The Action of Inaction: The Dangers of COVID-19 and ‘Flattening the Curve’
In the midst of a crisis, key persuasive tactics must be employed to facilitate a strong and meaningful pandemic response. In a situation where it’s “’plausible’ that 20 to 60 percent of adults will be infected” with COVID-19, one must acknowledge that the situation is severe, and only by being proactive can a nation limit death. Although the United States was noted to have a late response to this pandemic, leading to quickly growing statistics and deadly hot-zones building up in cities like New York City with a large amount of travel (my home city!), people aim to rally around phrases such as ‘flattening the curve’ to establish a centralized goalpost. In Barclay’s article, she notes how ordinary measures such as “closing schools, canceling mass gatherings, working from home, self-quarantine, self-isolation, [and] avoiding crowds” can prevent the disease from spreading too fast. If spread too fast, cases at a single point in time will reach a critical mass, and our medical infrastructure will no longer be able to support sick patients. In a situation where healthcare is limited, we must protract this infection period to cope. Already, states are competing for medical supplies such as N-95 masks, and Barclay further showcases the potential discrepancy in beds and ventilators using data gathered from Johns Hopkins and the HuffPost.
This piece signifies an appeal to Americans, acknowledging that we are facing a dilemma, yet there is “one thing people can do.” This call to action reflects the persuasive elements of the piece. Pathos arguments can be found in “my mom and your mom will have a hospital bed if they need it.”, as an emotional appeal may indicate the critical need for drastic and collective action. Ethos arguments are applied as Barclay cites notable experts in the field, from the CDC to respected epidemiologists, to key government official and medical professionals. Finally, the application of the “Flattening the Curve” graphic and the use of statistics reflects an appeal to logos. In this critical time, people must be convinced to act, even if ‘acting’ is merely staying at home. As such, Barclay utilizes classic persuasive measures to appeal to readers, and ultimately slow the spread of disease.
Barclay, Eliza. “How Canceled Events and Self-Quarantines Save Lives, in One Chart.” Vox, 10 Mar. 2020, https://www.vox.com/2020/3/10/21171481/coronavirus-us-cases-quarantine-cancellation
Cultural Breakdown and Integration: A Response to Undone
In Undone, one sees how individuals like Alma must contend with a medicalized world built upon hierarchy and standardization, while being a part of a different world, both through her time manipulation ability as well as a heritage brought into being through childhood experiences and the ruins of ancient Mexican society. This series showcased facets of American culture, delving into issues of immigration in the matter of Sam’s accent, wealth inequality and racial profiling in Becca’s marriage, and metal health inequality and stigma when considering Alma’s relegation to someone ‘sick’, as she is diagnosed with PTSD, and has a history of self-harm. One of the most interesting developments in the series is the manner in which Alma attempts to justify and research her unique abilities in a scientific and medicalized manner, drawing upon reason to hold power over the presumed chaos she must feel in this new experience of time, that others born into such conditions may not find issue with. She works with her father to manipulate time in an attempt to move in an objective and linear fashion, and draws upon a symbol of the Western world in the form of an old electronic gambling machine to maintain a classical ‘Western’ view of time as linear. Due to the Western upbringing of both Alma and her father, both struggle to put their true experiences with this ability into words, stressing an issue of linguistic relativism as they portray their time manipulation through presumed paradoxes or ‘trying to not try’. This communication struggle is emblematic of their attempts to understand and utilize an ability unique to a culture that they were never raised in, and thus showcases issues communication and true understanding across cultural boundaries.
Yet, certain moments in Alma’s life cross cultural boundaries, explicitly in the form of dance. In this series, dance is considered as a unifying experience, such that in most cases of dancing, Alma’s experience is imagined as that of her non-Western ancestors. During the dance at Becca’s wedding, despite its ensuing annulment, dance is accompanied by images of nature, and color is used to indicate a more wild, colorful scene. Likewise, while dancing with young children in her job as a caretaker, her visceral joy in dance transitions into a dance at the ‘dancing pit’ found in the ruins she had explored as a child. Dance is considered as a grand unifier, a manner of sharing emotions in a raw manner uninhibited by social convention or cultural boundaries, and as such it is utilized as a way for Alma to connect with her family’s past.
Bob-Waksberg, Raphael, and Kate Purdy, creators. Undone. Amazon Prime Video, 2019.
Pagliacci et al: Integrating Comedy, Illness Narrative, and the Social Power of Humor
In the graphic memoir My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s, Dunlap-Shohl approaches humor in a multifaceted manner. Once an integral aspect of his personality and career as a cartoonist, humor now grows increasingly macabre, in the face of a life-threatening degenerative disorder. Yet, this approach to humor is by no means inappropriate. Rather, in this graphic memoir, humor and hyperbole serve as a means of empowering oneself, masking fear and anxiety of the future and creating a means of engaging and ‘defeating’ Parkinson’s. Humor is something that Dunlap-Shohl is capable of creating in the midst of losing core functional abilities. Although discussing subject matter as serious as suicide (1-5), Dunlap-Shohl is able to use humor to communicate an incredulity of his condition as well as create a veneer of normalcy, and to engage with an otherwise painful memory. In the same manner, When he states “move it or lose it” (15), amid cartoonish depictions of an angel in spandex, he acknowledges that without exercise he may lose his life. Throughout the novel, Dunlap-Shohl’s approach to humor is a means of confronting and reflecting on his experience, as humor acts as a way for him to achieve a semblance of normalcy in the face of disaster.
As Dunlap-Shohl moves from anger and hopelessness and into a more positive modality of acceptance, humor shifts to become a weapon rather than a mask to hide oneself. A noteworthy example can be found as he metaphorically boxes with Parkinson’s (87), stating “We’re still on for tennis tomorrow, right?” while knocking the disorder out, he aims to use humor to engage with Parkinson’s, joking about a tennis match with the chronic disease he will face ‘tomorrow’ and for the rest of his life.
Despite the tragedy of ‘degeneration’, Dunlap-Shohl remains jocular. Initially, humor acted as a protective force, capable of keeping him grounded and communicative of his issues. Yet, with time, it became a powerful tool for engaging and combating the disorder. Compared to Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, who acknowledges that his “communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home,” such that “…[He] count[s] this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of [his] condition” (71), humor is a possible outlet of expression and communication for Dunlap Shohl, and he though he fears his worsening condition, he exhibits a defining part of his personality in his humor, and uses it throughout the novel to great effect.
- Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: a Journey through Parkinson’s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016.
- Bauby, Jean-Dominique. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Vintage International, Random House, Inc., 1997.
The experience of illness and injury in Berger’s A Fortunate Man reflects a state of panic and confusion inherent in emergency treatment as seen in the fallen tree event. The scene begins in media res as characters and setting are largely unknown, the only exception being a bystander named Harry. The repeated usage of ‘He’ as a stand-in for characters exemplified a state of strangeness to the viewpoint, as though it were merely an example of the immaterial whirlwind of healthcare in a setting where a doctor is poorly equipped to treat their patients and merely serves as an “accomplice of disaster” ( Berger and Mohr 19), unable to take any direct role in healing.
Nonetheless, the doctor is imagined as a powerful force, capable of bringing understanding and giving an injured man “the courage to be quieter” (Berger and Mohr 18). Nearby characters look to the doctor for understanding, as the doctor insists that the injured man will not lose his leg while others had previously merely accepted this loss, showcasing a struggle between modern and premodern medical forces in a setting without a large biomedical influence. Yet, the image of a man waving behind mist provides powerful imagery to this scene, in both direct imagery and its relation to “trying to wipe clean a vast steamed-up window” (Berger and Mohr 17). In both cases, the individual attempts to compete with immaterial natural forces of mist and steam, concealing and providing confusion. Although temporary relief may be found as the mist and fog is cleared up, neither case will provide permanent improvement. Healthcare in this unknown rural area will continue to stagnate, the area will once more be covered with mist, and the ‘vast window’ will once more fog up. This state of confusion and ambiguity thus gives symbolic meaning to the falling of the tree, showcasing typical emergency treatment in this medically isolated countryside.
Berger, John and Jean Mohr. A fortunate Man: Story of a Country Doctor. Random House, 1967.