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Mutated Musings on the Corona Discourse

I’m betting that most of you are heartily sick  (pun partially intended) of coronavirus talk. It has become the C-word of note for many. And yet, it retains something of that car crash ‘I-want-to-look-away-but-can’t’ dopamine effect — we keep plunging in, as if driven by an unseen aerosolized force, into the murky depths of Corona discourse.

 

As someone with a lifelong interest in how language is actually used to express thoughts, ideas, and identities, it is the way that corona discourse is being managed and manifested that has captured my attention.

 

“The roll call of Covid-19 internet forum Dramatis Personae”

 

Some operating from the extreme fringes of ‘discourse inferno’ need no introduction here. But I’m sure you’ve noticed other characters too… the roll call of internet forum Dramatis Personae:

 

  1. The Self (Righteous) Isolator (‘I shower in a full Mayo Clinic requisitioned Hazmat suit and receive my food deliveries via an hourly sterilized Ethanol tube running directly between my mailbox slot and my Johns Hopkins autographed disinfectant kit.’)

 

    2. The Social Distancing Nazi (‘As I was driving down the coast, I saw a couple strolling on the empty beach holding hands. So, I got out of my car and approached them shouting, ‘Don’t you   know what you’re doing is killing tens of thousands of people?’)

 

     3. The Crackpot Armchair Alchemist (‘All you need to protect yourself from Covid-19 is three ostrich feathers, a testicle from a pre-pubescent American bison, and a blender.’)

 

    4. The Conspiracy Addict. You know, the ones who apply the cough – faultless – cough logic of, ‘Whoever has benefitted from ay given situation must have willfully caused it.’ Which means, of course, that the CEO of Zoom is most certainly the architect of Covid-19.

    (Speaking of the ‘new normal’ in virtual classrooms, have you noticed how most Japanese students are adept enough with a cell phone to launch a pre-emptive attack on Paraguay, particularly if it involves using LINE, but make a monumental mess out of the simplest Word documents?)

 

   5. The Good News (Debbie) Downer — a constant fixture on interactive forums:

Poster A: The Forward Movement Institute says it’s on track to develop and administer a vaccine by fall.

DD: After millions will have already died.

Poster A: They’ve already started treatment on seriously affected patients using a regimen that has a 98% success rate thus far.

DD: And the other 2 percent, who cares about them, right?

 

 

6. Wannabe Americans — I’m surprised how many closet Americans have come out of the woodwork during the Covid-19 regime. Exchanges like the following are far from rare on internet forums and have even infested the streets of Japan:

 

Some foreign guy: Once our leader finally gets his head out of the sand we’ll see some curve flattening all the way from Washington State right through Florida. Then, maybe, it’ll be safe to go outside again.

Me: But we’re living in Japan.

Some foreign guy: Yes. By the way, did you hear what the Governor of Arkansas said the other day? Ridiculous! What an idiot!

Me: So, you’re from Arkansas?

Some foreign guy: No. I’m from Paraguay.

 

“…many of us have gained herd immunity to these desperate media indulgences.”

 

We’ve all been thoroughly exposed to obvious misinformation, fake news, and supposed vested interests from all corners of the political spectrum, to the point where many of us have gained herd immunity to these desperate media indulgences.

 

Most obvious among these are media outlets who are just a little too unsubtle in showing the political hands, leading with stories having titles like, ‘30,000 newly infected patients confirmed. Prime Minister mocks them and laughs at first responders’ gear’.

 

Of course, it’s all too easy to play ‘Let’s laugh at the funny politician’ these days but still there have been some overlooked non-sequitur, fallacious, and tautological zingers that would do well to be transmitted to your students’ critical thinking lessons. I’ll try to be equal opportunity, non-partisan in tracing and isolating weirdass public figure commentary:

 

  1. Just the other day, while mulling the reasons for the likely extension of the state of emergency here in Japan, Prime Minister Abe said, ‘Unfortunately, the total number of infections has kept increasing.’ Yeah. Funny that. Kind of like noting that you become older every year.

 

   2. For fair political play, here’s one aimed at Abe’s critics. How many times have you seen the following logic displayed in both forums and in ‘serious’ media: ‘The Japanese government is hiding the real infection figures. Because they haven’t tested

 

   3. The Nikkei Asian Magazine, in one of those all-too-obvious attempts to galvanize public opinion into accepting an extended lockdown, reported how the Covid-19 situation was getting worse by noting that, ‘ …the number of confirmed new infections in Tokyo on Wednesday was 47, up from 112 on Tuesday.’ Now math was never my best subject but…

 

   4. WHO has had their fair share of unwashed-foot-in-mouth blunders, the most notable being the ‘mask-or-not-to-mask controversy, where they initially said (and I’m paraphrasing only slightly) ‘Wearing masks is not helpful in blocking the virus, and anyway, healthcare professionals desperately need them.’ What for? As fashion statements? And why should we be listening to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend on these matters anyway?

 

This dubious proclamation led to any number of public figures spouting the Ricky Bobby (‘Talladega Nights’) styled binary logic of, ‘If you’re not first, you’re last!’ — the motto imprinted upon young Ricky by his estranged father — arguing that unless the mask filtered out every single pathogenic particle known to mankind (or ‘humankind’ for Canadian readers) wearing them was virtually ‘useless’. As Rick Bobby’s father himself states later in the movie: ‘If you’re not first, you’re last? What? That doesn’t even make any sense! You could be second, or third, or fourth…’.

 

   5. Recently, there has also been a spate of articles urging people to hunker down by emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. That’s all well and fine until, as support for the gravity of the pandemic, they indulge in talk about the terrible economic losses, unemployment, and mental health problem as being attributable to the virus. The problem, of course, is that these are not attributable to the virus but rather directly due to the subsequent lockdown. I mean, we get it, but it’s a bit like trying to convince a cardio patient that quadruple bypass surgery is necessary because, ‘Look! The cost of the treatment is really high’.

 

   6. Perfectly reasonable WHO claims, however, have also been co-opted by logic-challenged pundits, such as the CNN article (since deleted it appears – thank goodness) that was alarmingly headlined: ‘You can catch it twice’ (almost as if they were hoping that this would be the case). This stellar bit of pontification was based completely upon WHO’s then-recent announcement that, ‘There is not yet any evidence that catching the virus grants full immunity.’ Hmmm. Maybe losing one’s olfactory senses isn’t such a bad thing after all.

 

“Reach out to your 1st year students who are from out-of-prefecture!”

 

Ok, allow me to end this with a request for encouragement:

University teachers in Japan, PLEASE reach out to your 1st year students from out-of-prefecture. Upperclassmen students will already have friends and club members who they can Skype or LINE, and freshmen from inside the prefecture can visit friends and family, but those entering from outside the prefecture don’t know ANYONE. They are in a new, strange environment that they can’t explore, likely confined to a drab, narrow 1DK apartment, and they very probably have no nearby support. Connect with them.

 

There’s your calling during these testing times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Guest

Mike Guest

Michael (Mike) Guest is Associate Professor of English in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Miyazaki (Japan). A veteran of 25 years in Japan, he has published over 50 academic papers, 5 books (including two in Japanese), has been a regular columnist in the Japan News/Yomiuri newspaper for 13 years, and has performed presentations and led workshops and seminars in over 20 countries. Besides ranting and raving, his academic interests include medical English, discourse analysis, assessment, teacher training, and presentation skills.
Mike Guest

2 Responses to Mutated Musings on the Corona Discourse

  1. Great stuff, Mike.

  2. Thanks Alan.

    This pandemic has given me oodles of bizarre discourse materials to work with.

    Mike

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