We Did It Together
We did it. We Americans. We celebrated the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021 without collectively grieving and memorializing our dead on a national platform.
We watched on my phone. New York City, Times Square. A theater of modifications to project “safety.” The host assured us the only guests on the ground were those most worthy of celebration: frontline healthcare workers and first responders.
Doctors, nurses, and EMTs crammed in little corrals. Millions of infections, hundreds of thousands dead, many more still suffering and disabled, anti-vaccine sentiment at its peak, and our healthcare providers danced and cheered in purple-sequined masks in small, waist-high cubicles.
Police stood in their own tiny boxes, on the exact ground where they brutalized, tortured, gassed, battered, groped, kidnapped, and literally ran over people using SUVs — in the middle of this pandemic. Where they encouraged, incited, assisted, aided, and abetted white supremacists to do the same, and often worse. Last night, they wore their fancy dress uniforms and plain black cloth masks while they partied and jeered.
Times Square went peak 4K years ago. While the excitement of the old lights enticed us to look at the signs, the shrieking glare of the backlit screens now assault you with their advertising. The last song performed in Times Square in 2020 was John Lennon’s Imagine.
As the crystal ball dropped, the ever-present screen behind it played a Kia ad on a loop.
Did I just write those words? Did I really witness such a descent into depravity? Yes, I did. I realized as I watched that…gif…that the whole damn scene was one long commercial.
I don’t mean the commercial playing on the big screen behind the crystal ball, I mean the one playing on the little screen in my hand. The whole “New Year’s Eve 2020 in Times Square.” This commercial sells normality, not cars. A good and normal America, where everyone has enough to eat and already has their own car. Imagine there’s no hunger…and buy yourself that champagne!
When those companies contracted to be on the bright-lights-big-city screens of Times Square, they paid for prime time New Year’s Eve placement, regardless of pandemic status, and they weren’t going to miss a moment. Neither were we. None of us were forced, or even bribed. We welcomed our escape from reality when we bought into the fantasy of normality. We demanded it, like cheap TVs on Black Friday.
I had hoped for— not hoped, I gave up on hope long ago, but desired — memorialization. The faces of our dead healthcare workers, especially those in custodial and sanitation fields, belonged on that screen.
Too soon? Most, particularly in New York City, died seven months ago in the first surge. Long ago enough that we’ve taken up warspeak to label that place in time. Long enough we’ve developed covid vernacular. And vaccines.
Too sad? How about the survivors then? For every one that dies from covid, dozens more survive. The scientists that developed the vaccines? The volunteers of the clinical trials? Where were their faces to “inspire” us into the new year? Inspiration porn, brought to you by Kia?
We shattered the sliding doors of our humanity last night, and we did it for Planet Fitness top hats and cheap SUVs.
So here I am, on a new day of a new year. For me, 2020 was going to be remembered and defined by death anyway. I loved America, and I stayed by its side until the very end. I gave it my heart and soul, and in the end it used its last gasp to offer me a Korean import.
Twenty twenty, won.