Thursday, April 30, 2009

Avoid crowded public places, transportation, restaurants, dates, family, love of any kind. 

Thoughts on the cultural coding of swine flu.

Perhaps it is implicit in all structured societies that an equal desire exists to break down those structures and upend all rules and norms in periodic apocalyptic "crises." It would seem that the swine flu is the latest in many stand-ins for such an occasion.

This first occurred to me when I read one of the first warnings by Calderón for Mexicans to stop all traditional greetings such as kissing on the cheek. The viral carnivalesque dimension of the virus spread from there, resulting in today's Biden gaffe about not letting his kids ride trains or planes. It is not that the seriousness of swine flu necessitates such measures. It is the measures that indicate the seriousness of swine flu.

Swine flu thus fits a recent pattern of events that satisfy or symbolize an open desire for a "Big One" that will finally end time, relieve us of the burden of normal life and normal rhythms, allow us to just say "fuck it" and succumb to fear or impulse. No more gathering in public places or with others, even if one lives in a city. Those who you love will be those who infect you, and thus physical precautions must be taken that interrupt or refuse your ordinary physical contact with them. Our desires for others, for strangers, must be sublimated into repulsion as we -avoid- the contact, kissing, fucking that we previously fantasized about.

Again: the pull toward topsy-turvydom, toward a final and liberating break with the normal cycle of unfulfilling attempts at being with others that characterizes "normal" life under capitalism. People want the swine flu, and they want it now, just as they wanted AIDS, ebola, SARS, bird flu, etc. etc. etc. They want the Other and they want the Other inside them, and they want to be punished for it, to suffer unimaginable torment. The media's demented tracking of the bug's spread, which of course neglects the fact that it has hardly killed anyone outside of Mexico City, in fact is mapping the very trajectories or network of this desire. It gives image to the collective hope that we will all be wiped out, together, soon.

There is a utopian impulse in there as well, one in which a shared genetic material infects and hollows us out in ecstatic unity. Thus the concomitant xenophobia and anti-immigrant links created by the FOX set. But in a way this is the most logical reportage on the "swine/Mexican" flu, plainly stating what is otherwise implied: "they" brought it to us, by getting this bug "we" will be turned into "them," transformed into an apocalyptic, undifferentiated, miscegenated whole that could not but possibly spell disease and death.

How is swine flu coded? As the anti-Obama, the underside to hope, material evidence that the fears unleashed by trusting in an uncoded, biracial leader who impossibly concatenates us all are actually justified.


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