A video made the rounds on various social media platforms last night and this morning. By now you have probably seen it. A young man presents his case for a mask policy to the school board in Rutherford County, Tennessee. He recalls the death of his grandmother by COVID and begins to express fear that this could happen to other people he cares about.
And that’s where most cuts of the video end. You see, the young man’s speech was interrupted by the shouting and snickering of adults behind him. Adults holding ‘Let our kids smile’ signs.
Elsewhere on the internet, there is a very similar – and very different – trend emerging. It is a simple meme. You find someone who dies of COVID or asks for prayer or good thoughts after having downplayed the virus, the vaccine or masks only weeks or days before. Then you juxtapose their statements for internet points. If you’re in a particularly virulent version of this community, maybe you even post something vile on their family’s announcement of the person’s passing on Facebook. This is NOT cherry-picking. There are entire social media sub-communities and hashtags devoted to these memes.
We have written several times about the imagery of Ionesco’s landmark play Rhinoceros. I’m abridging rather thoroughly here, but the main conceit of the play is that the humans gradually change into rhinoceroses. But the shock of the story isn’t the devastation the beasts cause, rampaging about town. The shock is that, at some point, we are no longer shocked. We see the family, friend, neighbor or colleague we once knew and and say simply, “Oh, a rhinoceros.”
Many of us today will shrug and say, “Oh, a rhinocerous” to adults laughing and jeering at a child discussing his grandmother’s death. The Real Issue, you see, is that the child made a statement about the role of masks with inadequate information to justify his claim, and that might unduly influence local policy.
Many of us today will shrug and say, “Oh, a rhinoceros” to those who barge in on a family grieving the loss of someone they shared their entire lives and dreams with. The Real Issue, you see, is the good we can do by making an example of how wrong they were about COVID.
Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves that it isn’t normal for humans to transform into rhinoceroses.
Maybe it’s time to wrap up a little bit less of our individual and collective identity in Being Right About COVID.