It’s a war out there. Venturing forth from lockdown today felt like creeping out of my foxhole or trench to sally forth to do battle with the enemy army, a covert (get it?) force of invisible soldiers.
Not that I have the faintest idea what it feels like to be an infantryperson on the front line of a battle, and the only thing I know about foxholes is ‘foxy’ ladies’ in jodhpurs chasing wee creatures to death. The closest I have ever been to death itself was when someone tried to strangle me once (No doubt others have wished they could do me in, but someone actually tried once. I’m still here, however, so guess who won that fight?!… but that can remain a story for another day.) Then there was the chemotherapy…but that was more like imagining death as an option because chemo was so agonizingly unpleasant… again a tale for another fireside though.
But the elements of a movie about twenty-first century urban conflict are all there in this death-dance with a coronavirus:
For the first time in centuries the world war is one in which all countries share an enemy. And the virus has no alliances. It is an axis of evil all on its own, unless you consider Diabetes, Hypertension and Asthma its allies. There’s no shortage of finger-pointing at possible partners in crime, mind you, with Trump vacillating between blaming China, The WHO, the Democrats and the media for being in league with the virus.
2. War Correspondents/ Propagandists (and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference)
As with any modern war, events unfold live on TV. So, you have your obligatory war correspondents: those talking heads on TV who spout commentary all day and night are worse than googling your symptoms for frightening the bejesus out of you. It’s only when they interview the likes of Professor Salim Abdool Karim that I realise we shall be all right with him at the helm of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19. (Prof K has been voted the sexiest COVID-19 scientist by some ladies in the deep South – well they put it a little cruder, but still, not only is he a measured and eminently lucid academic, he is rather cute in a grandfatherly way.) From someone who watched the first Gulf War unfold on TV (That was when I was going through my chemo) as well as living through 9-11 and its aftermath in the US, I find these reporters often spread panic far more than information. They have to fill a 24-hour news cycle and so much of what they do is speculate…and confuse.
Choose wisely who you watch. Avoid almost all politicians. They are conflicted between the health and economic crisis, and their own next election. And yes, I know I sound a little Trumpian in my criticism of the media, but choose carefully which ones you take your truth from. Remember ‘Pravda’ means ‘truth.’ Remember Squealer in Animal Farm and choose the views that do not defend or glorify politicians.
In fact, the press plays a massively important watchdog role in a war. They are the ones who warn of excesses by authoritarian forces and remind us that emergency measures should not become the norm in surveillance and curtailing of freedoms and abuse of power. Study who owns media houses to see whose interests are being served.
These are different from political allies. They are ordinary folk and in the COVID War they are ordinary citizens who just Won’t. Stay. At. Home during lockdown. You know the ones who don’t wear a mask because they ‘can’t breathe nicely’ with it on or aver they are ’not scared to get this virus, because they are young/healthy’…. (insert other obnoxious, entitled utterings). These are the ones who defy the regulations and who in two weeks will either be ill or have passed on the virus to some poor cashier at the supermarket or their elderly parents.
We won’t mention Nkosazani Dlamini-Zuma’s dodgy dealings with illicit tobacco kingpin Adriano Mazotti because the ANCasked us not to pick on the ministers. But, ja… There will always be those who profiteer in a war.
Any conflict involves a complex network of spies on both sides, scurrying around gathering information and exposing the underbelly on both the human and alien invader side. And they are spending lockdown with binocs surveilling their neighbourhoods for humans out after curfew and joggers nipping over the dunes for a quick paddle in the sea, posting their pics on Facebook Neighbourhood sites like ‘Wanted’ posters, shaming the offenders and turning in the collaborators.
The important spies in this fight are the scientists and doctors who are devoting their waking hours to finding a vaccine and uncovering how this little bugger works. Move over James Bond and Jason Bourne -these are the spies we really need.
The enemy spies and reconnaissance guerillas are unseen, jumping easily from one coughing cyclist to the next one in his unprotected slipstream. They live among us, invisible until we touch our eyes or scratch our mouths. Like Mata Hari, they lurk on our lovers’ lips and in their hair, but they are scarier and more prolific than the Army of the Dead in GOT, because they are unseen and unstoppable.
As so many times throughout history the easiest cannon fodder have been the drafted serfs who are forced into a war not of their making to serve on the frontline and take the brunt of the distant generals’ and nobles’ wars. Spare a thought for the poor who didn’t bring the virus here (they can’t afford to fly) but will ultimately pay the price of the virus just as they have with HIV. Think of them in your safe, air-conditioned car on your way to your salaried job, while they commute in crowded public transporters (Oh, come on taxis are definitely going to try to defy the regs!) and return to their tiny homes to take the advance guard of corona to their elderly parents and tuberculoid roommates.
6. Foot Soldiers
Then there are the foot soldiers, you and me who ‘also serve who only stand and wait’ in lockdown and the advance guard in the hospitals, petrol stations, shops, police stations and clerks in government offices; teachers in their nests; farmers in their fields; truckers on the road. Don’t forget security guards and sanitizing company works who can be seen spraying down offices like the nuclear scientists of science fiction movies, in their Hazmat suits. I really hope all the essential workers will finally be rewarded financially for being the cannon fodder of this disease.
When this is over and people no longer clap at eight o’clock, please vote for salary increases for them. Like soldiers in combat, many will not receive medals and state funerals. And they are dying for us, folk. Doctors and nurses are bearing the brunt of enemy fire: by mid-April, 17 000 Italian doctors and nurses were infected with 159 medical personnel being among the dead. And that’s just Italy. Sadly, they seem to be operating like the field hospital in M*A*S*H, using their wits and making do sans proper PPE.
When we go out in our masks we circle other people warily like combatants in a fencing match or Star Wars Jedi knights, facing down our nemesis on a narrow ledge, our hoodies our cowls, and hand sanitizer our lightsabers. Please don’t believe Mr Trump that Lysol injections are the way to go if you’re scratching around for an adequate weapon (that one is firing blanks, my friend), or the Madagascans peddling untested plant-remedies like Thabo Mbeki on steroids. Please don’t fall prey to the anti-vaxxers refusing to contemplate a vaccine cure in the future. How do they think we got rid of smallpox, for goodness sake! You don’t need a ray gun. Just wash your hands!
8. Body Armour
A word on masks: there is an entire universe of sub-cultures evident in how we are wearing masks: from the disposable medical ones; to the pretty, lacy, hand-made ones or the crudely sewn efforts of the needlework-challenged. Then there are the wannabe bandits with their bandanas tied cowboy-style across their faces like train robbers.. Trendy people don a variety of snoods and infinity scarves in multiple colourful shades and fabrics from surfer cool to cyclist flashy. The ‘boets’ of course stride through the shop in their artisan masks for chemical spraying with all sorts of filters and respirators. My favourites so far have been the old lady I spotted at the pharmacy in her ingenious McGyver-inspired mmmshield fashioned from staples and one of those plastic envelopes you put in office files, and the man who went shopping with his tiny boys armoured up as a miniature stormtrooper and some masked Marvel creature that was scarier than Joan Rivers sans make-up (Okay that is a bit mean, but if she can dish it, she should take it too).
We cannot fight on the beaches (well, not in Lockdown Level 4), but we shall fight on the school grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
With apologies to Winston Churchill
The best toys are like unicorns. They include enough horse to seem real, but enough horn to become magical.
Amber & Andy Ankowski, “Anatomy of the Perfect Toy”, PBS Parents, May 25, 2016
The abandoned doll in the yard next door is a forlorn sight. Lost toys take on a peculiar pathos similar to ghostly schools during lockdown. This child’s moppet has obviously been left during the lockdown after a fleeting weekend visit with the divorced father who lives there, custodial visits now being allowed during South Africa’s national quarantine. There is something incredibly sad about discarded playthings, perhaps because they signal the absence of their owners.
The little girls who spent the weekend have gone home with their mother and the garden is quiet again, their giggling games a fond memory only. I wonder whether the girls have missed and cried over the little baby doll. I wonder whether she has a name.
Favourite toys always have names. My first doll was called Hygienic, I kid you not – well that’s what it said on the label, so that’s what I called her. She had a hard, plastic head with garish red hair (worse than mine) and a soft body, presumably so as not to hurt the toddler playing with her, so she looked a little odd without her clothes – I had enough naked dolls to run a brothel if I’d known what that was.
I also had a variety of other dolls – remember Tiny Dots? Then there were those ugly Cabbage Patch creatures. I remember playing for hours at the apartment block made out of my chest of drawers where the Barbies lived too. Now I recoil at the thought of the social grooming about body-types they were promoting, but then they were the cool people who populated a Manhattan sort of life I thought was oh so glamorous in my emptied out sock drawer. There were also those odd ones, not unlike a baldish Chucky, that looked like they were straight out of Steven Spielberg central casting, but with the hair a mere contour in the plastic. They were called Cindy and Wendy and cried out alarmingly when tipped upside down (let that be a warning to future mother tempted to do that). I think Cindy could walk too, in a sort of mechanical way – I am surprised we didn’t have nightmares about them.
But my all-time favourite was a teddy bear called Spareman (He was the only boy-doll you see so he felt ‘spare.’) My childhood logic was a little odd, but I suppose ‘Gigolo’ never occurred to my young mind, even though he dated all the other ‘ladies’ and was the groom at every large doll wedding – the ladies were all dressed for those of course – some rather sumptuously if my sister, Brigid, and her harem of coiffured belles played too, although I was never sure if she would get cross with me and take her side of the family indoors. My grandmother who was an artist, made Spareman for me: he was just large enough to fit in the crook of my five-year-old arm and sported a jaunty, painted-on face and a powder blue shirt – no pants now that I think of it, after the brown felt ones he came with disintegrated, so he was definitely a trifle loose on the morals side too.
I took him everywhere and couldn’t (wouldn’t?) sleep without him. I remember one occasion when my mother was driving us cross-country in her little blue Austin Morris to visit family in Ixopo, a small town on the Umkhomazi River in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands. We had travelled some 200 kilometres when it was discovered that Spareman was living McCauley Calkin’s nightmare, home alone. My mother turned around and went back for him. That is love – my mother was a saint! I would never have done that for any of my youngsters.
I lost him forever in America when we moved back to South Africa. He was packed away in a box meant to be forwarded to me with all my treasured possessions; sadly never sent. I hope someone is loving him – but he probably found true love finally with a dumpsite dolly.
It’s heartening though to see how children’s toys are kept for future generations. We found Andrew’s mother’s teddy in her things and it sits on a shelf alongside Mika’s old bear and a gift bear from Sterns which came with a watch and bracelet given to me by staff when I left my last school. Stern Bear glares at Andrew and reminds him that diamonds are a girl’s best toy now. Mind you, they are perched up there like the proverbial three monkeys – cue horror music…
Liam had several toys, all called Max, which made things easy to remember: Max the Wolf, Max the Teddy Bear, Max the Monkey and Max the Lion. I think Winston the Labrador ate a few Maxes. I hope Bandile next door finds his daughter’s doll before she is ravaged by his savage Jack Russel.
I was not impressed when someone gave my girls Bratz Dolls for Christmas once, both because I hated the concept of encouraging brattishness – they needed no encouragement in that department; but mainly because of that spelling! To this day I am not sure whether Mika has been forgiven for tossing one of the three delinquent dollies into the next door neighbour’s garden, but I never moaned at him – I was glad. The girls seldom lacked for baby dolls because Liam was always happy to hop into the dolls’ pram and be petted.
Sean and his best friend Matthew apparently blew up a couple of Action Men – a fact I am glad I did not know about because I would have been furious about the danger of messing around with fireworks, but I suppose the fact that my cousin and I once used a doll as a swingball would make me a bit hypocritical about their destructive streaks.
Michael had a collection of remote controlled cars which were best put to use during nap time when they served as spies, transporting messages between bedrooms. Again, not something I knew about until they were teenagers and confessed to their wicked childhood nap avoidance.
But their best games were those adventure games that Sean (interestingly now making money from screenwriting) scripted and directed with elaborate plots and parts which evolved as the characters joined in.
And there was the ubiquitous Lego, a nightmare to clean up even with the cute Lego vacuum device, but worth hours of enjoyment. When we first moved back to South Africa and Liam was tiny, while he was asleep, I would sometimes try to grab some shut-eye quickly and still be around the children. So I would lie down on the couch while the children built cities and roads out of Lego on the floor. They remember me grumbling if they made too much noise, but certainly loved the games, even if they were frustrated that their mother needed to doze. Shannon remembers feeling for my pulse to see whether I was still alive from time to time and lifting up my eyelids to check whether the kip had become permanent. Liam played with Lego for years and was adept at building fighter spacecrafts and manipulating them dexterously in aerial battles in solitary games, complete with sound effects, when his older siblings were at school.
I did not enjoy the era of tamagotchis, those digital pets that raised the alarm annoyingly if they needed feeding or walking. Fortunately batteries die. and so did those’pets.’
They still all love games of course, mostly online for the boys and the Friends board game was a recent Christmas request, not to mention the Game of Thrones epic, but those like Beer Pong and others have taken on a more salacious turn I am sad to say.
I miss watching their little bodies absorbed in their fantasy worlds, or building forts out of the tables. I think I have conveniently forgotten how much I had to referee things though and wondering whether Michael and Shannon might actually kill each other.
For now, I have packed things away in a cupboard, and measure the passing of time by the dust on them all…until the echo of children’s feet again sounds along the passage and the games begin again for the next generation…and I can play too.
“The simplest toy, one which even the youngest child can operate, is called a grandparent.”
The watching of series phenomenon has altered the way we live. I fear that family life will never be the same.
First came TV dinners; then came social media and lately series; all transforming us from social, companionable beings into individualistic fowl who pop into our chicken coops after dinner with the zeal of a greedy child hiding the Christmas chocolate back in the advent calendar.
I suppose I am speaking on behalf of all those with addictive personalities – you know who you are: you have to finish all the chocolate once it is opened; you can’t stop scrolling through Facebook/Instagram notifications, even though you are bored already with other people’s family outings/ neatly arranged meal/cocktail/ or random sunset; you just have to try once more to reach reach the next level on Candy Crush, and of course you who cannot stop until you have finished every season of a series.
Binge watching is the problem, not the series itself. I mean ever since Charles Dickens first began publishing his works in serial form, both weekly and monthly, readers have become used to anticipating the next episode. Daily and weekly television programmes did the same thing. Who does not remember the excitement of the opening bars of the Dallas theme or the desire to know who shot JR?! Now, however, an entire season of a show is dumped on Showmax or Netflix (I don’t want to know if you are pirating your addiction) and we no longer have to delay gratification by waiting to see the outcome of the cliffhanger ending, because Netflix tells us that the next episode of Luther is opening in …7…6…5…seconds. And then you carry on, even if you really should switch off and go to sleep; have sex with your spouse; or have a conversation with a flesh and blood person. But let’s face it: Idris Elba. Well, Idris Elba:
Too much of anything is bad for you, my mother always said. And reluctantly even Idris needs to be switched off from time to time because as Aristotle pointed out 3000 years ago, true happiness should not be confused with pleasure; and just to be clear, series are ‘passing pleasures’ they do not give us deep, soul happiness. In fact the obsessive consumption of episode after episode can cause the same kind of sick feeling after you’ve polished off the whole Cadbury’s Milk Choccie.
It seems some shows also result in rather tumultuous emotions: Game of Thrones fans are so devout that they gather in bars for ‘watch parties, causing some problems for HBO because they are publicly screening the shows, costing the channel revenue. But just look at the picture above – this is the episode when we discover how Hodor got his name – my girls wept for half an hour after that. I still think these cult parties are better than the habit most of us have of disappearing into our own territory to watch alone though.
Such solo viewing of series has brought about a new form of cheating on your loved ones. My husband and I used to watch series together, but because one or the other would want to stop after a while (that would be him – he has more restraint), accusations of going on alone can rend a relationship asunder. There’s actually a name for it, I kid you not: ‘Netflix cheating’ and any number of ‘scholarly articles on betrayal-by-watching-on. Such behind-his-back watching was found to be considered worse than sending flirty smses to someone else in one study. Seriously?! And yet this addiction for ‘just one more’ is so compelling …
Like all film media, we must always consider the hidden cultural messages we are being exposed to. There is your usual standard US propaganda in shows about law enforcement. And here I must pick on services like HBO yet again with the gratuitous sex and violence in shows such as Game of Thrones. Pause to consider that the target audience of channels such as HBO are 18-44 years and male and you get an idea whose interests are being catered for. This explains why there is so much hyper-masculinity and misogyny vis a vis nudity and the general way women are depicted. We become so inured to regular blood-spouting decapitations and debauchery that they begin to seem normal. And that is how stereotypes and implicit bias works, my friends.
Big Bang Theory has been accused of ‘the complicity of geek masculinity’ in reinforcing gender stereotypes, despite having as its protagonists ‘unconventional male characters’. So beware of those hidden biases when you watch your series and ensure you are not unconsciously assisting in the perpetuation of homophobia, hyper-masculinity and misogyny.
Of course one could avoid watching these shows, but – the FOMO darling! I just had to watch – and to be honest it was rather satisfying to see the chicks taking control. Now if I say ‘and there’s Jon Snow’ I shall reveal my own sad objectification of men. So I won’t say, ‘And then there’s Jon Snow.’
At least with sub-titled shows, we also have exposure to other cultural experiences. We have been fascinated by Rita set in a school in Denmark and has shown some interesting contrasts to our educational offerings: small, glass-walled classrooms for one.
Then there is the Rocky-III phenomenon. Some shows go on longer than they should. They have a season or two, the producers are making money, so they carry on with further seasons which just just don’t have the same sizzle. Sometimes a story is exhausted after its initial telling. Then it should stop to avoid the soapie-type serial developing. Orphan Black, for example, just got so convoluted and ridiculous that I stopped watching. Breaking Bad got it right. Mind you that was the most mind-blowingly brilliant show ever! As a work of art, it was sheer brilliance. And it ended. My daughter has been nagging me to watch The new episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale which is also a superb piece of theatre and despite being rather dark it is compelling. This one at least has a screenplay for the new season written by the original author so there may be some integrity there, but I do hope it does not become like the sequel to To Kill a Mocking Bird, which ruined the original.
Anyway I’m off to my own coop now to snuggle in and watch the next episode of my current show. “Winter is coming’ after all.
Write a scary story in just four words. Mine is: Children drive my car. But most people will confess to a fear of monsters, whether they are Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton with a finger on the nuclear button, Chocolate or Coffee thieves or your common or garden sort ghouls.
Shannon used to be terrified of the Garden Service, yelling, ‘Weediteaters; Weediteaters,’ whenever they arrived to trim our lawn in Batten Bend. Indoors, she would race to me and need to be picked up where she became a human koala bear, until they left. Once she wrapped herself in a curtain to escape their savage threshing sounds.
Liam has developed a clown phobia (now this one makes sense) – coulrophobia – which the experts link to the distortion of familiar humanoid features. I’m convinced this can be related to his gaming habits which have him spending hours shooting zombies which frankly would frighten the life out of me. (Ha ha – funny – then I could frighten him!).
Lizzy used to hate having ‘Happy Birthday’ sung and thought Imagination was a monster because the Teenies used to say ‘ it’s your imagination’ when they were afraid of billowing curtains.
Andrew hated Father Christmas as a child, quite rightly. What right-minded parent encourages a beloved offspring to sit on the lap of a strange old man in red and says to him to tell him what he wants?! And then we wonder why they won’t smile for the photograph! What were we thinking?! Not to mention the fear inspired by this hulking geriatric invading our safe homes in his Wellington boots and fannying around in an ill-fitting red suit in the lounge – especially one inebriated by the obligatory alcohol left out for him.
As a littlun, Sean hated the dark and slept with the bathroom light on for years.
On the other hand, Michael is afraid of washing up and has to leave home when it’s his turn and Mika can’t eat real food. True story; we have tested it. But that is another story.
How many of us remember racing back up the passage to the living room at night, fleeing from unimaginable darkness and ‘things.’ I have distinct memories of nightmares from watching a film called The Mummy, which we watched on a reel at the CBC Welkom Friday night ‘bioscope,’ about an Egyptian mummy which emerges from its sarcophagus and steals around the submarine transporting the stolen artefact to America. It has periodic psychotic moments when it stalks and kills the sailors. To this day, I am not a fan of Egyptology.
I am more scared the kids will never leave home now however.
The girls don’t like to fall asleep without their laptops playing series. Now personally I think that is worse and probably feeds ongoing other issues, but hey, I’m just the mother; what do I know. Tonight my adult munchkins were ensconced under blankets watching Game of Thrones’ White Walkers. I am wondering who will call out at 3 am, ‘Mommy, I had a bad dream!’ as they did when they were little. Mind you, Shannon confessed recently to fibbing about bad dreams when she was little just so I would let her sleep with me (an experience not unlike sharing a bed with a rotating bicycle).
I am convinced that many of these fears are caused and fuelled by film and television and raise the issue of the effects of the media on our mental health. And the studies bear this out, including the continuation of childhood ‘scary movie experiences’ into adulthood.
The bottom line is: heed the warning in the prologue to DVDs. Make sure your children are asleep before you watch horror films or gory movies. We worry so much about exposing our youngsters to sex, but violence is way worse. Better still get to grips with a witty romcom or intense drama) and re-consider allowing the teen sleepovers to revolve around the latest spooky spirit movie. None of my children report being willing watchers of this fair and yet they all ‘happily’ went along to the all-night-frighters.
But never mind, they’ll grow out of it. Having children of their own will soon make them realise that the other fears were NOTHING. There is nothing the screen can show you that equals parenting for the fear factor. I have birthed and raised five children and now ek skrik vir niks!