Credit: Illustration by Julia Terbrock

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City Paper, like so much of the world, is practicing social distancing to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. If you’re able, we hope you are too. But we want to make social distancing a little more social, a little less distant, and a lot more enjoyable and thought-provoking. So, welcome to the City Paper (virtual) Arts Club. Over the coming weeks, arts editor Kayla Randall and multimedia editor Will Warren will be watching movies and TV and reading books and discussing them (from home over the phone) on our podcast, with brief highlights collected in print. We want you to join us in reading and watching and participate in the conversation using the hashtag #CityPaperArtsClub on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, so we can incorporate your thoughts into the discussion. This week, we watched the 2004 abrupt climate change-based disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. Next, we’ll be reading The Plateau by Maggie Paxson.

These arts club chat highlights have been edited and condensed for clarity. For the full chat, subscribe to Washington City Podcast.

Kayla Randall: So, The Day After Tomorrow—I guess you would call it sci-fi?

Will Warren: There is both sci and fi, for sure … All kinds of survival and disaster movie motifs play out. So, what was your experience watching this while we’re going through something that’s both completely similar and completely dissimilar? 

KR: Kind of like you said, it is removed from what’s happening now, but also very close. There’s a scene in the movie where the climatologist’s son is in the public library with a crowd of people and he’s got this scientific information from his dad that nobody should go outside, everybody needs to stay inside, just shelter where they are and hopefully wait the blizzard out. But people don’t listen. He’s screaming “you’re not prepared for what’s happening outside.” And people go outside anyway. That definitely was triggering [laughs]. Basically, people are given the information that staying inside will help save their lives, and then some people blatantly disregard that because they think they know how best to survive. It really hit me.

WW: And also, just like, listen to scientists … This is something I was really struck by watching this movie. One of our readers, Eric, was saying you know it’s remarkable that people were talking about climate change kind of in the way we still are now, and this is 16 years ago. That’s the big difference between why people are taking the pandemic so seriously, and rightfully so, but not necessarily climate change. It’s the immediacy it’s happening in. In the movie, climate change is happening with immense immediacy. 

This is just an excerpt of our conversation. To listen to the entire thing, subscribe to Washington City Podcast.

KR: I’ve been really interested in the last few years about scholars writing books about the death of expertise—that people have been throwing expertise out the window and thinking that because they have a phone that makes them an expert as well. Yes, we can all Google, but that doesn’t mean that we are climatologists, that doesn’t mean that we are epidemiologists. These are people who have dedicated their entire lives to documenting what’s happening on our planet and listening to them is so important … It’s interesting how rapidly things can change when they need to. We’re getting relief in a matter of days, or at least the plans for relief, we will wait and see if that relief can actually come and be effective for a large number of Americans. But when things are “normal” we get told “Oh, we don’t have the funds, and we can’t do this, and we can’t do that.” We have this huge inequality. I feel like after this, you can’t really make the excuse that we can’t do something. It seems like we can do anything, really, if we need to do it.

WW: That is my big takeaway of this experience. We, not just politicians, have changed our lives pretty dramatically, pretty quickly. And it seems like we could do that for other things, namely climate change, which is what the movie is about … Whether or not we’ll have the energy or desire to do that is another question. And I think it comes down to that immediacy thing. 

That idea of the future, and what the new normal is, is the other big thing that jumped out at me from the film. But I find it really interesting thinking about what the future for this group of people is going to be like, in the same way that I’m thinking about what May or April or whenever we’re returning to a state of normal from this pandemic will be like.

KR: It just makes you realize how trivial everything is. When everything is good, we have the luxury of thinking about the most trivial, meaningless things. Like I worry about “Oh, I don’t have a designated spot to put my mail when I come into my apartment.” And it’s like, who cares? At a time like this, I’m just really grateful for loved ones, having the ability to call my mom and dad, just hear their voices and have them tell me they love me, and tell them I love them. In the meantime being able to do that is a real gift, and a luxury.

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