How Did You Think The World Would End?

Now that we find ourselves in this Ernie Borgnine-Carol Channing disaster epic, everybody’s thrown together on a sea of Uncertainty, rich and poor, wise and foolish, greedy and generous, a veritable stew of human frailties: and we’re all in this together.

This is messing with the markets. Not the markets we usually think of. Stocks are sliding all over the place too, but that’s what stocks do. But seriously. Who has stocks? Not me.

I’m talking about the Audience Market. It’s the New Economy. Want to sell widgets, swing an election, start a war, topple an empire? There’s an app for that.

It eats that Big Data: what we click on, how we use our bank cards on the toll roads and shopping malls, our drinking and smoking habits, our credit scores, our personal health, our relationships, our current emotional state… and what we’re likely to buy, like, hate, wear, watch, listen to… and do, next. 

It gives us a lot of hints about what to do, based on all that other stuff that’s none of its business. It told us we didn’t need to vote and so on, didn’t need a pandemic response team sitting around spending somebody’s tax cut. Told us the war was almost over somewhere, some war or other. Told us to vote for Mr. Normal and forget about all those dreams and Dreamers.

Competition is fierce in this new economy. And it all relies on one thing: your attention, each moment. So the most effective attention-getters have to be the scariest. Boo. 

That’s a hit record. That’s a big lottery ticket. A killer app.

But. What if a billion people have their attention riveted on just one scary thing, all at the same time? How about three billion people? 

Now that we’re in this big upside-down cruise ship (or burning skyscraper, or spiraling jetliner), with Ernie and Carol and the rest of our Frailties, when there’s only one colossal group, called Everybody? Then what?

We can’t be differentiated and segmented and targeted and packaged into bundles of “consumer” audiences and sold to the mutant spawn of Cambridge Analytica. That’s what. 

The capsized ship rolls gently, while Ernie and Carol get the Frailties and the plot sorted out and some love-struck busboy finds a previously unnoticed escape hatch, and the rich daughter makes her daddy listen to him. These epic disaster movies are a little slow in the middle. 

For a little while, we are all going to be on the same page here. Catching up to the difficult, inconvenient, factual facts: there’s a virus and nobody is immune; and our normal behavior is how it spreads itself around and finds its victims. 


No use protecting the old system, that’s how we got into this mess. We had a rehearsal for this once. AIDS got around through our normal behavior too. We couldn’t admit “normal,” so it’s still going strong. But you don’t see the stores running out of condoms.

Look: can you see it? That big mirror? Under the shattered chandeliers?

There’s a whole lot we haven’t tried yet. Ernie Borgnine would know what to do. Carol Channing would make sure we all got up the rope of bedsheets before the water filled up the ballroom. Maybe she’d make it out too. She would make the busboy go up first, though. Winking at the rich girl.

Some of us are taking it on the chin, right now. A lot more of us are going to get tested. This is likely to hurt a lot. 

But here we are. All in this together. 

And that’s something new. Maybe something to work with. Build on. A possibility to live in while we make it real.

©Copyright 2020 Peter Barus

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