The Quarantine – Glass Half Empty.
Thoughts on Social Distancing and the Coronavirus Pandemic – Part III
“…We are being infantilized, we are becoming needy children in need of constant feedback. And we are being told the lie that all of it is free. That we are not all saleable data to be used by firms and governments. Each online behavioural pattern, each click scary in its predictive efficiency…”
Art & Words by Fanitsa Petrou
The coronavirus pandemic and the quarantine that followed, have reminded us, that no matter where we live, we are all facing the same dangers, the same fears. And that we are living in changing times. The world we once knew, and on which we could depend, is slipping away from us. We know that something has gone wrong. The Earth can take no more abuse and is showing signs that the tipping point is near! Racism is making a “come back”. Misogyny is finding a great ally in pornography, which is saturating men’s souls daily fuelling violence against women and children. The way we treat animals has resulted in us, being caged! And conspiracy theorists are having a good day as their pet suppositions about clandestine and nefarious plans orchestrated by billionaires who are poised to bring about the new world order (starting with “population control” through vaccinations) is hitting a nerve. You want to see them as the laughable illusions of fanatics, but it doesn’t help that said billionaire(s) have been repeatedly been recorded making such claims. Even without the shadow of such doubts, we can’t help but be hesitant about the future.
Things are coming to an end in many ways in our world, and a new (who are we kidding?) grimmer era is looming on the horizon. While we are exchanging platitudes on Facebook, a handful of conglomerate firms decide the future of humanity; racism and sexism are becoming OK again; civil liberties which have been earned at high costs by generations of activists are being sacrificed on the altar of “safety”, which was put in jeopardy especially in order to justify the need to be sacrificed. The Islam armed by the hand of the West is spreading fear. And by that, it becomes one hell of an excuse for the West to retaliate, to escalate the violence, and by that to follow the calling of petrol with “damn good reasons” – To play the card of patriotism that wins elections. Prejudice, violence, racism, xenophobia, misogyny. Vicious circles. This is the Scary New World. And we seem to deserve it.
The “new” Europe is still struggling to find identity under the ruins left by Communism. The maps were redesigned, new lines added, others lost for ever, and with them, entire worlds. (What is one to do with the memories of them? And what does it do to you when you are asked to pretend they never existed?) People taking planes and cars and fleeing in hope of a salvation, grabbing with both hands onto survival, with the determination, and the grit, and the steely eyes of the ones who have been cheated on, and lied to, and left to die in the street like dogs. The old Europe on the other hand, bent under the weight of its history, reliving familiar scenarios, facing old dilemmas, being forced to see reflections in mirrors that show that the lessons needed to be repeated: the OTHER, is still out there, still a threat: the Syrian refugees fleeting war and famine and horror, the blond Eastern hordes, or the brown skinned immigrants escaping destitute or bloodshed and who are out to “steal” jobs and alter what was familiar and trusted, become the “new” Jews. Southern Europe (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) the places with the darker-skinned faces, the chaotic economies, the louder, unruly individuals, who grew up under the Sun, and have a spirit that is alien to those who are familiar with heavy endless Winters) being punished for stepping on the lines, being pushed in a recession that forced them – predictably – into obedience. And the acronym PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain) that was a few years back created by Northern Europeans in order to describe them, speaking volumes about how they are seen by them… (At the root of all conflicts there’s always racism and misogyny it seems. If you look close enough and for long enough, it is always the blue eyed, blond ones against the darker skinned ones. And it is always the white, Christian, heterosexual males against anyone who is not them…)
And Germany, gradually, methodically reclaiming the old role of the European leader, through the EU, holding the yardstick that measures us all. (The WWIII will not take place in trenches but EU conference rooms, and banks) On the other hand, the lasting devastation caused by colonialism that affected generations of people, completely bypassing the memory ( if not the conscience) of those who have voted for Brexit, who are now (with no sense of irony) angry at the “strangers” who are “destroying” their own country… And in the midst of it all, the working classes everywhere are suffering, and the middle classes are being eliminated, so that the lifestyle of the 1%, with the private islands and the life of endless Summers is secured. And the new Right stands in the middle of it all waiting, waiting. Counting time.
The same people who were fighting over who gets more toilet paper, are still finding it hard to understand what it means to loose everything and run for the boarder. Their own panic about running out of toilet paper, is still to their eyes a greater misfortune than hoping your kids won’t die in the next bomb explosion, that they won’t starve to death, be tortured by soldiers, raped, killed. So they still face immigrants and refugees as the enemy at the gates. Empathy is after all a costly business. It forces you to change, to lose privileges, to face your own entitlement, to allow others to exist…
People are struggling again, borders are being crossed, lives are being forced to fit into suitcases, fears are being renewed, people of colour are for once again being seen as the “Other”. The US fetishising archetypes of a dated and poisonous masculinity: the religiosity; the philandering millionaire president who gives promises of patriotic “greatness” and promotes misogyny, xenophobia, white “Supremacy” unapologetically; the “reclaimed” racism; the demonisation of the press; the glorification of the tyrannical instincts of an oligarchy and the political marginalisation of women and the loss of control of their reproductive rights, are all becoming – one fears – the breeding ground of a pending autocracy. The “Thank you for your service” robotic mantra in the presence of soldiers (so that people won’t notice that they are more often than not, being sent to attack, not defend; to destroy, not protect, and above all else, to keep the arms industry in business and the oil running and in the hands of the few; and so that the soldiers themselves will forget that they will inevitably be cast aside once they are discharged, after the war machine is done with them).
Our world is becoming smaller as we are being told the lie that it expands. it is Ikea-sed. Tiny foldable furniture to fit tiny rooms. Identical lives, small ambitions, disposable Art, longer hours, unpaid labour, corroded pension funds, made up identities, opinions taking the place of truth, relativism the place of morality, the fake life we pretend to have in photos specifically taken for this purpose taking inside us the place of the life we actually have, Twitter taking the place of fact-checking, facebook memes taking the place of an actual social rebellion, Youtubers taking the place of real journalists or scientists, crafters and imposters taking the place of artists, commenting on social media from the comfort of your home, taking the place of a real uprising, and our dependence on the external ratification of followers and likes, taking the place of self awareness.
The impact of this present crisis, is already great. As a result of the shrinking economy due to the global lockdowns, unemployment is skyrocketing and the number of people facing “acute food insecurity could double, jumping to 265 million” according to a new report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), while, according to UNCTAD (The UN’s trade and development agency) “the coronavirus outbreak is likely to cost at least $1 trillion”
Conspiracy theories about 5G technology gradually destroying our immune system turning it into the playground of viruses, which were created in labs for the specific purpose of eliminating the elderly and conveniently freeing governments from the burden of social welfare, may sound far-fetched and ridiculous, but if it’s one thing we can rely on, is that according to studies (Informa Tech research paper) 5G technology “could be responsible for 22.3 million jobs and $13.2 trillion of global economic output by 2035”. Which is good news, but not for all, since it might mean that a lot of jobs that do not exist in that sphere, will be considered obsolete and a lot of people’ s lives will be affected dramatically and for ever. The new economy will just get rid of most of us…
We are being given the world we are being told, through the global platforms of social media. We are “selling to a global market”,” talking to a global audience”, but in reality, we all are shrinking into ourselves to take up less space. Out there, in the real world, in terms of our place in the economy, in terms of real political power, in terms of our freedom. Or in terms of the right to have access to actual facts (not rumour, speculation, fabricated news, or the opinion of social media commenters) And as women, we are still being sold the lie that raunchy exhibitionism is “empowering”. Prostitution a work like any other. And the biggest lie of them all: that marriage is a feminist choice. Our political and social exclusion, and the violence used against us in porn or everyday life, are seen as natural, as expected, as justified, as liberation, as a proof of being “desired”, as a way of being told we are sexy and worthy of being given rings – and an allowance. Like children. (Anything a man does to a woman – including abuse or murder – is seen on some level as a compliment after all…) And most of us will be fine with it. Most of us will buy it. And the rest of us are just tired… Defeated by the waves coming at us.
Academics, writers, artists, journalists, scientists, are also being silenced by the mere fact that the “democratisation” of media has marginalised them, and forced them in the (fact-free) corner: their voices are muffled by the constant noise of Instagram “influencers”, youtubers, podcasters, crafters, “content fillers” and an entire world of social media commenters, who are collectively claiming their right to shout, not to know. To criticize rather than do. Professionals, experts of any kind, can either remain in that corner, or play the game. And if they do, they are fighting for the same space that is occupied by flat-Earthers, creationists, religious fanatics, white Supremacists, attention seekers, and every single person in the world who happens to have a wi-fi connection and is claiming the right to have an audience. Who shouts the loudest, is the one whose opinion matters, whose “truth” is relevant, and who gets to have the “followers’. Who is more willing to flatter the ego of social commenters is the one who gets to “lead” in this new era. Art has become demystified, has become pedestrian, a show. Visual artists (painters, designers, illustrators – which is to say introverts) are required to “perform” on video, to be OK with being watched by complete strangers while they are working, so that the social media users will feel there is nothing separating them and an artist – a comforting thought, I’m sure. And those who are willing to play the game, who are OK with inviting complete strangers inside their homes or studios, are the ones with a better chance of success… Posts with one’s dog, cat, kids, kitchen, salad plates, bedrooms, exercise regimes, become the bait that will bring on the sales… (It has come to that)
A sense of privacy (let alone, a sense of shame or dignity!) has become an obsolete concept. Morality has become relative. Reality has become dependent on anyone’s point of view. Decency and basic manners a thing of the past. This inevitably leads to Donald Trump telling us (with the confidence of an entire clinic of doctors) that we need to be drinking bleach to fight the coronavirus… It is not just the rich guy’s entitlement that makes him think he can actually profess opinions about things that he is obviously (phenomenally, comically) ignorant. It is that the world in which we live, everybody is feeling the same. Lurking in the absurdity of his words is the very thing that defines this moment in time: on social media, EVERYONE is Trump, unapologetically telling each other to drink bleach… Everyone is seeking for everyone’s approval, certain that it is well deserved. Everyone has the confidence, the entitlement, the lack of self-awareness of an old, rich, racist, misogynist, white man who woke up one morning and was – for reasons that defy logic – the president of the most powerful nation in the world, and by that, was certain that he possessed all knowledge. Within the made up world of social media, everyone can (finally) be perceived to be what they hoped they are, what they claim to be, instead of what they really are. If enough people “follow” them, “Like” them , then Voila! a new reality is contrived.
The demise of print journalism has changed the world more than we realise. What’s out there, served to us as News, as reality, is more often than not, no longer the result of hard working professionals (writers, journalists, essayists, and so on) who are telling us the harsh truths, or putting their life on the line in order to inform, reveal, expose, analyse, point towards the truth, but “content creators”. People whose job is to fill in the space in online publications, and feed the beast: the hungry for distractions social media users, who prefer memes, gifs, soundbites, rather than the burden of reading entire articles, or God forbid, books! And so analytical minds have been substituted with analytics! Creative souls with “influencers”.
Social media are no longer an innocent pastime but the tool by which we will be used by governments and marketeers . We are being infantilized, we are becoming needy children in need of constant feedback. And we are being told the lie that all of it is free. That we are not all saleable data to be used by firms and governments. Each online behavioural pattern, each click scary in its predictive efficiency.
Being worried that democracy is being falsified, that fear (of refugees, of immigrants, of people of colour, of women who value independence, or of horrible infectious deceases) is being used globally, to corrode civil liberties, and keep all of us in a constant state of fear and dependance, is a sign of sanity. Google for example, has recently published the location data of mobile users living in 130 countries, to measure how coronavirus lockdowns are working. Every minute we spent on the Internet results in saleable data of some kind anyway. This time we are told it is for our own good. But the convenient precedent has been created. The path has been opened. Social isolation has also turned every transaction into an online one. Every minute of every hours we spend online, and every cent we spend are monitored in ways that were previously unthinkable. Cash is on the way out, because it is attached to anonymity and because of that, a sense of independence, we are no longer allowed to have.
The future is not ours, is what is spelled out by all of it. Worry about THAT! Because when you will be getting a new haircut or ordering a Macchiatto at your favourite cafe, is the least of your problems…
May 7, 2020. The Quarantine – Glass Empty - Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
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Read also: The Quarantine, Glass Half Full.
The Quarantine Journals.