I don’t know about anyone else, but as lockdown restrictions in the UK continue to lift, I have been left with a feeling of, “Well… that happened.”
Already, life is returning to something that can pass as normal, but with some subtle differences which remind us that, as a society, we have been through something significant and we are still working out just what the lasting impact of it will be.
If you had asked me six months ago if I thought wearing a face mask to go shopping would become normal, I would have answered as most people would: Definitely not.
Or if you had told me that my working hours at the office would shift by half an hour so that my start and finish times are staggered with my colleagues, I would have grumbled about having to get up half an hour earlier each day.
But here we are.
And these are just tiny differences to one person. I know that the national and international changes are even greater.
As with any unprecedented event in history, it won’t be long before we see the impact of this pandemic in the world of art and literature. You may have already seen some of it, but over the next few years it will really start to show.
Of course, as lockdown loomed in March, parallels were already being drawn between Covid-19 and various works of Science Fiction already in circulation. Most prominent was the uncanny ‘prediction’ (if a novel can be called as much) in Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel, The Eye of Darkness, in which one character describes an illness that will originate in Wuhan Province, spread quickly with symptoms that do not appear immediately, and that only affects humans, leaving animals and vegetation uninfected.
Yeah, I shuddered slightly reading that one too.
Not to mention more subtle connections that were found in the works of Margaret Atwood and other writers of speculative and post-apocalyptic fiction.
In all honesty, I am surprised that no-one uncovered a lesser known prophecy about all of this from Nostradamus (or Agnes Nutter).
But all of that is retrospective. These are stories that have already been written and, while their accuracy and relevance to current events can’t be ignored, and while it is always fun to stretch those conspiracy-theory muscles, what is of more interest to me right now is how the trajectory of our storytelling will change as a result of Covid-19.
The importance and impact of Story
Human beings are natural storytellers – I’m sure everyone is well aware of this. From recounting the events of the day to a loved one, all the way to the wildest science-fiction epic set in a galaxy far, far away, every story we tell and identify with help us to make sense of ourselves and our place in the world.
For the most part, out storytelling evolves gradually as society changes, and ideals and concepts shift with the times. However, it is important to remember that each subtle shift in our social and cultural outlook is triggered by an event or movement that has brought that particular issue to the forefront of social consciousness.
Then, of course, there are the big events – things that force big changes in a short space of time and that then take years to fully understand. In recent years, this would be things like World War II, the Lunar Landings, the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11.
I think it is safe to say that the Covid-19 pandemic (or just 2020 in general) can be added to that list.
The question then becomes: what sort of stories will we be telling in the next few years to help us make sense of the events surrounding Covid-19?
Here are a few ideas that I think we should be looking out for:
This seems like an obvious starting point. Stories centred around the outbreak of a deadly disease. If nothing else, you just know that Hollywood is going to dine out on this one for a while. These types of narratives are nothing new, but now we have just experienced a global pandemic first-hand, I wonder how this story archetype will be handled from now on?
And not the superhero kind. It will be interesting to see how quickly it becomes normal for fictional characters to be given face masks to match their real-world counterparts. Or perhaps the very absence of face masks in our stories will highlight our desire to be rid of them in real life. After all, fiction is a form of escapism, so the worlds we create could be consciously void of the need for them.
Social Distancing in Romance
I’m sure that there is an epic romance waiting to be told, set in a society where social distancing has been taken to the extreme and any form of physical human contact is taboo. Seeing a couple navigate the social restrictions, to find ways to express affection and intimacy in that situation would be fascinating to explore.
There have been enough examples of acts of brilliance and total blunders made by governments all over the world in the last six months, that writers have plenty to draw on for decades to come. There have also been as many examples of great and terrible reactions from the public to restrictions that have been enforced.
For better or worse, I think we can expect a fair number of best sellers to comment on one or more aspect of our own behaviours through the pandemic. I don’t expect all of us to come out of these stories unscathed.
If this pandemic has shown us anything it has to be just how connected we are on a global scale. We can look forward to some tales of how that could have been our undoing and that ‘buying local’ is a necessary step to avoid further crises of this nature. There may be some stories that point the finger at one corner of the globe or another.
And there could also be humbling stories, reminding us that despite our differences in culture, religion, and even language, we are, at the end of the day, all human. Just human beings sharing one planet and trying to make the best of our own shortcomings.
Of course, all of these storytelling predictions are made purely from Covid-19 events, and do not take into account other big events of 2020, such as:
- The Black Lives Matter movement
- The finalisation of a No Deal Brexit (yes, that was this year too!)
- The upcoming US election
- And a thousand and one other things that have happened all over the world that we may not even have heard of yet
Whatever stories this year inspires, they will certainly make for very engaging reading.