A new movie and comedy special may be helpful starting points for that process of self-examination.
Netflix’s thriller “The Woman in the Window” had the good fortune to be delayed from 2019 to this May, which made it timely, if not very good. A lot of the potential audience has spent a year locked away like the film’s agoraphobic protagonist, troubled psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams), trying to draw conclusions based on limited firsthand knowledge of the world outside.
When a new family moves in across the street, Anna’s information about them is limited to what she can see through the windows of their brownstone, as well as what she’s told by the son and the woman she takes to be his mother. The assumptions she draws turn out to be incomplete, with nearly fatal consequences.
Anna’s perception of the dangers that lie outside her door is highly skewed, whereas the threat of covid-19 is real, if now diminishing. Still, it’s easy to catastrophize when the world shrinks.
Sharp partisan divides encouraged dueling visions of red states as viral hellscapes and blue states as committing economic suicide. Even when we were speaking in less apocalyptic terms, we were fast to assume the worst about each other. Early in the pandemic, Americans seemed to underestimate how many of their neighbors were wearing masks. Now, polling suggests the public underestimates how many Americans have been vaccinated. And as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that vaccinated people can stop masking, distance fuels the paranoid assumption that many unvaccinated people will wantonly disregard public health and unmask in public.
Anna ultimately concludes that she can’t move forward from inside her house. In the same way, Americans need to start venturing out to properly calibrate their risk tolerance, taking into account falling case rates, the rules at local businesses, the behavior of their neighbors and the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines.
If “The Woman in the Window” is about the way physical isolation cuts off firsthand experience, Bo Burnham’s Netflix comedy special, “Bo Burnham: Inside,” is about how much the Internet falls short as an alternative for real-world interaction.
As much as it’s been branded as a pandemic special, “Inside” is concerned with what the novelist Patricia Lockwood calls “the blizzard of everything” — how the Internet is like a window thrown up by a carnival barker eager to know, as Burnham puts it, “Can I interest you in everything, all of the time?”
This information overload can be just as obfuscating as an obscured view. How is anyone supposed to process a portal that swerves from one message to the next so quickly? When Burnham sings in one number “Here’s a healthy breakfast option / You should kill your mom / Here’s why women never f--- you / Here’s how you can build a bomb / Which Power Ranger are you? / Take this quirky quiz / Obama sent the immigrants to vaccinate your kids,” he’s capturing this disorienting whiplash perfectly.
Sure, some people are radicalized on the Internet in a more unnervingly logical fashion, proceeding from slightly-outside-the-mainstream ideas to more and more radical beliefs one step at a time. But the incoherent abundance of the Internet also encourages wilder leaps.
Take Instagram, where, as Kaitlyn Tiffany reported for the Atlantic last year, “Influencers are mixing virulent distrust of the media and religious gratitude toward QAnon with sponsored posts for cool-girl clothing brands and beauty products.”
Melissa Rein Lively, who went viral for trashing a mask display in a Target store, told The Post that the stress of the pandemic sent her “searching for answers” that QAnon, promoted by wellness content creators she followed, seemed to provide. Rosanne Boyland, who died at the Capitol on Jan. 6, turned to the Internet during the pandemic. Her sister, who said Boyland was in recovery for drug addiction, believed Boyland seemed to be “trading one addiction for another.”
At one point in “Inside,” Burnham says, deadpan, that, “All human interaction, whether it be social, political, spiritual, sexual or interpersonal, should be contained in the much more safe, much more real interior digital space.” True, respiratory infections can’t be transmitted over the Internet. But there’s a reason ideas and content are said to go “viral” online.
There’s no substitute for the beauty — and yes, sometimes danger — of the outside world, nor for the kind of human interaction that can help us see it clearly. So buy some new hard pants, brush up those conversational skills, step outside and start figuring out your relationship to the world again.