While coronavirus threatens our lives and livelihoods, social distancing, isolation, and quarantine have become the new norm. Suddenly, our nation is filled with people asked to stay home and cut off most casual interactions with the world outside. In this environment, the art, hobbies, rituals, and entertainments we love have become ever more vital to our mental wellbeing. As a new, and (hopefully) limited new series on Lewton Bus, Isolation Nation aims to give our editors and contributors space to talk about the things that are giving them a little comfort in this isolated world, for your social distancing entertainment.
Will Hyland – The Road
I figured; under quarantine and a time of national duress, no time like the present to read one of the bleak, uncompromisingly grim works of Cormac McCarthy. However, with The Road I got something much more.
Far from simply a work of tasteless grimderp post-apocalyptic misery porn a la The Walking Dead, The Road (despite having a lot of those moments of grim, horrific violence usually found in these stories) is often hauntingly beautiful, poetic in its careful and sparse prose and deeply, quietly emotional. A story of a man and his son placed into the hardest, most hopeless situation imaginable, and managing to keep pressing on out of love. A story about how even in a desolate world run by lawlessness and (in this case literal) people eating each other to survive, you can still make the world a better place by just bringing a little humanity into it, by “carrying the fire”, as the man and the boy repeat to each other throughout the story. There are passages and phrases here in which McCarthy strikes so naturally and deeply into the human condition that will stick with me for a long time to come. The final paragraph is such a cosmic, elegiac and maddeningly opaque thematic summation that still occupies my brain now. It might not be a story to everyone’s tastes in this particular moment, but in its very brief read I found an incredibly powerful, unforgettable experience, one where the way the story is told was just as important (if not moreso) as the story itself.
Jared Eves – Wind of Change
There are about 80 billion podcasts currently available; at any given time 8 – 12 people you know probably have their own, and you may even have one yourself and just don’t know it yet. One day you’ll be minding your own business on Twitter and Bam! some rando will say “I love your podcast” and that’s how you discover you have recorded 23 episodes of a show about ballpoint pens in superhero movies.
What I’m saying is, podcasts are everywhere, and there is no lack of representation for every conceivable intellectual or cultural fetish.
So finding something that feels even a little bit original is like finding the warm spot in the lake (or the cool spot in the public pool); sure, it’s still wet, but for a moment you feel like you’ve discovered something wonderful and new.
And now, my point. I found Wind of Change through the normal channels: social media marketing and targeted ads! But, it being a limited series, and me being interested in weird stories that follow people down odd rabbit holes, it seemed like a good fit.
The conceit of the podcast is this: that the CIA, in a bid to build upon the burgeoning unrest in the USSR at the end of the 80s, wrote the song “Wind of Change” for the German hard rock group, Scorpions.1 The idea would be that this song would help to introduce Soviet youth to the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll freedoms of the West. And considering the enduring popularity of the song (and the band) in that part of the world, you could say it worked.
If it’s true.
Patrick Radden Keefe spends 8 episodes exploring the source and validity of the rumour, the history of the CIA using pop culture as propaganda, the drug war, spycraft, Russian anti-drug concerts featuring Ozzie Osbourne and Mötley Crüe, and GI Joe.
The most interesting thing about the podcast isn’t even the story about Scorpions and “Wind of Change”; it’s about where the search for the validity of that rumour takes our host. There’s a throughline that begins to emerge as the series goes on, about the nature of propaganda, the fake news cycle, conspiracy theories, and how it all serves to help create the stew of unrest in which we find ourselves.
There’s a quote from the second to last episode that I keep turning over in my mind:
“Disinformation […] breeds cynicism, and cynicism breeds apathy.”
I think we see a lot of this sort of sentiment on social media these days; the sense that nothing can be trusted, and so it’s easier to dismiss everything, no matter how big and important it might seem. Because it could be or might be or is just a plot by the government, or a shadowy organization, or big business, or whoever. In the quest for the answer, the show asks questions, and even begins to wonder if it is itself becoming a form of propaganda.
The story takes a lot of twists and turns, and though in the end it might end up leaving you with more questions than answers, one undeniable truth I came away with is this: don’t be a useful idiot.2
Wind of Change is available in full (and ad free) on Spotify Premium, or on your favourite Podcast listening app.
Diane C. – Mr. Robot
I recently restarted Mr. Robot, having dropped off somewhere in season 2. It seems important to revisit this show now, when the world is burning once again and the rich get richer and more secretive, while many of us look for crumbs and justice eludes Breonna Taylor. Mr. Robot’s ethos of starting over by forcing the world to shed its capitalistic impulses and freeing it from the restrictions of class, consumerism, and tying our inherent value to dollar signs and ownership is both before-its-time and actually way late. The message was always there; most of us just weren’t paying attention. Is it too late? Time will tell.
David Hoh – Watsky: “Best Friend The Floor”
I was called to come in to work and during the long stretches of rendering and exporting (I’m a video editor) I kept playing some of the new George Watsky songs on repeat, particularly and most-often Best Friend The Floor, from Watsky’s album PLACEMENT, which released in March. Back then, in the tail-end of the before-times, when I first heard it, I knew it was my new jam. It’s pretty upbeat. But it’s also a song about depression and trying to discourage a friend from committing suicide. Empathizing with the dark thoughts and encouraging a positive outlook.
Anyway, this was the song I needed to loop to get through the long day, because I needed to keep hearing the following lyric:
‘Cause the one, one thing that I know for sure
Is we’re gonna get out, yeah we’re gonna get out
In the face of all the chaos, it’s a handy mantra. Once again, Watsky’s words are there for me. They’re there for you too, if you check him out. Thanks, George.
That’s it for this week’s edition! We hope you enjoyed it and found some new direction to point that endlessly turning cranium of yours. We also hope you’ll check back as we publish new pieces in this regular column, and give some inspiration back to us in the comments!
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.
- I had no idea these dudes were German – their music sounds perfectly American to me, so kudos to them for hitting their mark
- The term was originally used during the Cold War to describe non-communists regarded as susceptible to communist propaganda and manipulation. Source Wikipedia