It’s March 17th and if there’s any one, basic, simple apolitical truth we can all agree on, it’s this: You know about the coronavirus. It sounds reductionist to the point of moronic; even the most doltish Neanderthal or Henry Darger-worshipping recluse knows that the world is facing a major pandemic that requires outreach, unity, and physical isolation on a global, unprecedented scale. Whether you’re a responsible social distancer or an asshole who has to get that one last pub crawl in, the sole commonality is that this virus exists.
EXCEPT [cue Owen Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums voice] “Well, everyone knows the coronavirus is a threat of global, cataclysmic proportions, but what this book presupposes is, ‘Maybe it isn’t?’”
As you read this, there are 14 men and women — presumably sitting half-naked in a hot tub if the above press photo is accurate — who have not been told about the virus. The group has been in isolation since February 6th, a time when late-night hosts were barely starting to make unfunny Corona beer jokes and we were hearing about a “strange new virus from China.” Germany would not report its first fatality until a month later.
As the Guardian notes, “the show’s producers … defended the decision not to update the housemates on the crisis going on in the outside world,” noting that “the information blackout would only be lifted in certain circumstances, such as a family member’s illness.”
On Tuesday night, though, in a Very Special Episode rivaling Carlton Banks mistaking speed for vitamins on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (in an episode gloriously titled “Just Say Yo”), producers will tell the housemates that, by the way, there’s a global pandemic and maybe social distance yourself from the hot tub.
They’re not the only ones a bit late to the party. Three days ago, in a video that now seems adorably quaint, contestants on Big Brother Canada opined why there was no longer a live audience during the evictions. “It was all empty seats,” said one contestant. “Unless the house is now soundproof,” another said, offering a not completely implausible opinion because “We’re all living in a global dystopian pandemic where the skeletons came to life and will pull your hair – up, but not out” is probably not your first thought. (The contestants have since been told of the pandemic.)
I don’t know how the German contestants will react when they hear the news. The current winner of the “I just found out important news the world already knew” award is Tiffany Pollard, a.k.a. Flavor of Love’s New York, who in 2016 mistook news of David Bowie’s death on Celebrity Big Brother for fellow contestant David Gest, who was very much alive. It remains reality TV canon.
Despite my lack of German comprehension, though, I will be watching. The contestants are like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode, hanging out in their hot tub vault, blissfully thinking they have all the time in the world. All the time in the world.
It’s hard to imagine the concept of “social distancing” in, say, the 1950s, where your only sources of information were your daily print newspaper, one of three TV networks, a land telephone line and, assuming sitcoms were based on reality, your son’s idiot friend who’s always coming over spewing vicious, moronic half-truths and eating your dinner.
But with your phone’s ability to reach the furthest corners of all avenues of information, it’s even more insane to think that as you read this, 14 hot, tubbing, hot-tubbing Germans are hanging out in Cologne, surrounded by beanbags and overpriced European cigarettes, about to find out what the entire world already knows.
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