I feel better prepared for the present situation than most. That’s due to my long guilty obsession with Science Fiction, and in particular 1950s SF and disaster movies. Our current situation continually reminds me of the opening scenes of many of these: deaths, deserted streets, an unseen enemy, and arrogant and obstinate politicians; until at last the scientist-hero – often a mere teenager – comes to be taken seriously, and the world is saved.
I’m not saying that all this is truly prescient: for a start I can’t see the scientist-hero emerging anywhere on the horizon just now. And the wilder theories behind a lot of these old films – superior races deciding that humanity doesn’t deserve to survive, aliens taking over human bodies, viruses arriving in asteroids, H-bomb tests releasing the earth’s inner core, the evil billionaire behind it all; or modern conspiracy theories like David Icke’s idea that it’s all an American or Jewish or alien reptilian shape-shifter’s plot against us; or religious ones, that the coronavirus is God’s punishment for abortion or homosexuality or being nasty to Trump, or whatever – are clearly not to be taken seriously. (But you never know. Every sceptical person ought to leave a one per cent opening for some of these possibilities in his or her mind.) But it’s the first half-hours of most of these films that strike me as a good mental preparation for what we’re seeing now. Sci-Fi has always taught me that even the basic and most taken-for-granted things in life don’t always have to be the way they are – or were. (That’s helped me as a historian, too.) So it’s no surprise to me that the whole natural world – including the ‘natural’ laws behind capitalism – seems to be collapsing about our ears now. Where is that adolescent scientist when we need her?
It’s that guilty passion of mine that is making me look forward to the ‘classic’ SF season that the ‘Horror’ TV Channel has announced for the Easter weekend. I just hope that the genuine classics of the 1950s and ’60s get in there, and not just Star Wars and Star Trek. The former at least were cerebral. They made you think. And prepared you mentally for the spookily deserted city streets of today.