Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s ... what exactly is that, anyway?
If it were between the years of 1952 and 1958, the answer would have been George Reeves as the title character in the “Adventures of Superman” television show on ABC.
And as we all know, this new thing, this strange visitor from another planet, worked out quite well for everyone and brought us “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” in brightly colored spandex (though the first two seasons were filmed in black and white). And it was a 1942 radio show of the same name which actually quoted that famous line first, but most of us remember Superman as a single, fully formed entity. We don’t even associate the “leap tall buildings in a single bound” with the fact that, originally, Superman didn’t fly at all.
This is usually the way of new things, and often the way people react. We see or experience something which shocks and surprises us, and instantly we begin to guess what it might be based on our limited knowledge. We make suppositions, and we demand answers from others, even if those others might not have any more information than we do. That is of course (catchy slogan aside) why the bystanders yelled “Look!” in the first place. They wanted other people to see the same crazy and unbelievable things they were seeing, if only to prove they were not the only crazy ones.
Of course, the whole “It’s a Bird!, etc.” is part of this as well. We as individuals want to be the ones to figure things out and be more clever than our fellows; and if it is in the sky it has to be either a bird or a plane (or maybe Michael Jordan on the basketball court) because we have proof that’s where those things go.
Now, in this particular case, being wrong doesn’t really have any negative side effects. Superman won’t be upset if you mistake him for a sandhill crane or a low flying Cessna. If, however, it wasn’t Superman at all — say it was Lex Luthor, instead — being wrong might have dire consequences.
Making mistakes is as human as having successes, and perhaps more so. We often jump to conclusions, not necessarily to cheat, but as a means of completing something. We all want those “drop the mic” moments where we have given such an undeniably clever or intelligent answer that all other comments are superfluous. And maybe we are clever, but we might also need that mic we dropped (and probably damaged) later, or someone else might need to say something. As gratifying as it might be to act clever or resolute, no one has all the information about anything up front — no, we have to learn it as we go, perhaps the hard way. Gaudy supervillains and superheroes aside, we all had pretty much the same reaction to COVID-19. “It’s a plague!” “It’s the Flu!” “No, it’s ... What?!”
Tragically, it is in fact a pandemic. It doesn’t matter what we want it to be, or what we would rather it was. It doesn’t even matter that we all want it to be gone, because the numbers say it’s not. We can spin the data as much as we want, depending upon our personal view of the whole mess, but 200,000 fatalities are hard to spin regardless of your politics. The reality of it is that COVID-19 is far worse than any villain any writer could dream up for one simple fact: it has no anthropomorphic tendencies. It has no agenda — it doesn’t want power like Lex Luthor or the Joker. It actually doesn’t want anything; anything, that is, other than to make millions of copies of itself. And unfortunately for us, it has to hurt or kill us to do that.
People on a global scale are still trying to find out what COVID-19 is, and more importantly, how to treat and one day eradicate it. In the mean time, hospitals are overflowing with patients on ventilators to the point where they are literally building “tent hospitals” in their parking lots. Most of us can’t help do the medical research required to get us where we need to be, but we can all do at least a little of what they ask us to do. And it really doesn’t matter if we believe wearing a mask or social distancing is effective, because we asked them for the answers they gave us. The numbers show that it works, by the way, in case you didn’t know. And washing our hands is always a good thing.
But the level of effectiveness is less important than the fact that it does reduce the spread of the virus, if only a little. So we should help the people who are trying to help us out by figuring out what makes COVID-19 tick. There is a lot we have learned, but there is a lot more we still need to learn. In the mean time, it just makes sense that limited exposure equals limited risk. Sneezes travel at 100 miles per hour, by the way, and I am pretty sure a mask would stop that a lot faster than me trying to sneeze into my armpit like Dracula. Anyway, we know it definitely isn’t Superman. But what we really need to figure out now is how much worse it is than Lex Luthor.