I have been hit hard by the quarantine period. Stuck in the Czech Republic, where I had traveled to just a few days prior to the announcement of the state of emergency to cover an international documentary film festival, I am forced like many others to stay put and watch the world from afar.
It hasn’t taken long for the internet to come up with a fair share of memes, which act as a defense mechanism during these difficult times. I have never much cared for memes myself, as I find them pandering and obnoxious, like most things that appear to be popular these days – including K-Pop.
Yet, one thing that has particularly annoyed me is a trend that is almost impossible to escape: videos of Italians singing or playing music from their balconies.
This trend annoys me on a number of levels. I have very little time for the kind of virtual storytelling that has arisen with the advent of Instagram, where everything from the filters themselves seem to make abuse of nostalgia as a communicative mechanism.
On a practical and personal level, these videos annoy me because the last thing I would want to hear is somebody else singing or playing music in the flat next door while I am trying to get comfortable in my own flat. In fact, the first thing I check of any flat I rent is that the walls are thick enough for me not to hear sonic intrusions of my next-door neighbour.
I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way and as I accidentally scroll down my social media home page and one of these videos autoplays, I instantly picture men and women in the flats next door rolling their eyes or being legitimately annoyed for much the same reason.
Finally, however, this is just another example of how art comes to the rescue of people or institutions of any kind for reasons that could be considered propagandistic. After the European outbreak of COVID-19, people looked at Italy like the country to avoid at all costs and its image was temporarily damaged (as if the nation hadn’t damaged its own reputation enough by treating the madness of Salvini with a level of legitimation).
Of course, romatic images of singers, whether professional or not, and musicians, whether professional or not, are being used to project an image of Italy abroad of nostalgic romanticism. At home, they serve a similar purpose, countering the harshness of news hysteria, as info about medical staff having to choose whom to cure and whom to let die have started making the rounds.
While I have no doubt that some people are legitimately encouraged by these impromptu performances (though I hardly believe that anything filmed can truly be disinterested in the age of social media gratification), I cannot help be annoyed by something else.
These performances show, once again, that in times of trouble, it is art that comes to the rescue. It is art that people turn to, in order to forget their struggle and be reassured. In these days of social distance, art becomes a very real bridge between people.
Then, why is art so regularly mistreated? Why are artists not given the right attention they desevre? Why do we instead let our artists be replaced by modern monstrous figures like influencers or reality TV stars? Why do so many artists starve, struggle to pay rent or live normal lives?
The thing is that, as I watch these videos, I am reminded of just how jaded I am. When people first began to talk about the Coronavirus, and I heard about its origins, I immediately thought of it as a defense mechanism unleashed by the planet itself.
A few weeks later, it is blatantly clear that the air is clearing up and the world is all the better for it. Sure, people are dying of Coronavirus, but less people are dying for air pollution. Yet another proof of the fact that humanity truly is the problem.
The false sense of community created by these videos are countered by images of empty supermarket aisles and shocking footage of people fighting over toilet rolls. Young people failing to stay put and America still widely seeing the Coronavirus as a European problem.
I may be jaded but I think that quietness and meditation is the only thing that will allow us to establish a legitimate sense of community. It is too early to point out the ways in which we try to stay together even while apart, and support each other even as we can’t even shake hands. It hasn’t been long enough for us to understand how important we are to one another and the future of the planet.
I believe in the intimate power of a surprise phone call or message. I even believe in prayer and meditation. I believe in the intimate rediscovery of a book, an album or a movie. I do not believe in these kinds of eccentric showcases.
I am not totally insensitive to these moments. There is a scene in Casablanca depicting the dueling anthems between French refugees and their German occupants singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.”
It is one of my favorite moments in the film. When this scene was shared prominently in 2016 after the terrorist attack on Paris. I thought it was great because it expressed an outrage that people couldn’t quite express with words and also showed us how violent events constantly repeated and it seems humanity is incapable of changing its course.
In contrast, I could use the example of Italy in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Coronavirus infections within its borders, when politicians and people seemed to endorse online campaigns preaching to people that they should carry on living as if nothing was happening.