Divided perspectives on pandemic portrayals in film, televisions

Roughly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, production companies continue to work the topic into movie and TV show plots.

COVID-19 storylines have surfaced in episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “South Park” as well as in movies like “Locked Down,” starring Anne Hathaway, and “Songbird” with Sofia Carson.

But opinions are divided on whether the pandemic is what consumers want to see both on their televisions and in daily life.

Sociology associate professor David Arditi identified three types of audience members: those who don't believe in the pandemic, those who want to escape it and those who want to see the reality of it.

After watching just about everything else, Arditi started watching a TV series called “Big Sky,” which follows a kidnapping case in Montana.

It’s a show about police and psychopaths, where COVID-19 is acknowledged, but no one wears a face mask, he said.

For Arditi, shows like “Big Sky” are disorienting for him to watch. Rural Montana has some of the highest infectious rates and people there should be wearing masks, he said.

He prefers to see reality reflected in television, and it’s weird for him to watch things like football and “Saturday Night Live” now, where no one wears masks on the air.

As someone who studies and teaches pop culture, Arditi believes that it’s important for television to engage in reality. By doing so, it allows the audience to better understand the situation they’re living in.

“If Hollywood pretends that it’s not going on, then this also feeds into that narrative that it’s not that big of a deal,” Arditi said.

On the flip side, cinematic arts alumna Zahra Ghoncheh is someone who doesn’t want to watch shows related to COVID-19, especially if they portray the virus getting worse.

Ghoncheh is tired of the pandemic and doesn’t want to watch things where it’s a significant plot point, she said. But she doesn’t mind a subtle nod to it.

She recalled seeing a commercial of two women wearing face masks. Ghoncheh liked the commercial because it helped normalize the pandemic and wearing masks.

For shows and movies that display the more extreme parts and potential consequences of the pandemic, Ghoncheh said she prefers not to think about it just yet.

Psychology senior Chandler Jackson V said he understands the side of those who don’t want to see the pandemic on their screens, because the COVID-19 era has been difficult for many people. Still, it would be reckless and irresponsible to pretend that it wasn’t happening, he said.

He said it’s significant for pandemic films and shows to be produced because it makes the virus feel real for people who may not have taken it seriously before. For those who don’t wear masks and social distance, it could put things into perspective, he said.

Though seeing COVID-19 in shows might make things too real for some, Jackson said seeing the pandemic on the screen can also help the situation become more normalized. By accepting today’s current state, it can help everyone prepare to move on, he said.

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features-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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