killed them.
    I found no other nation where a large number of people were convinced their neighbors were also literally trying to kill them by not wearing masks, or any place where the decision to mask or unmask is seen so significantly as a political one. In Taiwan the government said people should wear masks, and then distributed them, and made extras easy to obtain. In other places cops hand masks to people who aren’t wearing one. Everyone in Japan just put them on. Americans weren’t sure where to find them and had to create their own masks via little handicraft projects, and then have to make heart-felt decisions multiple times a day under the judgement of strangers. Outside the U.S. a mask seems to just be a mask, whether you’re wearing one or not.
    People nearly everywhere they are able to criticize their government did so, and the debate in the UK and elsewhere over decisions was robust (they don’t all like their leader, either.) But nowhere except the U.S. was everything on TV so centered on blame, looking backward, rather than getting it right, look forward.
    No where else did armed protesters challenge their government. No place else where government decisions on which stores to allow open are so closely tied to broader over-arching national political themes. In no other place did anyone cry “give me nail salons or give me death.” I saw nowhere else where the response was so geographically different, where in one region bars were open and in another the police arrested people for not having a mask.
    America is the only place using the virus to justify less public transportation.
    With the possible exception of China responding to U.S. criticism, I cannot find any place that made the virus into a signature foreign policy issue, and feinted toward punitive actions to come. Borders got shut, then opened, as expedients, not as sneaky answers to unresolved immigration policy.
    No place else seems so determined to find new crises within the crisis — the virus yes, but in America we had a sub-crisis-of-the-week. Not enough tests, not enough doctors, not enough PPE, not enough ICU, not enough ventilators, no enough lockdown. And of course each sub-crises comes with its own sub-blame game.
    Not everywhere holds press conferences. Swedes tune in to the dry daily news conferences that pace like farm price reports. Of course the U.S. press have always been aggressive questioners, but I cannot find anywhere where open mockery and loaded passive-aggressive questions so dominate any discourse. This follows through to the “news” itself, so much of which is simply name calling, saying people are bonkers, stupid, mentally ill, incompetent, corrupt, and liars. This has uniquely spilled over into entertainment. It is very difficult to find anything produced in the last few years labeled in America as “comedy” that is not just name calling and mockery aimed at one side of the political spectrum. I cannot find anywhere outside these United States where media stars attack each other, where networks engage in ideological name calling, and claim each other distorts the facts to the point they are producing foreign propaganda, are anti-democratic, or are a literal threat to the nation. You get a little of that during Prime Minister’s question time on the BBC, but they are much more clever. Otherwise, you have to read the tabloids for it.
    No other nation has a cheerleading squad embedded in its media happy when a possible cure fails. Except when talking about America’s reaction, everywhere else hydroxychloroquine is just another medicine to be evaluated. Hope is rationed in America because it is a political weapon.
    I see nowhere else people wish fellow citizens get sick and die to prove a political point — You reopened too soon! You didn’t wear a mask! You voted Republican so die! Your third-party vote will kill grandma! I don’t see elsewhere the U.S.-standard told-you-so story, something with the headline “Barber Who Defied Lockdown to Cut Hair Tests Positive.”
    Racism is not unique to the United States but I cannot locate anywhere else where it is so embedded in the way the nation talked about or dealt with the virus, real stuff or imagined. Same for a search for “communities” hurt more than you by the virus: LGBT people, immigrants, Asians in general when just Chinese are not enough, special needs kids, a lip-reader who can’t understand masked people, prisoners, heroes who stock shelves, various “survivors” of other bad things, an endless search for more victimized victims. At the same time, no one seems driven to create and fetishize “heroes,” from cashiers to trash collectors. Same for countries with woman leaders; they don’t make a big deal of it but the American media sure does. The press from those women-led countries just talks about Leaders. They talk about competence in government not gender.
    No one else seemed so anxious to both undercount and overcount the virus deaths. A fair number of nations seem to want to underplay their death tolls, but nowhere is it both under and over at the same time.
    I don’t see anywhere else where whatever is on one’s political agenda (free college, debt forgiveness, public housing, social programs, guaranteed income, economic inequality, national service, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, abortion rights, the freaking post office and voting by mail) is being so directly tied to a virus response one way or another.
    So that’s it for COVID, a good couple of seasons’ worth. I’m still inside, though. Anybody heard anything good about this Netflix thing? I’m looking for something new to pass the time. Jeez, I gotta get out more.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • John Poole said...

      1

      Did the Soup Nazi of SEINFELD have children? If so, he or she may be running the store where PVB buys his booze.

      06/11/20 2:52 PM | Comment Link

    • Edward said...

      2

      An interesting glimpse into other countries. Arguably this essay is engaging in the American “blame game” it describes.

      06/11/20 9:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Eric Hodgdon said...

      3

      One satellite provider, during the dark days of the ‘vid’ offered a Filipino news station where the situation was the same as here regarding testing and the economy. Likewise, “Democracy Now” had someone from India describing the same sorts of problems as the Filipinos did.

      At no point did I let lock downs stop me, as I traveled between Nevada and California, so please get out some PVB will you.

      06/16/20 2:25 AM | Comment Link

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