~ Dein, Simon.
Covid-19 and the Apocalypse: Religious and Secular Perspectives, Oct 3 2020
The end of the world might appear to be an elusive notion. Yet, countless representations of the apocalypse have long dominated mass media. Unknowingly or not, these common narratives have intimately constructed our imaginations of the apocalypse and how individuals and societies may contend with the fallout.
Against this backdrop, it is easy to understand why the COVID-19 pandemic may be perceived as the apocalyptic zeitgeist of the 21st century. Images of hospitals overflowing with patients, huge queues for guns and ammunition, and empty supermarket shelves were among those that captured the apocalyptic spirit that the pandemic had ushered in. As a result of national lockdowns and drastic quarantine measures, cities around the world were emptied, devoid of the modernity and life that they used to represent. As the virus rapidly metastasized, so did such apocalyptic imagery reminiscent of scenes from science fiction or horror films.
Media representations of the apocalypse thus provided a lens through which humanity could understand and grapple with the pandemic – Indeed, the subgenre of pandemic films experienced a surge in intrigue and demand after the onset of COVID-19. While fundamentally a scientific issue, the sociological narrative of the pandemic has inadvertently been shaped by metaphors drawn from cinematic tropes. And as audiences witnessed their world upended by an unknown disease, they turned to movies to make sense of an unprecedented reality.
In this issue, the authors explore how pandemic films both reflect and concretise contemporary societal themes, which are in turn shaped by socio-political realities. Through our articles, we discuss how popular portrayal of pandemics, from onset to resolution, have been critical in reflecting and informing public thought and behaviour, especially in today’s ongoing pandemic.
In the pandemic subgenre, zombie films stand out as they dramatise narratives of contagion and societal breakdown through the violent and gory caricature of the zombie. What does our timeless obsession with zombie films reveal about prevailing socio-political thought? Firstly, in The Zombie Pandemic in Hollywood: Portrayals of Outbreak and Survival in Night of the Living Dead and World War Z, Lynette Teo explores how beyond merely rehashing tropes and conventions, zombie films offer insight into changes in the Western collective unconscious driven by important cultural events. By comparing two prominent zombie films produced nearly half a decade apart, she argues that the differences in cinematography, characterisation of the zombie and mitigation strategies portrayed in both films allude to the evolution of societal anxieties caused by watershed events such as the Vietnam War and 9/11.
Similarly, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the world’s awareness of the notion of civil liberties, which refers to freedom and rights of movement and speech. In Notion of civil liberties in World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) and Outbreak (1995), Faith Lee explore how Western films portray civil liberties in the West with state governments enforcing restrictions during pandemics while making a few references to the coronavirus pandemic and how the novel World War Z and film Outbreak parallel to it. She argues that there is a substantially greater entrenchment of liberalism and liberal democracy in the West, where civilians expect the government to react to the apocalypse in a way where civilians’ rights are still present. She does so by bringing the public’s reaction to restrictions imposed by the state and the use of the military to enforce those restrictions.
Lastly, we can question if pandemic films capture and reflect the differing ideologies in varying societies. When it comes to an event on a scale as global as the pandemic, will societies remain divided by their ostensibly different ideologies?
With the recent coronavirus pandemic increasingly dividing the world, Kyi Cin Thet explores how pandemic films can bring about the metaphysical reconciliation of perceived differences between countries in Reconciling Societies through the Domination of Authority over Public in the Pandemic: Contagion and Flu. The public and the authority, the prominent contesting stakeholders in today’s pandemic, are analysed to give greater insight into the similarities between the Korean and American societies in the films, Flu and Contagion, respectively. In this essay, she argues that the comparison of the two films merges the different perceived notions of the domination of the Korean and American authorities over their public, through the recreation of common motifs and themes in pandemic films.