Reel-to-Real Life

March 23, 2020

In the 2014-2018 television series, “The Last Ship” (based on William Brinkley’s 1988 novel of the same name), some type of global viral pandemic dubbed the “red flu” wipes out a significant portion of the world’s population. As commanding officer of the Naval destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James, Capt. Tom Chandler (played by actor Eric Dane, a k a Dr. McSteamy from “Grey’s Anatomy”) leads his intrepid crew around the oceans and seaways as they develop and deliver a cure.  

By the fifth and final season, now Admiral Chandler had defeated and deposed several despots in the New World Order as well as the emergence of man-made viral offshoots.

For the last 20 years we seem to have learned enough about virulent pathogens and epi/pandemics that Hollywood can conjure up fictional drills (e.g., “The Last Ship,” “Contagion,” “Outbreak” and “Pandemic,” perhaps inspired by the granddaddy of them all, the late Michael Crichton’s “The Andromeda Strain”) for Washington to mine for tips, tools and tricks.

With COVID-19 as the branded coronavirus and the Sixth Man (lame basketball reference against the backdrop of the onset of March Madness) to follow the Big 5 of the 21st century so far (SARS in 2003, H1N1 influenza “swine flu” in 2009, H5N1 and H7N9 “bird flu” siblings, MERS and Ebola), we still have miles to go while we bleet.

Overall, the response to COVID-19 by “authorities” has been, shall we say, curious. Nations scurrying to track and trace victims; regulators and researchers fumbling over who to test where, when and why; media outlets showing video of hazmat-suited drones spraying public areas with disinfectant as people milled about; the unwashed masses hording masks and hand sanitizers; the Surgeon General tweeting in exasperation, “Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!”

Back in the 20th century you could argue with some logic that you couldn’t make this stuff up.

But amid the seemingly endless verbal and visual warnings about hand-washing, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, not touching your face, etc., have we not already become desensitized before we become sanitized?

In today’s fast-paced society where we over-promise capabilities, over-extend responsibilities and tasks and over-tax our psyches, it’s hard to overlay regimented personal discipline on impulse planning. Honestly, you don’t realize how many times you touch your face in a given day. Or how many times you’re rushing somewhere and touch a doorknob, your mobile phone or a keyboard – all havens of not-yet dormant COVID-19 particles just looking for a new living host on which to land and breed.

Unfortunately, the world of “WALL-E” where humans drape themselves in electronic-media-equipped floating bubble chairs is not realistic because those citizens started succumbing to obesity and osteoporosis. Slathering ourselves with hand sanitizer like we apply suntan lotion and wrapping ourselves in airbag packaging seems perpetually inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Is there no way out (1987 film reference for you cinephiles) from stocking up and staying in?

Save for “Fantastic Voyage” and “Ant-Man,” the microbes regularly appear to win. Case in point: “The War of the Worlds.” One wonders how these respiratory viruses would fare in Aquaman’s undersea kingdom?

To keep you on your toes, check out a list of “mythbuster” items issued by the World Health Organization back in February:

So what do we do? Stay calm. Slow down. Modify behaviors. Maintain awareness. Increase education. Encourage others. These six steps represent our Sixth Sense, our Six Degrees of Separation from the sixth viral outbreak this century. If we don’t remain mindful and vigilant of these six we’ll likely see too many of our fellow man deep-sixed.