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How Social Distancing Has Become Another Bullshit Thing To Argue About

There are two things in life that are absolute certainties: Death and that literally anything can be made into a consumable, branded product. 

Why should the highly individual circumstances of those dealing with COVID-19 be any different? All across the world, people are adjusting to their own “new normal.” Perhaps you are an essential worker tackling our fresh hellscape head-on. Perhaps you are working from home, or are currently unemployed but under quarantine. 

Whatever your situation, it’s on display in the absolute worst way. Just when you thought it was safe to observe the end of the world in peaceful reflection, the big question looms. How are you “doing” the pandemic?

“Performative Pandemic”

Social media is an anxiety-inducing fishbowl. We knew this already. The “hustle culture” ups the ante to “rise and grind” and spend your every waking moment in pursuit of relentless productivity. The wellness industry, in turn, has convinced us that perfectly clear skin and a zen mindset are within reach… and will go perfectly with this jade face roller they’ve just tried to sell you. 

The isolation of a pandemic has created a perfect storm for nurturing the monstrous lovechild of performative self-care, the endless “hustle,” and social media’s pitiless gaze into consumerism.

In observing the discourse about quarantine activities in the age of Corona, two very distinct quarantine “personalities” have arisen. There are the “Hibernators” that are settling in and taking care. The average Hibernator is catching up on their Netflix, keeping things low-pressure, and ordering takeout as much as humanly possible. They are unintimidated by the threat of the “COVID 19” (what we’re colloquially calling the extra pounds that comfort food and more time at home may earn us), and have nested themselves in self-care. 

Opposite to the Hibernator is the “Producer.” The Producer has already started two podcasts, has mastered the art of baking sourdough, and is dead set on having learned a new language or being totally ripped by the end of quarantine. Producers lean into the “hustle culture” side of things, using any newly obtained open space in their schedule as an opportunity to cram in those five or six hobbies they didn’t have physical hours in the day for, previously.

For even the most casual quarantine participant, the pandemic has become another way to brand yourself. A Producer is branding themself as self-care through thriving. An army of amateur fitness influencers. By contrast, the Hibernator’s personal branding of the pandemic may take on different forms, from a “quirky” brand of depression and mental health to the building of a personality using junk food and the couch as the foundation. 

“Performing” quarantine has become pervasive to the point that there is now discourse around which performance of the pandemic is best.  It’s expected, but still disappointing, that this has become the narrative. It’s so predictably binary and limiting. Just like any great Internet argument, the teams are chosen for you and attaching yourself to that identity — Introvert or Extrovert, Hibernator or Producer, etc. — becomes the focus. Also within the pattern of great Internet arguments, it totally lacks nuance.

Selling a Product That No One Wants

Despite all of the conversation and drive behind these discussions of how to weather the storm through personal action, one simple fact remains: Performing the pandemic boils down to packaging a product that no one wants. 

That pressure to be more of everything that we already are is exhausting us and making ourselves and others feel guilty. Regrettably, society at large has bought into this notion that our approach to pandemic is a mindset to be packaged and sold to the masses. We’re hinging more of our worth on it than is healthy. So what do we do about that?

We challenge it. 

The current situation, especially when it comes to a largely remote workforce, is that distance has heightened everything. There is a pressure to work harder or announce your presence more loudly, as a means of showing that you’re showing up to do the work. Socially, we’re screaming across social media channels and Zoom meetings to try to compensate for the human interaction we’re sorely missing. 

There has already been a lot of time, energy, and research dedicated to the adverse impact of our voyeuristic social media culture. It’s equally true that right now, it may be easiest to connect, and connection is something we desperately need. Challenge the impulse to make your quarantine well-being look like someone else’s. Banish the idea that you have to bake bread or work out or dive into your creativity. Or do all of those things and stop worrying about those that feel you are being “too much.” If the performative pandemic has united us on one thing, it’s that this is a time to take care of ourselves — whatever that may look like for you.

Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies.  Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes.

Image via Pixabay

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