Adam McKay, writer of “Don’t Look Up” released the satire onto streaming service Netflix and in theaters. While McKay writes about the climate crisis, there are parallels between “Don’t Look Up” and the COVID crisis. The narrative in “Don’t Look up,” about a comet heading for earth and the worldwide science denial is just the right answer to the anti-vaxxers. While some contend that the movie hits us over the head with the idea that capitalism can make for profit seeking in the middle of a public emergency, the movie itself takes a deep dive into how messaging, social media and our own hivemind contribute to misinformation and denial of scientific fact.
In “Don’t Look up,” the billionaire character tells the President that there are many minerals on the asteroid that may help Earth and it’ billionaires. This reminds me of what happened last Spring-when it was hard to manage COVID-19, our government floated the idea that this was a nihilistic way to live-that we should live with the disease without any public health measures to derail COVID-19. This was the idea that people should die for the greater good of capitalism. While “Don’t Look Up” looks at the potential of the asteroid to make them money, our own government looked at our public health emergency and came up with the idea that if people die, it’s for the good of capitalism.
Social media plays a role in how we disseminate and interpret information. In “Don’t Look Up,” there were individuals who believe in the comet, and they said, “just look up,” while people who didn’t believe in the comet said, “don’t look up.” These two polarizing messages made their way through social media and polarized the comet. Much like the COVID-deniers polarized the existence of COVID-19. And I have to say, COVID-19 does exist. But there are people out there who wax on theories that COVID doesn’t exist or that it’s not as deadly as we think, or that vaccines are more dangerous than COVID. We are a part of a larger effort by some to make COVID’s vaccine more dangerous than COVID-19. In our own social media landscape, we see some being pro-vaccine and others being anti-vaccine. If we named it, it would be “those who believe” in the power of the vaccine to prevent severe disease and hospitalization and “those who don’t believe” in the power of the vaccine to curb illness and that is in fact more dangerous than COVID-19.
Finally, the Fauci-like character of Dr. Randall Mindy is a quiet unassuming guy on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medicine who meekly tells the TV audience that they should care about a comet. We see how Dr. Mindy plays into what the government wants until he can’t anymore. Dr. Fauci has spent almost 40 years working in infectious disease and as the head of the entire National Allergy and Infectious Disease, yet sometimes Republican Congressman urge their constituents not to listen to an expert and instead listen to someone who agrees with their point of view. We see this as the government in “Don’t Look Up” finds people to agree with their point of view that the comet is an opportunity for capitalistic growth and won’t kill us, while powerful and rich people plan their escape from the actual comet. Dr. Fauci is seen by Democrats as an expert and an important voice on COVID-19, yet Republicans call him a liar and believe him to be orchestrating some plan to make it harder for their businesses to grow.
“Don’t Look Up” has a lot of parallels to COVID-19, even if the original point of the movie was to satirically point out our inaction on the climate crisis. We see how capitalism makes for a challenging recipe for managing a public health emergency or public emergency. At the end of the movie, it doesn’t pull any punches. Inaction can kill-and so has COVID-19. So, we must do our best to contend with the public emergencies set before us and respect the experts.