“The whole world’s my hiding place. I can stand out there amongst them in the day or night and laugh at them.”–Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), ” The Invisible Man ” (1933)
The coronavirus is an violent adversary in our times. It is a threat, its invisibility has made it a Petri dish where people can cultivate all kinds of misinformation.
We were in an era when entertainment and politics screamed at us: “Even if you can see it, do not necessarily believe it.”
In the US, which has been full-on struggling with the coronavirus since isolation began on 12 March, it resonates.
To begin with, American life is an exercise in turning invisible ideals into tangible things, like a functioning country with laws.
This country was shaped by visions, concrete things and loud voices. Today, it sits in a strange place when people with agendas use loud voices and sophisticated visuals to call even the most concrete things into doubt.
Added to that, enough is coming at people now that many resist or reject storylines involving abstract or unseen forces; a virus, political manipulation, climate change.
“We are evolved to respond to threats that exist – a car crash, a punch in the face – that we can perceive at that level,” says Alix Spiegel, co-host and co-producer of the NPR program Invisibilia, which tells stories that add structure and context to things we cannot see.
“But when they exist on a physical scale or a time scale that is hard for us to relate to, then we are much, much worse at coming up with the appropriate actions,” Mr. Spiegel says.
This is evident in the reactions to antivirus measures taken by authorities. Many comments echo this: We cannot see this getting worse where we are, so let us fix the urgent problem we already can see, that being the collapse of life around us.
“From a visible perspective, nothing’s changed. Very few of us actually see someone suffering from coronavirus,” says Adam Kotsko, who teaches at North Central College in Illinois. He is the author of ” The Prince of This World, ” a history of 1 of humankind’s most notorious unseen adversaries, the Devil.
In American culture, unease about invisibility has surfaced in lots of different ways since early Colonial days, when dark accusations of unseen powers and influences became the pretext for the Salem witch trials in Y 1692.
It has meant many things over the years as new forms of the invisible emerged, from the telegraph and the telephone to bacteria and viruses to radio waves and microwaves to perhaps the most destructive invisible force of them all, the harnessed atom, the radiation it produced
it produced and the Cold War armageddon terror that it spread across an entire generation.
But invisibility often stands in for a menacing adversary, as with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the mid-1950’s novel and film about aliens undetectably replacing humans that evoked post war fears of unseen American threats e.g. conformity, Communism, McCarthyism.
That kind of unease was an early sign of the decline in faith in American institutions and government’s motives.
Suspicion about puppet masters who guide events, the precursor of today’s Deep State fears became an even more potent cultural pattern.
At the same time, the invisible threat of lethal contagious disease was receding in the American consciousness as vaccinations became commonplace.
Smallpox was eradicated, polio conquered. Measles, mumps polio and rubella were largely defeated. So their effects; disfigured children, firsthand knowledge of the dead became less visible.
Today, given that many people’s connections to COVID-19 coronavirus victims are not personal, the unseen nature of virus unease seems more comparable to the fear of ghosts. It is a fear you cannot see except when it materializes.
You do not know if it is in the room, you know it is a threat but are limited in your ability to fight it. You ask,”Is there something there, or not?”
Yes, there is something there, visible or not.
The Big Q: Is it hovering near me, now, and what can I do to stop it?
“The gap between seeing and knowing is ever widening in the 21st Century,” Akiko Busch writes in ” How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency.”
What is for sure now is that to push this threat away, or defeat it require work; the brainpower of research, and the microscopic vaccine that the people hope it produces, And that will be just as invisible to most of us as the thing that is causing this chaos in the 1st place.
Until then, the Walter Johnson’s baseball pitching rule stands “Even knowing precisely what you cannot see does not mean you will be able to hit it”.
*Walter Johnson, 1 of the greatest pitchers in baseball history.
Have a healthy weekend, Keep the Faith!
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