The James Clayton Column: Cinematically swiping at swine

James ponders if the answer to epidemic threat anxiety can be found in our DVD collections...


Do you remember swine flu? About two or three weeks ago it was the prime source of panic for the people of the world who suddenly started to view the sausages in the fridge with nervous suspicion. The anxiety was palpable and as the H1N1 strain was promoted as the great pandemic that we’ve all been long overdue, the Earth’s populace was led to giddily anticipating Pigocalypse Now – which I imagine would be like the beginning of Hayao Miyazaki’s anime masterpiece Spirited Away where Chihiro’s greedy parents are transformed into hogs.

Some hard labour time in a supernatural bathhouse for Japanese spirits and gods to reverse such a metamorphic affliction seems simple in comparison to the scale of disaster presented in the real world. The responses to the question of how to stop the spread and subsequent mutation of this virus suggested that we were dealing with a gravely serious situation. Afghanistan put its only pig in quarantine; Egypt set in motion a mass cull and scheme of swineocide; US Vice-President Joe Biden – wary that coughs and sneezes spread diseases – said that a field’s distance was close enough for personal contact, thank you very much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the most trigger-happy military leaders covertly targeted their atomic warheads on Mexico City and dug out Dr. Strangelove’s post-doomsday blueprints.

Furthermore, film buffs the world over turned to their DVD collections to dig out the George Romero boxsets and consult every biological nightmare-tinged blockbuster they could find. Having told the children that Babe was all a lie and that Winnie the Pooh’s pal Piglet was actually a perverse psychopath in pink who’s secretly plotting to poke out Tigger’s eyes, adult movie geeks pooled together cinematic wisdom in an effort to survive the outbreak.

Is it really true that 28 Days Later, 12 Monkeys and The Omega Man can teach us how to take on the contagious terror feared to be travelling the planet? All I learned from The Omega Man is that Charlton Heston never gets tired of his Jesus Christ posing and that Will Smith is more appealing as humanity’s final hope. Likewise, the former two films listed above are all about the infected apes. What are we to do in the case of infectious ‘ickle piggies?

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Perhaps placing our faith in the wisdom of Dawn Of The Dead and holing up in a shopping centre to go on the crazed consumerist spree that we couldn’t have before anarchy arrived really is the best course of action. Besieged by a bacterial menace, we might as well use and abuse the resources all handily located under one roof, appropriately embracing the end of civilisation by materialistically burying our collective head in the sand and living out the remaining days in an extreme version of the American Dream.

Adopting a ‘carpe diem’ motto certainly makes more sense in terms of mental wellbeing than excessive panic. Going off mainstream media coverage of the H1N1 outbreak, you’d be forgiven for expecting the worst, arming yourself with a shotgun and turning to The Crazies for inspiration in anticipation of unstoppable infectious force.

In all honesty, the fear-mongering and fright in the face of what has so far failed to grow into the scourge of civilisation has been excessive and ludicrous. It was the TV news footage of reporters camped outside the homes of the unfortunate virus victims who’d returned back from their Mexican vacation to house arrest that really hammered home how hysterical and irrational the media can be in times of perceived crisis.

The press people on the scene were shown ringing up the afflicted individuals to get insight into life in quarantine as a carrier of a mutating bug, yet the person on the other end of the line was speaking calmly (no delirious, sickly oinking noises) and complaining of boredom rather than the approach of death. In fact, as they protested “I’m getting better!” it was more like modern impersonation of Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The epic influenza to end us all was all a farce. Ni!

After all the fuss and fevered distribution of advice leaflets encouraging hand washing to stop the disease spreading, swine flu has suddenly vanished – at least it has here in the UK. Turning to the Houses of Parliament and discovering that the politicians have had their snouts in the trough, the press put a stop to plague proclamations and put all their knives into the expenses scandal.

The pandemic, having only two weeks ago been the virus that’d wipe out the world’s population, is now old news as the newspapers gather the dirt on every item of pet food, pile of horse manure or porn DVD that MPs have claimed on expenses. Rationally thinking, it’s only right that the wider population should be riled up by the fact that public servants have been lining their wallets with taxpayers’ money instead of speculatively fretting about swine flu.

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Nevertheless, as the allegations come thick and fast and the sleazy depths of deceit in the claims receipts are unveiled, the end result could be anarchy – albeit without infection in the air – if the public mood continues to sour towards the striking up of a revolution. Aside from wondering why no one has ever asked James Bond to explain his expenses bill (can he really justify all those hotel bills and Martini vodkas as being in the state’s best interests?), it’s worth questioning: where’s the Film Buff Brains Trust now? At the promise of plague, we had ‘how to survive’ advice according to cinema in abundance. With revolt in the air, why aren’t people consulting cinematic classics to make sure the uprising against the current corrupt system comes off properly?

Straight up, V For Vendetta should be the model, and it’s especially appropriate seeing as Guy Fawkes-a-like V plots to blow up Parliament at the climax of the adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel. It wouldn’t hurt either to watch Fight Club and take tips from Tyler Durden’s Project Mayhem before trying to topple the rotten regime. That said, wasn’t it Pitt who starred in 12 Monkeys as the insane and extreme animal-rights activist Jeffrey Goines prior to playing Durden? As leader of the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, he was the one who unleashed the devastating virus on humanity. Is he with us or against us? Ah, my head hurts. I feel the aching swell of fever. Could this be… swine flu?

James’ previous column can be found here.