For a year now, the reality of humanity’s global struggle against the coronavirus has felt oddly fictional. Very much, in fact, like a blockbuster movie.
Covid-19: The Reckoning follows all the movie cliches. The story starts somewhere in the world requiring subtitles. Patient Zero eats a what? An infected bat? OK, maybe it’s a pangolin (what’s a pangolin? Who cares, never mind). Then the contagion spreads like a slow-motion tsunami across the planet as dumbass politicians first play it down, then panic. Or, in America’s case, dismiss it, blame China, promise it’ll go away, ignore it some more, commend the ingestion of light and disinfectant, ignore it again, actually get it, shrug it off, host a series of superspreader events, repeatedly lose an election then scuttle off to become a human pathogen infecting civilian life. Again.
It’s time we drafted in some Hollywood scriptwriters. Otherwise we’ll be stuck in act two of this bullshit pandemic for ever.
Don’t get me wrong – the good guys and their dazzling minds have brought us a long way, through some very bumpy terrain. Epidemiologists, scientists, creators of vaccines: outstanding. Health workers, carers: heroic, the absolute best of us.
But it’s time to resolve the narrative. Give it a feel-good ending. I’m just spitballing here, but has anyone tried to “make contact” with this alien virus? We all know how sci-fi works. There must be a plucky linguist somewhere who could establish a link with the Covid community and ask it some obvious questions, like: “What in the name of microscopic balls do you actually WANT?”
If Joe Biden has any grasp of modern plague-story development, he’ll already have hired some screenwriters for the Situation Room. Gone are the days when the Pentagon was in charge. We’re not in the 20th century any more, Toto. Monsters and aliens used to be visible military targets; the audience was guaranteed wave after wave of futile ballistics and heavy casualties. Now the enemy is invisible, deadly and very, very smart.
Viruses, like Rupert Murdoch, can change the way people think. I’m still reeling from the frankly terrifying discovery that the “ordinary” flu virus has a sinister intelligence that can alter human behaviour. Once the flu virus is inside you, it doesn’t simply make itself at home. It whispers into your subconscious, like some ancient demon. Before you start feeling ill and become immobilised it persuades your brain that you should socialise, hard. The virus hijacks your mood, and your diary. It wants you to mingle with people, so it can extend its empire from you to your friends.
Covid’s obviously clever. But it’s not really thinking ahead, is it? It’s horrifically good both at invasion and at counter-intelligence, mutating into more transmissible variants. But if the human host dies, so does the terrorist virus cell within. Stalemate. A dead end.
Imagine, right now. An airless room in DC dominated by a large whiteboard and a table covered in writers’ notebooks, snack crumbs, pens, coffee cups and untroubled fruit. The air is alive with questions: how do we outsmart it? What’s the virus’s motivation? What does it want? Do the local clusters of Covid inside people communicate with one another? How? That’s insane. How does the virus know when to mutate everywhere? If the virus is so clever why does it behave like a suicide bomber? Wouldn’t it want a calmer, more productive future? Is there any way humanity and the virus could co-exist? Can we cut a deal?
Obviously if we do rewrite this blockbuster it’ll cost a fortune. Someone has to bankroll this. Someone has to greenlight it. OK, let’s say for now the United Nations organises a whip round and final approval comes from a bleary God, whose centuries-long sleep has ended with her pandemic alarm going off. Early casting thought for God – Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Pitch: God reveals herself to the global coronavirus community and humanity simultaneously via electron microscopes or whatever all over the world. She appoints a coronavirus protein, call him Cyrus for now, to be chief Covid negotiator. Representing Earth will be Greta Thunberg, just for the counter-patriarchal mischief.
Cyrus and Thunberg learn to trust one another, to work together. Under guidance from this interventionist God who’s in a good mood for a bloody change they create huge synthetic lung farms in the Sahara desert. Long polytunnels of wet-market environmental conditions. The virus culture may now grow peacefully beyond its predatory existence, and settle.
Then we discover the virus is really good at turning carbon dioxide into clean energy. Even better, the lung farms in time convert the Sahara desert into a brand-new rainforest. Cyrus finds love. Thunberg becomes Pope. God goes back to sleep, everyone’s happy, the soundtrack by Wendy Carlos swirls into a final crescendo, bosh. All ready for the next pandemic.
Ian Martin is a comedy writer. His credits include Veep, The Death of Stalin, Avenue 5, The Thick of it and more