Monday, March 16, 2020

On the Sunnyside

Now is the time to pull out all those tunes from the Great American Songbook that suggest optimism—The Sunnyside of the Street, Side by Side, Pick Yourself Up, High Hopes, Accentuate the Positive and so on. Written in the Depression, they aimed to buoy up the spirits of people out of work standing in bread lines. Songs the kids at my school know well. 

In the spirit of "directing my feet to the sunnyside of the street" and amidst all the small and big challenges of things closing and being cancelled, there are many interesting side-effects of the current quarantines. Amongst these:

• Less pollution in China. 

• No Trump rallies. 

• Less weapons-manufacturers going to work. 

• Less plastic toys and other unnecessary products being manufactures, peddled and sold. 

• Driving on the freeway without a single traffic jam. 

• Walking with kids outside in the open air. 

It will be interesting to see if things start to edge back towards acceptable gatherings and I imagine it will start small. Starting with 10 people, then maybe 50, maybe topping off at one or two hundred. Which means revisiting the power of intimate gatherings, recovering the jazz club or salon concert over the mega-rock show, the neighborhood basketball game over the NBA spectacle, the town hall conversations over the scripted staged rallies. 

In her book, “Dancing on the Streets,” Barbara Ehrenreich warns us of the move to the Roman spectacle and the move away from intimacy, neighborhood get-togethers, small-town fairs and such.  I’ve often thought it would be interesting to have the Oscars in a high-school auditorium to bring it back to scale, to have Warriors play every 10thgame in a college gym with prices under $50 (lottery system?), to unplug the rock stars and let them communicate in a folk club setting. But hey, that’s just me!

In the bigger picture, wouldn’t it be nice to take a good hard look at how the hypermania of spectacles and constant travel and working just for money, money, money to buy things no one particularly needs or really deeply values was hurting as all and having done without it for a short time, make a more conscious choice to scale it all back to a more human-size proportion. To actually learn a lesson and not just jump back into 50-hour-work-weeks, inflated ambitions, more enormous downtown skyscrapers, the constant sensory assault of gratuitous sex, violence and power amplified by jumbo-speakers and ginormous images of yet more outrageous super-heroes coming to save us from the next mega-catastrophe Hollywood cooks up. Take it down a notch—or ten— and having re-tasted a quality of life more gratifying than the quantity of sensational experience, choose wisely the kind of collective lives we really want to live.

Might that be a hidden lesson this virus was sent to teach? We shall see.

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