Banished – Banned – Begone!

Sick of the ‘C’ word yet? Silly question, right? You were sick of it a hundred days ago.

It’s been one rough stretch of highway for we humans of late and so I know you’ll understand what’s led to the following decision. A meeting held in my living room two nights ago attended by the entire editorial board of SWS has unanimously agreed this post, the one you’re now reading, will mark the final time any mention of Coronavirus will appear on these pages until… until… a vaccine is discovered.

It’s not a policy you’ll see The New York Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC or any of the other major news outlets of the world rolling out anytime soon. In that sense, SWS is leading the way with a pledge I’m fully willing to be held to account on.

We’ve been starving this agent of chaos – Covid 19 – of hosts to infect through social-distancing practices that, by this time, have forced some of us to question whether the cure might be actually worse than the disease. Now it’s time to starve this microscopic ogre of attention. On these pages anyway.

In the meantime there’s this…

Those GOAT (greatest of all time) 1970’s glam rockers with a sense of humor, and, let’s face it, my favourite band, KISS have released a new t-shirt design to join their already ca-razy-large merchandise range.

It’s set my heart into car alarm mode not least for the fact I know I’ll never be able to own it – for obvious reasons of maintaining standards of good taste as set out by my extreme hardcore version of a girlfriend, known as my wife. Here’s a picture anyway…

Not only do the guys (I get to call them that ’cause, you know … life long fan supporter) show a sense of humor but a sense of charity as well…

Yep, live-performance artists the world over have been thrown to the canvas big time in all this virus-flavored malarkey. Authors, on the other hand, god bless ’em, keep on churning out their stories…

THE GUEST LIST by London author Lucy Foley was released at the end of February just as Cornonavirus was beginning to make a name for itself around the planet. Have a listen to the story synopsis for this novel then ask yourself at the end could the killer actually be COVID 19?

“On a windswept island off the the Irish coast, 13 guests gather for the wedding of the year. The cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead., then a storm breaks and everyone is trapped with a killer in their midst.”

Well, not too seriously, yes, the ‘killer in their midst’ could actually be our current microscopic public enemy number one – except for one little snag. Under present rules, weddings aren’t allowed to have that many people attend. Ta da! Sherlock Holmes at your service.

Being quarantined can definitely do funny things to your mind. Like what for instance? Like, I don’t know… maybe finally getting around to reading all 1225 pages of WAR AND PEACE ?

Last time I set down that path to somehow elevate myself by imbibing one of the so-called ‘classics’ of literature, it took the endurance of an ultra-marathon runner to wade through it. That book was DRACULA, written by Bram Stoker 123 years ago. (Go HERE if you want the low-down on a novel that outsold DRACULA 6:1 back in the original day).

By comparison it’s ‘prequel’ called DRACUL, penned by Stoker’s great grand nephew Dacre and written only two years ago, motors along like a Mclaren GT3 racecar and left me breathless right up until it’s dramatic, atom-smashing multi-conclusions. An adrenaline read if ever there was one. So much for the classics!

So what to do with overrated literature from a bygone era you might love the idea of but can’t stomach the turtle-slow verbose reality of? Try getting a hold of American author Lisa Brown’s new book LONG STORY SHORT for a start.

Not only will it alleviate the guilt associated with snubbing your nose at such immortal ‘classics’ as Dicken’s A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859), Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE (1847) or Hemmingway’s monumentally overblown and over-written FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1950) – a book some readers judged should have been retitled FOR WHOM THE BOOK BORES – but it will shorten the length of each novel to just three comic panels.

Faukner’s Southern Gothic story AS I LAY DYING (1930), American poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel THE BELL JAR (1963) and Shirley Jackson’s THE LOTTERY (1948) are among the 100 monuments to classic literature that get the three panel treatment –

Yessirree, for modern readers some of the so-called ‘classics’ are not all they’re cracked up to be. And now there’s another book that positively stinks as well.

To be clear, that’s not a critical judgment of American fiction author Adam Levin’s (not to be confused with Adam Levine – lead singer of American pop rock band MAROON FIVE ) new novel. Rather, it’s a simple statement of fact.

The bright pink jacket cover of BUBBLEGUM smells like bubblegum. It’s the first scratch-n-sniff adult book I’ve seen. . . or, uh, smelled. This is a dysotopian novel set in an alternate present-day world in which the Internet does not exist, and has never existed. 

The story goes that as soon as Levin’s editor, Rob Bloom, read the manuscript, he asked publishing company Doubleday’s art director “to go crazy” on the jacket design. He started from scratch, literally, by sniffing through samples of bubblegum scented children’s books.

When the final design was presented to the publicity team, everybody gasped. And loved it. Of course, it’s a bitter shame that, with bookstores closed, prospective readers won’t be drawn to BUBBLEGUM by its odoriferous jacket. But editor Rob Bloom is philosophical about that: “The people who order it off Amazon or whatever, they’ll get a nice little surprise when they get it home.”

Ps. If you’ve been finding social distancing rules gratuitously inconvenient, spare a thought HERE for the tortured souls with multiple personality disorder.

Pss. A fan of movies but not social isolation? Better click HERE

Psss. Social distancing rules for animals? Seriously?

Pssss. New design for China’s national flag anyone?

And that’s it everyone! No more mention of the ‘C’ word on this blog until the whole bad dream is over. That’s a promise.

Hollywood Does Viruses

An internet search I did a few days back using the term ‘Hollywood virus movies’ brought up a list of no less than 91 films. Dating back to 1957’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (directed by Ingmar Bergman), the index included such notable titles as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971), I AM LEGEND (2007), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and the entire RESIDENT EVIL (2000 – 2017) series comprising six live action and four animated releases.

A catalog as voluminous and spread out (pardon the expression) as that amounts to nothing less than a whole film sub-genre. It tells me the ready-made drama inherent in plague outbreak / plague containment / search for a vaccine scenarios is a formula long attractive to movie audiences; audiences up for experiencing safe, vicarious thrills from the comfort of a cuptray-equipped leather lounge chair. Living through the real thing, as we can all currently attest, is quite another thing altogether.

This post, maybe SWS‘s best chance ever of finally going viral, will spotlight two ‘deadly pathogen’ movies from that long list – 1995’s OUTBREAK and 2011’s CONTAGION.

OUTBREAK (1995) was based on the 1994 non-fiction book THE HOT ZONE about the Ebola virus. Produced on a budget of $50 million, the film made $190 million at the box office and featured an ensemble all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Director Wolfgang Petersen’s (THE NEVER ENDING STORYAIR FORCE ONE – THE PERFECT STORM) thriller follows the ‘career’ of a microscopic bug – the film’s super-villain if you will – that kills humans within 24 hours of exposure by liquefying the internal organs.

OUTBREAK opens 28 years ago, in Africa, as American doctors descend on a small village that has been wiped out by a deadly new plague. They promise relief but send instead a single airplane that incinerates the village with a firebomb. The implication is that the microbe is too deadly to deal with any other way.

However, nearly three decades later, fresh hosts for the deadly super-bug are found when Betsy, a white-headed Capuchin monkey infected with the virus, is smuggled from Africa into the United States. The scene included below, featuring first-rate monkey acting, shows an attempt to kill the primate after it has been confirmed as a carrier.

OUTBREAK received solid, bordering on mixed reviews at the time of it’s original release. In a case of real life mirroring (pre-digital) reel life, the African nation of Zaire was in the grip of an actual Ebola outbreak when the film debuted in theatres.

Among the movie’s more famous scenes is the ‘airborne droplets’ sequence set in a cinema. Cheesy acting it may be but surely this is just the kind of entertainment needed right now to keep our minds off the current issue worrying us all…

Contagion (2011)

CONTAGION (2011) cost $60 million to make and earned back $137 million at the box office. As part of script development for the film, writer Scott Burns consulted with American epidemiologist Larry Brilliant (name not made up!) – renown for his work in eradicating smallpox – to help develop an accurate perception of a pandemic event.

CONTAGION featured an all-star ensemble cast of actors including Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and one of my favourite actors from the 1970’s, Elliot Gould.

The plot concerns the spread of a virus that makes it’s way into the human population when a bulldozer knocks down a banana tree in a rainforest in China, disturbing some bats. One bat finds shelter in a pig farm and drops a piece of banana, which is eaten by a pig. The pig is slaughtered and prepared by a chef in a Macau casino, who shakes hands with Gwyneth Paltrow‘s character, transmitting the virus to her.

The film was well received by parts of the scientific community who lauded the movie for its accuracy. Interestingly, Jude Law’s character is a popular blogger with conspiracy theories about the government’s ties with drug companies. OUTBREAK (1995) similarly featured glimpses of a deep conspiracy, theirs involving a sinister army general played by Donald Sutherland and the army’s reluctance to widely distribute a vaccine. 

Unsurprisingly, it comes as no surprise (you like that?) someone has made a video comparing director Steven Sodenbergh’s movie to our current agent of chaos COVID-19

Our present – what used to go by the name of comfort zones – may indeed be flooded with pepper spray and bad ju ju, but if it’s brightsiding you crave then you’ve come to the right place.

The current death toll from CORONAVIRUS has now surpassed 100 000 people but a little under 700 years ago a pandemic – known by various names including Bubonic Plague and Black Death and spread by fleas carried by rodents – resulted in an estimated 200 MILLION deaths across Europe and the Middle East.

Feeling comparatively a teensy better now? No? Then howz about trying something new… like… oh, I don’t know… maybe a new word for instance? I picked this one up just the other day and took an immediate shine to it. ‘Zoonotic’ isn’t the strangest word that’s rolled off anyone’s tongue but any batch of joined letters with a ‘z’ sound comes with a built-in weirdness quotient so let’s accept that. This word’s a classic case in point.

The term zoonotic is used to refer to diseases and viruses able to be transmitted between animals and people. The source of COVID 19 is thought to have originated from one of the usual animal suspects, bats, but been transferred to the human population via an intermediary animal such as a snake, turtle or pangolin.

The smart money for a chief go-between faciltator is apparently currently on turtles – referred to as “virus reservoirs” capable of carrying dozens of diseases simultaneously – since these were more commonly traded in the live animal market in Wuhan, China where the virus has been pinpointed as originating.

Did someone say infographic?

Check this out – the animal origins of major viruses dating back the last 50 or so years –

And now I’m done beating up on the animals who’ve been beating up on us, to the question – “What’s been my experience like of this whole bucknutty, cocoa-bananas self isolation saga?”

I’ll respond using just two words; two words that happen to be the title of a well-known deadly virus film series –

Ps. You really do owe yourself at least one virus-flavoured bonus read, agreed? Try THIS ONE. It’s funny.

Pss. Why settle for just one bonus when you can have two? Take a leaf out of William Shakespeare’s book and find out how he coped with lockdown during the Bubonic plague HERE.

Psss. You like writing, right? All types of writing, right? The sky’s the limit, right? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any or all of those barely-disguised baiting questions, GO HERE.

Pssss. Naming your new-born baby after a virus? Who’d do that? Only THESE PEOPLE!

An Introvert’s Dream

In 2019 Oxford’s word of the year was ‘climate emergency’. I’m willing to wager now, by the time the sun sets on our top to bottom beyond cray cray 2020, everyone’s presently favourite-not-favourite term ‘social distancing’ will rank high up the list for this year.

Yet for a particular parcel of the population known to be crowd-averse at the best of times, social distancing equals nothing short of a raving good time. You heard that right. The current virus-flavoured cataclysm unraveling a million threads from a million different blanket corners from the fabric of society does have a silver lining.

For the world’s introverts – known by such not-especially-complimentary colloquial terms as ‘homebodies’, ‘shut-ins’, ‘wallflowers’, ‘loners’ and ‘solitaires’ – what’s happening at present as far as the curtailing of social contact and the ban on large groups of people – is frankly nothing short of a form of heaven on Earth. And it’s one this quietly spoken and inward-looking army of tens of millions were sure they’d never be so lucky to witness in their lifetime.

Seriously? Seriously. And joyously if you’re an ‘Intro’.

Wasn’t there an ancient tongue saying doing the rounds at some point long, long ago about the meek inheriting the earth? Well…welcome to it!

What the grey-bearded ones conveniently failed to mention however was the fact that by the time the ‘inheritance’ was left to be claimed, whatever was left after the devastation to be quietly, politely and considerately stood in line for, would, undoubtedly, be in such a shambolic state, no one – be they meek or shouty – would be the least bit motivated to covert these leftover society’s ashes.

Collapse and carnage aside, point is seeing whole nations come around to what you’ve been doing your entire life – albeit not willingly but rather something that’s been forced on them much like a pair of police-issue handcuffs (or a sloppy kiss from great grandma – choose your own analogy) – is nonetheless personal validation on a grand scale for Earth’s social moths, shyologists and keep-to-them-selfers.

Pretty sure this Poster girl for Introvert’s United is not a genuine introvert herself but hey, she’s been chosen to deliver the message so LETS RUN WITH IT!

Throughout my life I’ve alternated between believing myself to be an introvert as well as the more outward-focused extrovert. These days my pet go-to description is the very new-millenium-sounding ‘ambivert’.

For those who haven’t heard the term before – of which, until very recently, I counted myself as one – it’s a description of people who embrace traits from both ends of the introvert /extrovert spectrum, continuum or whatever you want to call the genetic personality lottery that makes us us.

And before we go any further now seems as good a time as any to map out exactly what is meant when we describe someone as being ‘introverted.’ Most descriptions I’ve encountered over the past day or so appear to cite a similar batch of re-occurring traits.

For those playing at home (where else would you be?) try asking yourself, on a scale of 1 – 10, how true the following statements are for you. Ready? Steady? Go…

  • I hate small talk but I enjoy deep conversations.
  • I get tired if I stay at a party or social gathering too long.
  • I feel like everything I say should be meaningful and often refrain from talking for this reason.
  • I prefer one-on-one or small group conversations over talking in large groups.
  • I need to spend time alone to recharge my battery.
  • I think before I speak.
  • I have difficulty thinking in a group. I think best when I’m on my own.
  • I usually listen more than I talk.
  • I dislike interruptions.
  • I hate conflict.

Adding to that checklist, here’s a few of my own. You know you’re a social vegan who avoids meet when –

Your idea of happiness is when the elevator door successfully closes before anyone else can get in.

You’d rather forgo the chance of winning $200 000 in Channel 9’s ‘I wake up with Today’ phone promotion because there’s a chance you might be interviewed on television.

You regularly enjoy watching your phone ring until you miss the call.

You know and understand that the collective noun for a group of introverts is a ‘no thanks’.

Your personal motto reads “I may on occasion ‘visit’ the world of people but my true home will always be solitude and the world of thought”.

The idea of sleeping in a coffin with a sealed lid holds genuine appeal.

Equally the thought of climbing into a packing box and staying there (just like you did as a kid only now you’re adulting) is… attractive.

And if after all that checking you’re still unsure whether you’re a bona-fide ‘intro’ or merely just a victim at present of ‘Corona circumstance’ one thing is for certain – there’s plenty of books on the subject-

Ps. Got some great bonuses for you this week. Try THIS ONE on for size for starters. It’s advice on how to last 42 days alone in your own room – you know… just in case?

Pss. Two of the three cartoons used in this post have been lifted, with permission, from an amazing little site called INTROVERT DOODLES. Owner Maureen ‘Marzi’ Wilson – U.S author of four books – says she created the site as a way for her to better understand her own introversion.

Psss. In a world gone stupid, what we need now more than ever is love. How’s that for a 1970’s-radio-DJ-style sedgeway into presenting the latest Lady Gaga song video STUPID LOVE? This clip maybe Michelin star quality gourmet eye candy but what’s it doing here, at the end of this post you ask?

If nothing else it’s exhibit A for the case why this world, beholden and calmed as it may be by the introverts, is most definitely, and undeniably, created and choreographed by extroverts.

Pssss. Just quietly – the introverts aren’t the only stock holding up better than most during this time of…of… disarray? The OCD‘ers who’ve been known to compulsively wash their hands a dozen or more times a day are also fairing quite well I hear.

Psssss. I could leave you with a Coronavirus joke but you probably wouldn’t get it. Hopefully not anyway. And before anyone thinks about voicing their concern at the standard of purported humour on this site, it’s best to keep in mind one thing: protesting will get both you AND I precisely… nowhere.