That Science-Fiction Feeling: Culture And The 'Big C'


In an era of uncertainty, James Hudson looks at how our culture can reflect and shape our experiences

Article Image

Image by Universal Pictures International (UPI)

By James Hudson

It may be best to start this article with what is quickly becoming the most boring cliché of the year: we are living in unprecedented times. How many times have we all had a conversation which mirrors this cliché somehow, marvelling at the whole unbelievability of the Big-C’s ability to royally throw life up in the air – or more accurately, confine it in four walls? We look at charts and graphs of things happening out there, which means we must stay in here. For many people, life has become something like it is in Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, which came out earlier this year. Two lighthouse keepers are trapped on an island due to a storm and then proceed to go completely insane. It was impeccable timing – fate? -  that it came out Before – with a capital B – as it is hard to search for a film that better encapsulates the loss of narrative time caused by the Big-C. “How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Help me to recollect…”. “Seven weeks actually”, yeah okay thanks, mum.

Being stuck on this rock has meant that we are imagining a time when we will be off it. We are imagining all the things that will be different and the things which could be different for the better. There is a feeling of science-fiction in the popular imagination, in which we will come out from our caves and the world we will be beyond recognition, like stepping onto a new planet of vaccinated but wholly unrecognisable species with bold ideas about the future. Nothing of life, for better or worse, is off the table. We’ve become a species of radicals who are metaphorically “cutting shit up”, experimenting with the fundamental ideas behind things we take for granted. A big one is work - everyone is looking at each other with wide-eyes on their zoom calls saying that “it’ll never be the same again”. Worried, soon-to-be-graduates collectively sigh and share despondent memes with each other.

This great period of isolated re-evaluation of all aspects of life also gives us an opportunity to ponder on the unique situation the Corona Extra Marketing team find themselves in. How are they going to spin it? Never before has Mother Nature – or the “GODDAMN CHINESE GOD BLESS AMERICA” - so expertly devised and delivered a global marketing campaign. Other beer companies must no doubt be kicking their luck. Sales of Corona actually jumped up before the temporary halting of production, due both to the early stockpiling craze and the obvious attraction for people to take a photo of themselves with the “corona” in some kind of self-delusional act dressed up in the name of “wit”. The challenges of spin facing the marketing of Corona Extra is also the same problem when we come to think of how this time will be remembered, what story will be the story.

It is important to consider the legacy of the Big-C. What tales are spun and by who will underpin the parameters of potential change. The popular rhetoric of war, that we are at war with an invisible enemy makes sense up to the point in that it allows us to think that we are all in this together, which, of course, we are. But the reality of the matter is that the Big-C is not like a war so much as it is like a natural disaster played in slow-motion being plastered up as a triumph when, by all accounts, it is a tragedy. The V-E 75th anniversary celebrations were prescient in that we get the sense history is repeating itself, and that we will pull through. But also because it also marked the beginning of a massive social, political and economic restructuring. The Big-C is not like a war, it should not be remembered as a war. Yes, there are heroes who should be valorised but to only do this would fail to fully grasp the opportunity of real change. To say that the government should not be criticised is like saying that the generals in World War One who had the ridiculous idea of sending men over the top as cannon fodder are still somehow heroes simply because they had to make tough decisions.

How will the Corona Extra Marketing team spin it? More importantly, how will we spin it? Who holds the right to tell has the right to change. For all hope of a different world in which we may say Before was worse and After was better, the struggle will be in the making of history. In 75 years’ time will we be watching a fictional Churchill-simulator with his shaggy blond hair star in a virtual-reality biopic, the hero who made tough calls? It certainly seems that it is of that magnitude that it warrants the imagining of future, nostalgia-inducing biopics. Will this be a triumph because of the changes it led to or a tragedy because we remember the end of the Big-C as a triumph in and of itself? The spin will decide.