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"Escapism."
"Escapism."

Any Of You Weirdos Still Watching Contagion?

Among the — to me — more surprising revelations during the opening weeks of this, the Great Pandemic of 2020, was that Steven Soderbergh's 2011 virus epic Contagion was one of the most-watched streaming movies:

Contagion is currently trending on both Amazon Prime and iTunes and is in the top four most downloaded films on certain torrent sites.

The film’s high-profile ensemble cast includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle.

As the coronavirus situation intensifies around the world, many are pointing to TV shows and books that have seemingly predicted several things correctly.

Contagion gets some things right about our current pandemic: COVID-19, like the fictitious "MEV-1," originated in Asia, though whether from "zoonotic crossover" or otherwise has yet to be determined. Both spread through droplets produced by sneezing and coughing, and via touching contaminated surfaces. There's also a sleazy character peddling unproven remedies, only in the movie it's a tabloid journalist and not the President of the United States.

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns consulted the World Health Organization and other medical professionals for their movie, so while the science is mostly plausible, the movie isn't what you'd call helpful, in the sense that it would make for a relaxing self-quarantine rewatch.

Or so I assume. Among the ways Contagion's reality differs from ours, the MEV-1 virus spreads like wildfire and kills approximately 30 percent of the people who contract it. A far cry from COVID-19's estimated 1-2 percent. In that sense, maybe people watched the devastation wrought in the movie and thought, "Hey, it could always be worse. Right?"

Forsythia ... hydroxychloroquine ... whatever.
Forsythia ... hydroxychloroquine ... whatever.

There are, apparently, a significant number of you who choose not to escape reality, but rather suffocate yourselves in it. And I suppose that's where the disconnect comes from. As someone who feels a low thrum of dread in his gut pretty every waking minute, I've personally been social distancing myself from both the news and my normal (and often grim) entertainment mainstays like Ozark and The Walking Dead.

Not that I'm casting judgment. I did spend the last several months reading a dystopian science-fiction series of books that could charitably described as "prepper porn." The lead character is ex-military, with an arsenal and a year's worth of MREs in his basement* to go with solar panels. He's a far cry from Matt Damon's stricken husband/father character in Contagion, true, but also from every American silently (or not) wondering how long their emergency vodka stash is going to hold out.

I'm just not about to start a reread of The Stand, in other words.

All that said, I'd be curious to see how the numbers have evened out since lockdowns have become more widespread and the current situation threatens to stretch out for months instead of weeks. Has the novelty worn off? Are you settling for the relative hilarity of Outbreak (or the "Leonardo Is Caught in the Grip of an Outbreak of Randal's Imagination" episode of Clerks: The Animated Series on iTunes)? Or have you abandoned that genre for other, earthier video pleasures?

If so, let me tell you about a miniseries called Tiger King ...

* A basement? In Houston? Talk about science fiction.

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