I need you to stick with me on this one. I promise it will be worth your time.

We are now in the age of the coronavirus and we shall soon see the mettle of our country based on our response to this pandemic.  I have no doubt that a play will be written about it soon and it will either be a “Trump didn’t do enough and people died and he has blood on his hands” play, which will have a limited shelf life but will be all the rage for a good month or two; or a heart-rendering, mind-numbing tragedy about all the truly good people who lost their battle with COVID-19 and the one survivor who must live on in a world that’s done him or her wrong.  Both will be terrible plays but will be considered “deep” and “thought-provoking,” no doubt spawning a musical by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt (the perpetrators of next to normal and If/Then).  If the pandemic doesn’t doom us, the dramatic response to it will.

We may not have to wait for the play, however, because if we take a moment to breathe during our current societal panic, we will see we are living that play right now.  The reaction to COVID-19—from our media, our politicians, and our social media squatters—has all the markings of a contemporary play with a left-wing stance.  Granted, this is just about every play written today, but I say this to make the distinction between our status quo art and conservative theatre, which would interpret the events of the day in a very different way.  I’d venture to guess that most people would prefer the conservative “take” on coronavirus, but one would be hard pressed to find it onstage anytime soon.

Let’s look at the tenets of left-wing (aka, contemporary) drama and how the coronavirus response parallels it immaculately:

Doom and gloom: tragedy has been a part of the theatrical scene forever, so sadness and existential angst are not new concepts. However, our modern spin on tragedy moves it from an individual’s flaw that impacts all of society, to the flaws of a dysfunctional societal that does a number on otherwise innocent person(s).  Oedipus’ dilemma has brought a functioning society to its knees; when he is banished, society heals.  Today’s Oedipi (is that even a word??) are victims of a world gone mad: everyone is deeply troubled all because of some unseen but very vibrant force in society that has suppressed him or her.  The protagonist (do we even think in these terms anymore?) can live or die but the world will remain a pretty sucky place.  If he or she does live, it is with all the revulsion of a blinded Oedipus without the redemption he afforded Thebes.  There can be no redemption because it is not the protagonist’s fault.  He or she is a victim, just as everyone else is.  For many, the existence of COVID-19 is further proof of the general suckiness of the world.

No relief from suffering: the central characters of today’s plays are long-suffering, but they are truly wonderful people—just misunderstood. Or, they are victims of a society that refuses to accept their wonderfulness (that is, forgive them their mediocrity).  As a result, they must suffer and everybody else has to suffer, too.  Those who do not suffer are either a) people with lots of money but evil flowing through their veins or b) nuts.  Either way, the non-sufferers victimize the truly good/woke.  This is very typical of the left-wing mindset: if I suffer, so must you.  If I do not wish to partake in a societal experience, no one else can, either.  What one sees with the COVID-19 coverage is that some among us really seem to like all the suffering, all the fear, all the panic.  Thus, the ever-present good news that could be reported on (such as the many thousands who have survived the disease or the lessening of the projected death tolls) is routinely ignored in favor of the horrific.

A cause for introspection: The focus of theatre has moved decidedly inward. We are now supposed to care about mediocre people and their fondest desires.  Just listen to the lyrics of many contemporary musical numbers: their emphasis is on how the mediocre singer is going to rise above all the adversity/bigotry/implicit bias that has kept him or her down (it’s never his or her fault!).  Yet the singer will succeed, find his or her way, achieve his or her true calling to greatness.  There was a time when the theatre was meant to reflect the real world.  No more.  Now everyone is a valuable, worthy individual with many talents and “intelligences” that have thus far gone unappreciated.  Because of this, we get the never-ending stories of everyday people made miserable by a virus that will kill them or put them out of work (through what I see as government overreach).

Resignation is our lot: About the best one can hope for in the modern world—according to the art that epitomizes it— is to survive and somehow get through the day. We can have no real redemption and no honest hope for a better tomorrow.  We have to, as the inexplicably well-regarded next to normal instructs us, simply be content with not ever being “normal.”  Similarly, we have already been told that the post-COVID-19 world will usher in a new normal of social distancing, unlawful assembly, and panic at the first sniffle.  This will, I fear, also ring in a new era of government intervention of precisely the kind that our Constitution forbids.  That will be a welcome change for those on the Left who see government as the answer to all societal ills.  The rest of us, I suppose, will have to resign ourselves that that fate.

So how would a conservative play approach the very same issue?  I suspect it would celebrate the victories (no one ever mentions that, like, 80% of those infected with COVID-19 will recover), demonstrate our strength and determination as a country, and not wallow in self-pity or victimhood.  The protagonists would be everyday people; the antagonist the virus we have defeated.  Sure, there would be suffering, but when the curtain comes down the audience will be uplifted and have hope.  Not the hope of merely surviving, but the hope of a positive force.  For most people, that life force is so very obvious, but the shapers of our art and media would rather nobody knew it.

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Image via geralt (Pixabay)