Popular Culture and Pandemic Imaginaries

It was clear that Songbird was a dreadful film, with atrocious script and terrible politics. However it was impossible to resist as a cultural expression of the ideas about society and the pandemic circulating in these febrile times. The story unfolds four years into a lockdown in America, as COVID-23 devastates the planet with a much higher fatality rate than the familiar virus from which it mutated:

It follows the roaming existence of an immune cycle courier, spending his days ferrying packages to the wealthy in their secure compounds. The looming threat citizens face is being deported to the quarantine zones, with failed tests leading to a visit from a megalomaniacal department of sanitation. The plot is awful and pretty much incidental to why I found the film interesting.

What gripped me about it were the assumptions it made about social decay. The biopolitical authority of the sanitation department is inseparable from the moral failings of its leadership. Their actions are presented as being a response to a real threat yet simultaneously the vector through which a maniac arbitrarily murders citizens. Social reproduction is a lingering absence throughout the film. Everyone apart from soldiers and a small number of immune people have been inside for four years yet energy, technology and sanitation miraculously persist. People are able to use mobile phones to communicate with each other which are weirdly immune to surveillance in spite of the development of an incredibly aggressive police state. No one in the film ever seems to eat yet everyone looks inexplicably well-fed and healthy.

It suggests a world in which the persistence of infrastructure is a given and state power cannot be trusted.

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