"I am in an absolute haze..."Flickr/Aaron Escobar

I can’t stop watching TV.

Everyday I lie in front of screens. Documentaries, sitcoms, news and analysis roll past my eyes. Then I sleep, and I wake up and start over again.

I am in an absolute haze. We’ve been in some form of lockdown now for well over a month, and the promise, or hope, of lifting restrictions at some point in the indeterminate future doesn’t drastically change how I feel. The pandemic has destroyed my sense of time. The restrictions are being reviewed in three-week cycles, but three weeks is a time frame I can’t contain in my head. I can only think of now, yet like everyone I am a hostage of a past I can’t comprehend.

There is only so much space in my mind for time. As the news today becomes increasingly dire and shocking, the present has crowded out the past. There is only now. Lent term, February and March, have as much presence in my mind now as years ago. Days are distant, and months ago ancient. I can remember my last days in Cambridge, in my house living with my friends, but it feels alien. It doesn’t fit with the all-consuming now. By the end of the week, the beginning feels suspect. There is no looking forward. There is only now, and now there is a screen to watch. There is nothing else to do.

“I need to see worlds where time has more meaning. I need to believe we can choose to be better.”

I can’t pay attention to the news, and I can’t not pay attention to the news. Like the past and the future, it doesn’t really feel real anymore. News today is the consequence of decisions made weeks, months ago. Many of our actions yesterday, today and tomorrow won’t yield results till we are well into next month. Staying home and limiting the spread of the virus saves lives, if not today, in the weeks to come. Actions today are displaced in time.

I can’t see a future being sketched out in a way or timeframe I can comprehend, but on TV I see things I recognise. Whether it’s fiction or documentary, there is narrative on screen. The lives I watch have bounds and an arc. The story of the Tiger King has an end. TV provides more than just escapism from the horror of what’s happening in the world. On TV, events have frameworks that they don’t have in real life anymore, frameworks real life maybe never had. I watched a film, Arrival, in which the day is saved by a shared moment of human vulnerability between two characters. In the sitcoms I’ve watched, everything is reset at the end of each episode to a pleasant status quo. Today there is no resetting, and the day won’t be saved by the actions of individuals in a moment of inspiration. That only happens on screen.

And I can’t stop watching. Our futures are uncertain, beset on all sides by forces we can’t comprehend, and time has collapsed in on itself. We don’t have control over much of our lives, and we’ve been made painfully aware of that by this pandemic. Disease does not have a narrative, an arc we can look to provide comfort or certainty. It does not have an eye for poetry or twists or dramatics. There is no clear framework we can use to better understand what is happening. There is none of the certainty we crave in life. There are no bounds and there is no closure. Disease has no meaning.


Mountain View

When the coronavirus came knocking at my door

We are standing on the edge of a very uncertain future, and we don’t know if that future will last days, weeks, months, or longer. We can come out better or we can come out worse or we can die. We are at the mercy of forces beyond our control: a disease we don’t fully understand, and governments and corporations that we know ignored warnings of what was to come or exploited the pandemic for personal gain. The pandemic has compounded every societal problem, from income inequality to healthcare inequality.

The only meaning to find is in how we respond.

So I watch TV because I can’t stop. I watch TV continually, as I need to see worlds with bounds and narrative; I need to see world’s where redemption can be found; and, I need to see worlds where time has more meaning. I need to believe we can choose to be better.

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