After a long day of work, you decide it’s high time to have a well-deserved evening of relaxation. You turn on the TV, and access Netflix. Your favourite TV show has released a new season.
You press play. But something is off.
The main characters, the ones whose storylines you have been following for years, are not hugging. They are wearing masks. Sanitizing their hands.
What’s going on?
In an era in which the presence of Covid-19 has become such a massive presence in our everyday lives, it is not unlikely to see more and more movies and tv shows integrating this co-existence in their storylines.
To be more specific…
It’s about Chandler and Monica entering Central Perk, taking off their masks and sanitizing their hands while Ross is giving a palaeontology lecture on Zoom. While the whole gang goes on with their life and the pandemic is an integral part of the storyline.
Which feelings would this type of representation stir up?
Of course, the answer to this question is arbitrary. It’s strictly connected to our own personal experience.
We can still define the pros and cons of the media representation of our co-existence of the pandemic in the releases representing 2020, 2021 and, hopefully, not 2022.
There are cases in which the integration of the pandemic into the narrative universe of TV programmes or films is necessary.
Let’s take a practical example.
Grey’s Anatomy’s last season’s plot completely revolves around the pandemic and the effects it had on the frontline health care workers.
In an interview, showrunner Krista Vernoff declared that by doing so, the aim of the show is to make an impact on the mass audience by depicting the impact of the pandemic on medical professionals.
Doctor and writer Zoanne Clark shared that “we felt compelled to tell the stories of loneliness, fear and bravery that our health care workers and the patients are going through.”
Therefore, it can be considered as an accessible way to raise awareness of an aspect of the pandemic, which even to these days is still widely overlooked.
One of the reasons why we consume media is reliability.
In consuming pandemic-related media, we can experience a sense of validation of our own feelings. There can be comfort in entertainment even if it’s not strictly in the form of escapism. Most of all, it can help us process and regulate our emotions, thanks to mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons. These ones are located in the frontal lobes of the brain and enable us to feel empathised. Therefore, seeing characters emotionally overcoming the same predicament as we do, can be beneficial in terms of psychologically coping with the global situation we are going through, and processing it.
USA Today critic Kelly Lawler commented on the possibility of watching a TV show about living during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that “It's too sad, too angering, too exhausting, too soon. And it will still be too soon for a long time”.
She is not the only one...
Many viewers do not want to deal with the dreadful reality of things on a Saturday evening, while chilling on their couches with a bowl of popcorn in their hands.
Needless to say, we have all collectively been dealing with trauma. And trauma takes time to heal.
Escapism is one of the ways we have to get away from our shared traumatic experience and its stressful implications.
Clinical psychologist Dr. John Meyer declared that binge watching a TV programme can play a decisive role in shutting our minds down and tuning out pressures and stress from the ‘real world’: “A binge can work like a steel door that blocks our brains from thinking about those constant stressors that force themselves into our thoughts. Binge watching can set up a great boundary where troubles are kept at bay.”
As a consequence…
It is not advisable to incorporate the pandemic into the narrative universe of the upcoming tv shows and films set in 2020 and 2021.
At least, not for now.
Even if it only played a background role, it would still be intrusive: it would remind us of one of the major challenges our wellbeing has had to deal with over the course of the past year.
Not to mention that...
If the pandemic is integrated into the narrative of the plot, the characters are likely to be wearing masks for most of the time. It can be argued that it would get in the way of the communicative power of the product: masks prevent the actors from unleashing the emotional power of their facial expressions.
There is no answer to whether media entertainment should already depict our co-existence with the pandemic. However, we can still tackle both sides of the argument. There are cases in which the representation of Covid-19 in films or TV programmes can be beneficial not only in terms of raising awareness of important aspects of the pandemic which are often overlooked, but it can also be helpful in terms of processing our shared trauma. On the other hand, it can be argued that it’s too early for such a representation to become an integral part of our daily consumption of entertainment media, since it would impair our attempts to shut our minds down and take a break from the dreadful reality of things.
A question for you:
How do you feel about TV shows and films integrating our co-existence with the pandemic in their storylines?