In the 1986 film The Mosquito Coast, Harrison Ford plays an eccentric inventor who rejects the US’s shallow consumer culture. He brings his family to the Central American jungle to live off the grid and establish what he believes will be a better way of life. It goes about as well as the canoeing trip in Deliverance.
Circumstances go from bad to worse to catastrophic, Ford’s character, the patriarch, becoming increasingly erratic and unhinged. At one point he tells his family that the US has been destroyed in a nuclear attack in order to stop them from trying to escape and return home. It’s a bit like what would happen if Mr Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness had dragged his family along for the ride upriver.
I’ve found myself thinking about the film again and again as a citizen of Governor Brian Kemp’s Georgia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
What do you do when you’re strapped into the backseat of a speeding car and Dad is driving drunk?
What do you do when you’re strapped into the backseat of a speeding car and Dad is driving drunk? That’s what it has felt like watching Kemp – whose election in November 2018 is widely attributed to voter suppression and other acts of electoral chicanery – lurch from one boneheaded move to another.
He “closed” the state too slowly, “reopened” it too quickly and has eagerly beclowned himself before the world by showing his utter ignorance about science and public health. Now coronavirus cases are surging out of control and the state’s already straining healthcare system is bracing for disaster like passengers in a car that has skidded across the highway median and into oncoming traffic.
At no point has science or any interest in the facts driven the governor’s policy decisions. Now, as the Republican party belatedly caves to the necessity of wearing face coverings in public, Kemp has joined the pro-mask chorus – but only because otherwise there might not be a college football season.
“[M]y daughters, they keep asking me, ‘Dad, do you think we’re going to have college football? Surely we’ve got to have the season,’” Kemp said last week. He added, “I said, ‘Well, if people, especially our young people, don’t start wearing a mask when they’re going out in public and our numbers keep rising, that’s going to be a tall task.’”
Because that’s what counts in Georgia: not our neighbors, especially black Georgians, getting decimated in the early stages of the outbreak, not the health and welfare of the state’s healthcare workers and their families, but the God-given right of all Georgia’s people to assemble in outdoor stadiums and watch black bodies break themselves on a field for sport.
I live in Athens, Georgia, home of the University of Georgia, and I greet the possibility of football season with a feeling of suffocating dread. People will come from all over the south-east to drink and get sloppy, mingling in bars, fraternity houses and backyard barbecues.
I asked a football fan last week how they can possibly think this is a good idea and he assured me that fans will wear masks in the largely outdoor venues and respect social distancing rules. I realized he wasn’t thinking at all about the safety of the players, who will crash into each other, pile on top of each other, and huddle on the field, then share locker rooms, training facilities and buses.
The Republican federal and state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic have consistently been, as they say, a day late and a dollar short. Now, as infection rates soar, these officials are urging mask compliance when what we really need are widespread stay-at-home orders. Until then, we will remain the scorn and pity of the world.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, I left the house on a weekly trip for groceries. In gloves and a mask, I crossed the parking lot and heard a male voice growl at me from the cab of a truck: “This ain’t Mars.”
“I’m trying not to get any stupid on me,” I said over my shoulder. “Look at you, you’ve got it all over yourself.”
David Ferguson is a writer