Remembering Outbreak

Sadly, I don’t own the movie anymore, but for awhile Outbreak (1995) starring Dustin Hoffmann, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, was my favorite disaster movie. Contagion, made in 2011 I thought kind of meh in comparison. Hoffmann’s really not much of a leading man, in my opinion, but I think he shines in the role, especially as it’s not so much a story about a worrisome viral outbreak, as it is a tale about corruption.

I think with the current Coronavirus outbreak going on, we can all see just how many of our politicians use situations like this to gain more power and money, often with little care for their citizens. With their mouths they say they care, but their actions often go against that.

In the film, a deadly virus escapes from Africa in the form of a cute monkey being sold on the black market. The monkey ends up in California, escapes, and subsequently starts infecting the people he comes across. One of the best scenes in the movie, comes with Patrick Dempsey, clearly sick, on an airplane with other passengers. Germaphobes everywhere will have nightmares, as they also will from a movie theater scene where they show how the droplets from coughs and sneezes spread everywhere.

Offhand, I don’t remember how deadly the disease in the movie is, but am pretty sure it is many orders of magnitude higher than the current virus we are dealing with. In Outbreak, panic is truly justified, both from the CDC and from the average person. Despite that, though, the fictional Americans in this movie would hardly recognize the Americans of today. I think they would be baffled at putting the whole country–whole countries–on lockdown for something with symptoms not much different than the yearly flu. For the town that gets put in military lockdown and quarantine, those who are still healthy would be scratching their heads at how quickly we current Americans all acquiesced to a much wider quarantine. These days are strange days, and I wonder if all flu seasons hereafter will be different. If people will now actually stay home when they are sick and if employers will mandate them to do so. Hey, maybe we’ll all get more sick days to use. Maybe, though, it will be a mandated yearly loss of freedom of movement, gathering together, and the like. Many people are worried this will be the end result.

The best thing about the movie is that they find a cure, not a vaccine, which oddly people seem to equate to a cure, but an actual cure. Here we all are being encouraged to wait on a vaccine that will be ready well after we’ve all been exposed, when the virus has multiplied into many different strains, and, well, you get the idea. For many, this seems like a fear psy-op initiated by the media. I tend to agree. The numbers just don’t seem to justify the response, and there’s almost no analyzing of the data: For example for Italy, how many were and are older and already had compromised immune systems and underlying health issues? This matters because these are people who should already be self-quarantining almost all the time, but especially during times of the year when sickness tends to go around. Does it really make sense to restrict the movements of everyone who has a healthy immune system? Our current “science” will tell us it makes sense, just like they tell us the only way to protect these people from other diseases like measles is to vaccinate everyone, no matter any adverse effects of immunization on otherwise healthy people. Another thing I’m curious about from Italy: How many infected and/or dead are actually Chinese workers from Wuhan? I have heard they imported quite a lot of workers from there in the past year or so.

I have been waiting for the numbers of infected to rise, for hospitals to be overwhelmed and the like, because I don’t want this to be a psy-op, I would rather it be real. Awful as it sounds, it’s far more frightening to me if it’s fear pushed on us to get more power. I would much rather deal with a truly deadly virus than a hoax fomented by people salivating to bring the world to its knees. Real or not, the panicked reaction is almost impossible to go against. This is peer pressure at its finest, a real-life Stanford Experiment playing out right in front of us.

At the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffmann saves the quarantined town from getting annihilated off the face of the earth. Thankfully, we are nowhere near calling for the deaths of sick people, yet we are almost callously sentencing quite a few of our fellow citizens–healthy and sick–to very dire straights should we let this forced economic collapse continue. Every year there’s a dangerous disease out there, spread like a cold or flu–sometimes it just is a bad cold or flu. Are we really going to stop our lives every time flu season hits? With something like Ebola that has a very high death rate, to stop everything would be justified, but this… We didn’t do this for Ebola. We didn’t do this for SARS or Zika, or swine flu, or any other outbreak from recent memory.

Whatever the truth is, I know God’s in control, but sometimes I’m not sure what to pray for: An end to disease or that we wake up from this spell we’ve been put under? Probably, it should be both.

For a different perspective on this whole outbreak–I am not the only skeptic–checkout Del Bigtree’s Highwire show and Amazing Polly, both on Youtube. Del, especially, in his most recent show from yesterday goes through quotes from many doctors who also think the freakout just isn’t warranted. Also weird that the freakout continues despite clear forms of treatment showing quick results. If this is a bioweapon, as some claim, it’s not a super effective one, but that wouldn’t be the point, would it? No, if it were a bioweapon, manufactured by the evil people of the world, it’s just enough, just enough to keep that fear going, for the next time. A next time that may never happen, but now will always be a collective fear until it fades and a new fear trends.

This all reminds me of a couple of short stories I wrote considering Totalitarianism. They are below. Happy reading.

A Society of Health (written in 2010)

“Aaachoooiee!!”  Alyssa Taylor sneezed mightily into a tissue from the box on her desk.

“Bless you.”  Raymond Bins, her coworker said as he tapped away on a computer spreadsheet.  “Coming down with something?”

“I think it’s allergies.  Ever since we moved here––”

“Who sneezed?”  Ariana Blight stepped ferociously around the office partition.  She looked a bit like a crow with her tiny, birdlike frame, black sweater and pants.  Her dull gray hair was pulled tightly back into a bun that rested heavily on top of her little, wobbling head.  

Alyssa raised her hand.  “Guilty,”  She smiled sheepishly.  “Sorry, I know my sneezes are so loud.  My daughter always says I sound like a firecracker.”  She drew back into her chair as the older woman stepped up to her, the woman’s beady eyes bright with anticipation.  

“Do you have a cold?”

“It’s…just allergies.”  Alyssa exchanged a glance with Raymond who had stopped typing.  “This building is so full of dust…”  Ariana continued to inspect her, bending low enough to look up her nostrils.  “Is everything all right, Ariana?”

“You have mucus,”  She pointed to the left nostril.  “There.  It appears yellow, not clear.  Blow into this.”  The small woman brought forth a crisp handkerchief from the bowels of her sweater.  Laughing a little, Alyssa obliged.  Raymond rolled his eyes and made crazy signs that the old woman couldn’t see.  It had never been clear to them what exactly Ariana’s job at the company was, but she always seemed to know everything about everyone.  Ariana fearlessly opened the handkerchief and proceeded to inspect the leavings.  “As I thought. Yellow, going on green.  You, Ms. Alyssa Taylor, have the beginnings of a very bad cold, an infection.”

Alyssa shrugged.  “You know, I did feel a bit off yesterday, but I thought it was the weather.  And my allergies get so bad this time of year…”  She trailed off when she saw the glinting triumph in the older woman’s eyes.  “Is there a problem?”

Ariana Blight pulled a small flip-top notebook out of a sweater pocket.  She proceeded to read:  “United States Code, Title Forty-Two, Chapter Two, Section Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen:  All persons shall take precautions to prevent the spreading of the common cold.  Subsection D, Four:  Any person expectorating or sneezing in a public place shall be examined for infection.  If infection is found, said persons are duty-bound to report to the nearest Health Center and receive treatment.  Upon refusal to do so within one hour of infection report, said person may be subjected to a fine of One Hundred Dollars or up to Thirty days in the local quarantine cell.  Subsection D, Twenty:  Any and all persons failing to comply with this Chapter shall be labeled as a Spreader of Disease and a criminal under this Title Forty-Two.”  

“What?”  Alyssa blinked up at her.  “I don’t…I’ve never heard…”

“They didn’t publish it, you see,”  Ariana whispered softly, leaning over her.  “Only passed it, our wonderful…New Congress.  Now, let’s come along down to the office Health Center, shall we?”  Alyssa sat there blankly.  “Ah, and Raymond…”  The crow-like woman filled out a yellow slip from her pad of paper, ripped it off, and handed it to him.  “The citation number, should you wish to pursue legal action in the near future.  Being around her nine hours out of the day, you are the likeliest to suffer from her…negligence.”  Raymond took the paper and paled at its contents.  “Of course, should you also come down with said infection and fail to address it immediately, you will be issued a citation as well.”

Mottle Knows Best (from 2010)

Mrs. Mottle scurried after her neighbor, Rose.  Rose stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and turned around with a grimace.  “Following me again, Mrs. Mottle?”  She put one hand on her hip.  “Let me guess, block party meeting this evening?”

“We are a social group.”  Mrs. Mottle said, taken aback at Rose’s fierceness.  “We get together and talk about the happenings in the neighborhood.”

“Gossips, the lot of you.”  Rose tapped her heels impatiently.  “I’m due at the office in twenty minutes.  If I arrive late and someone else grabs up the spot, I’m blaming you.”

“Me?”  Mrs. Mottle’s heart fluttered.  “Rose, you are so irritated at me when I’m only trying to help you…for your own good!  They may take you away!”

“What?”  Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward.  “What did you say?  What have you been telling the block party, Mrs. Mottle?  Only too happy to ‘report,’ aren’t you?”

Mrs. Mottle realized she’d said too much.  “N-no, of course not, dear.  We’re only here to help!  I would never get you…in trouble, but for your own good, it––”

“Then what is it?  What did I do this time?”

“Rose, you must understand that I have your best interests at heart.  This morning,”  She sighed, “Now prepare yourself…this morning your shower was seven minutes.”  Mrs. Mottle looked up hopefully only to find Rose staring down at her open-mouthed.  

Rose crossed her arms.  “And?  I’m waiting for the punch line…”

The younger woman laughed shortly.  “Oh, Rose, why, you’ve forgotten!  The new edict!  Now let me see if I remember it straight, ‘all citizens are responsible for their water use.  To go beyond the recommended five minutes for a shower is shameful and a waste.’ So you see––”

“Oh, shut up!”  Rose pulled her handbag up higher on her shoulder.  “What does it matter if I take a seven-minute shower?  What does it matter if I take a twenty-minute shower? I’m paying for it!  We have entire oceans at our disposal, and, apparently you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy spying on people, it has rained cats and dogs every evening for the last eight days!  Oh, and another thing!  You think the Higher-Ups really care about these things?  You think the block party does?  Damn it, Mrs. Mottle!  Can’t you see what they’re doing?”

“Of course, Rose, but Practical Science states––”

“Ha!  As if PS is ever practical!  Or right!  One day eggs are good for you, the next they’re bad!  Why, I saw an article just the other day on the evils of fruit!  Fruit!  You know what it is, don’t you?  They want us to eat only that dog food for humans they keep manufacturing, while the Higher-Ups feed on steak and wine!  Oh, I can’t believe I let you rile me up this early in the morning!  Good day, Mrs.  Mottle!”  Rose tromped off in her heels.

Her neighbor looked sorrowfully after her.  Little did Rose know the danger she was in.  Two more strikes and she would have to be put in rehabilitation…for the common good, of course.  Mrs. Mottle didn’t like her task, but the important thing was that the laws be kept.  Rose was always going off about the “stupid, ridiculous, impractical laws that made real living impossible!”  Mrs.  Mottle didn’t think that was for them to judge.  That was for the Higher-Ups, the people who knew better.  She wasn’t sure at that moment why they did know better, but surely they must, as they were in charge.  She must inform the party of Rose’s seven-minute shower.  The young lady puffed out her chest.  They would talk it through.  They would come up with a solution and show Rose how her thinking was wrong.  It was only a matter of time.  

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