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OPINION: Media language offers little hope, but I think we’ll get back to normal after coronavirus

PUBLISHED: 08:45 01 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:45 01 April 2020

James thinks some of the language used in the media is spreading extra fear around coronavirus

James thinks some of the language used in the media is spreading extra fear around coronavirus

Phrases like ‘lockdown’ and ‘isolation’ in the media don’t exactly fill us with optimism says James Marston

As regular readers might recall I never have much liked social media – usually because it’s quite often anti-social and, it seems to me, accentuates the banal and has a veritable tendency to bring out the worst in people.

But, as everyone keeps saying we are in “unprecedented times” – so I have succumbed to Zoom, online streaming, Facebook, Houseparty and Whatsapp – for the time being at least I have changed the way I think, I’ve had to.

Yet this concept of “unprecedented times” is of course, the language of the media, and I can’t help thinking that by its nature all times are unprecedented simply because we haven’t had them before, and that even a cursory glimpse at the history books might show us that we’ve been through similar, if not worse.

A century ago we might have had Spanish flu but we didn’t have global air travel, a climate crisis, Brexit, television, radio, and Donald Trump. We might not have had so-called “lockdown” but we had the blackout, the blitz, despotic kings who have limited our freedoms, and the civil war, we’ve had sporting fixtures cancelled in the past as well. We had Christmas cancelled in the 1640s. And there was curfew in medieval England – that’s why we have a word for it, and quarantine – it’s happened before. I can’t help thinking that if we used “curfew” and “quarantine” instead of “lockdown” and “isolation” things might feel different. Lockdown and isolation – the new language of fear. Though, of course, they amount to the same thing.

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Unprecedented times they maybe but we are only being asked to stay at home. All we can do is wait and hope.

We don’t know what’s going to happen but what we do know is that this experience is collective and whatever happens it will end one day and it will be seared into our collective memory until the day comes when the last person, maybe a century from now, who recalls the COVID 19 pandemic dies.

And I can’t help wondering how, as a result of this enforced revelation of what really matters, family, friends, the world around us, we all might change, just a little bit, as a result.

Not so long ago all we heard about was an utterly divided nation without a sense of purpose and community – doesn’t look quite so divided today does it? Not so long ago we heard constantly about how we are ruining our world with climate change and how we all ought to take less flights and use less fossil fuels – funny how people are suddenly noticing the beauty of the world and intensity of the spring. Not so long ago we largely ignored our vulnerable and elderly – today we are taking huge measures to protect them. Not so long ago we passed on the other side of the road to avoid the homeless – suddenly we are making an effort to actually do something about it. Not so long ago we viewed our freedom of movement totally without question as an unalienable right – not so today. Not so long ago our entire economic system was rarely questioned as secular individualism held sway – maybe not quite so the case now as people take stock, look at their lives and think a little more about their neighbour and contemplate the metaphysical.

I’m not so naive to think that once this is all over the world is going to seismically change forever and immediately. The road ahead looks pretty bumpy but I’m sure we will go back to roughly what we knew before.

But I also can’t help thinking that one day, when we look back, we might consider COVID 19 as a moment that put up a mirror to our image of ourselves and revealed to us the hint of a kinder, better, more grateful and considerate world we have still yet to imagine.

We can only wait and hope.


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