No time to panic

26 Feb 2020

Last week, an important re-discovery occurred. Important for me, that is. The rest of the world might judge for themselves. My YouTube recommendations snuck virtually the entire song catalogue of Tom Lehrer on my dashboard. And let me tell you, it has been a blast. Tom Lehrer, for those who have yet to discover him, is an American mathematician, the alleged inventor of jell-o-shots and a satirist-turned-singer-songwriter.

His songs touch upon a wide variety of subjects. Ranging from possible weekend activities (’Poisoning Pigeons In The Park’) to nazis-turned-American-rocket-scientists (’Wernher von Braun’) to nuclear end-time-scenarios (’We Will All Go Together When We Go’). With especially the latter having a lot of 2020-energy. Which is remarkable, considering it was released in 1959.

Of course, we have since moved on from worrying all too much about nuclear missiles. The North Korea-scares aside that pop up in news notifications every few months. And even those don’t really scare us like they used to. After all, Kim Jong-Un is an obese boyish-looking maniac with a funny haircut. What a meme. Who cares that North Korea operates concentration camps, right? Or that China is collaborating with them? Provided they find time, amid their own variety of human rights violations.

Right now, I know, human rights violations aren’t necessarily the first thing that come to mind when hearing ’China.’ Our prime focus isn’t the political situation in Hong Kong. It is to establish as much distance as possible to everyone who looks like they could have come right out of Wuhan. Or Milan, following recent developments. Because why wash your hands and strengthen your immune system through a healthy diet and regular exercise, when the best possible way to deal with pandemics is racism?

’If Billy Joel would have written ’We Didn’t Start the Fire’ in 2020, it’d be a 6-minute-song about last January alone.’

I know, everyone is in panic mode, because the possibility of a pandemic is scary. And panic mode brings out the worst in people. But just take a moment to reminisce how often we have been in panic mode since the start of 2020. Remember when the ongoing protests in Hong Kong still received news coverage? Or when the entire continent of Australia was on fire? That one week where everyone thought Donald Trump would start a third World War with Iran? The political crisis in Germany that emerged less than a month ago? Anyone?

If Billy Joel would have written ’We Didn’t Start the Fire’ in 2020, it’d be a 6-minute-song about last January alone. The 21st century is complicated. But instead of truly dealing with its complexity, we are guided by the emotional coverage of it. We’re re-locating our interest bi-weekly from heroic individuals saving koalas from Australian bushfires to heroic individuals who keep their calm in face of medical crisis. And while these stories might make you sleep better at night, they aren’t solving anything.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for a soppy story just like anyone else. However, stories that focus on individual heroism belong in Greek mythology and Percy Jackson novels. The need for heroes in the real world doesn’t reflect what’s good about our society. On the contrary: it reflects what went wrong to the point that we needed heroes in the first place. Of course, people who do good are worth taking inspiration from, but inspiration is often short-lived, while the problems at hand aren’t.

What Tom Lehrer sung about in the 1950s is still relevant. Maybe humanity will become obsolete through nuclear missiles. Or through a global pandemic. Or through consequences of a progressing climate crisis. But what will most certainly make any society crumble is the habit of getting outraged for a minute and then forgetting all about it once the next big thing occurs. And that’s truly a thought worth re-discovering.

Every two weeks, Antonia will add the songs she writes about to the Spotify playlist below. This way, she creates a soundtrack to her time in Nijmegen. Click left and right for more songs.


Read Antonia Leise's blogs here

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