So, Andrew Cline of Rhetorica.net, who has like Your Humble Blogger largely given up on political rhetoric as a study, has been focusing on documentaries and the extraordinary tools there are for making them. He advises us all to document our lives during this pandemic, with some interesting and useful tips aimed at those using video. Which is not very much not my thing, but the post had stuck in the back of my head a bit waiting for things to connect to.
One of those things, eventually, was the closing of the theaters—I had been reading a bit before this all started about the closing of the theaters in Elizabethan times (and shortly after), and then I read an interesting article I cannot now locate about the closing of the theaters in the US in 1918 for the influenza epidemic. And the writer of that article had a very interesting point about how this huge, huge event for theater professionals particularly does not result in many plays about it in the years afterward. There are some, but not many and not of the highest rank—really it takes a specialist to name any at all.
Anyway, between those two notions—the sophistication of our self-documentation and the quickly-fading memory of last century’s plague—it occurred to me that this lockdown is, for US folk, the first where being largely confined to our houses doesn’t interfere much with our access to news. I know not everyone has broadband in their houses (we should be doing something about that as a nation real soon now) but between television and the internet, most people are getting access to lots of information, every day, about what this is like in our neighbor’s homes and in homes of people who aren’t our neighbors. We’re up-to-date, if we want to be, about what’s being done about this thing locally, nationally and globally. And that seems… normal.
In 1593, if you fled London (smart thinking) and went to the Shropshire or Lincolnshire, and we’re of course talking now about people of affluence and connections, you would probably get your news from London in a few days. It wouldn’t be terribly reliable, though. You would get letters in a day or two, from your connections around the towns. If you were worried about relatives in Paris or Munich, though… well, you’d find out eventually. If, like many more people, you were just stuck in your room in a London slum, then you would know only what you could hear shouted in the street.
And in 1918, in Philadelphia or Baltimore, you wouldn’t really know much more, day to day. There were newspapers, if you could read and afford them, and were willing to go out to purchase them. But you didn’t have a radio in your tenement room, so again if you weren’t able to or willing to go out, your news was what was shouted in the street, or (if you could read and write) letters from people you knew, days old. You certainly wouldn’t know what the government was considering until it happened.
This isn’t intended to be a note about how Everything is Better Now—things are always getting better and always getting worse simultaneously—but it’s definitely different.
As for me, I’m not going to plague-journal this Tohu Bohu, but I’ll let you know: I’m well, my family is healthy, I’m still on payroll and there is no immediate risk to my financial stability. I’d love to hear from any Gentle Readers who are still around, and hope you are all well.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,