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([personal profile] sunfell posting in [community profile] 2012 May. 1st, 2009 08:04 pm)
Today's Salon magazine (daypass or subscription required) has a pair of articles that address pandemics and 'killer plague movies'.

Pandemic Pandemonium

The word "pandemic" comes from the Greek "pandemos," meaning, "of all the people." It may not simply be coincidence that the word "pandemonium"-- uproar and noise -- comes right after it in the dictionary. Pandemonium was actually a literary location, chosen by Milton as the capital of hell in "Paradise Lost." Combine "of all the people" with the Greek "daemon" and you've got a chaotic situation instigated by evil spirits.

And how about the word "panic"? There's that "pan" again, although in this instance, it refers to that rambunctious Greek god Pan, whose chief talent seemed to be for creating fear and terror in lonely, isolated places. But while the word "pandemic" tends to push the panic button in most of us, it doesn't have to. At face value, a pandemic is only an epidemic over a large area. Not to be flippant with that "only," but as many medical experts have stressed in the past few weeks, a "pandemic" refers to the scope of a disease and not necessarily its severity.

If we look at what is actually happening, at this very moment, with H1N1, we have to admit not only that things are not all that bad, but also that they have, in many instances, been blown totally out of proportion. Just today, the Mexican government reported that the suspected confirmed cases of deaths in that country due to the disease are half of what the world had been led to believe and that the spread within the country has stabilized. So far, no one anywhere else has died, with the exception of the poor Houston toddler who contracted the virus in Mexico, and not everyone who is in close proximity to an infected person gets sick. And, those who do contract H1N1 tend to have mild symptoms that resolve themselves without prescription medications.

Attack of the Killer Plague Movies

The recent swine-flu headlines have done a number on many of us, playing upon our greatest fears and apprehensions. For years, scientists have been warning us that it's only a matter of time before a vaccine-resistant, untreatable virus wills itself into existence and kills -- or transforms into zombies -- almost everyone on the planet except one or ten or a hundred hardy souls. Those survivors will be forced to retreat to remote, boarded-up shacks, where they'll have to ponder the biggest moral quandaries of mankind: For example, if your mom turns into a zombie, how do you kill her?

The scientists haven't, of course, put their warnings in exactly those terms. It's their job to outline the all-too-believable possibilities, although we also have a calm president who's more interested in keeping us rational than in stirring up our worst nightmares. But there is one place to turn to for images of desolate landscapes nearly wiped clean of freethinking creatures, of feverish, suffering people who suddenly turn into something not quite human, of rational people reduced to scrabbling for survival instead of just going to Target to pick up whatever they need: the movies, capable of feeding and intensifying our worst anxieties.

We don't know if this iteration of influenza is going to do the 'zombie' thing on us or not, but we have a whole summer to stock up on supplies and movies before that happens. Of course, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, the season is just starting. Stamp it out, will you?
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