- Start Reading
- Under the Influence
- Take Part
|Beware the blogger with bad teeth|
Contagion was an interesting film for me, given that my blogfic project (now fully planned and well into the writing phase, posting expected from January 2013) concerns a deadly global flu pandemic. I watched it with a certain amount of disconnection, more concerned with how the film’s narrative might overlap with mine than its quality as a film, and so I don’t seem to have been bothered by a lot of the faults that concerned others. While my partner obsessed over Jude Law’s inexplicably crooked tooth and the WHO’s oversight in not removing its key operatives from compromised neighbourhoods, I was more interested in where the film was coming from politically, and especially what it had to say about the place of bloggers in a disaster scenario.
As you’d expect from a Hollywood film, it was relentlessly pro-state authority. I found the Jude Law character interesting because he encompassed not just paranoia about radical agendas but mistrust of independent journalism and free communication networks. The metaphor of the misinformation spreading like the virus, for which the state regrettably can’t develop an inoculation that wouldn’t also smother free speech, feels like the closest thing the film has to a point. Not that it’s entirely authoritarian in its message – the scientist who makes the breakthrough after being told to stop work, the one who tests the new vaccine on herself and the doctor who warns his wife to leave town and gives his own inoculation to the janitor’s son are all deliberately disobeying orders or procedures, and are all lauded for it. It’s only the blogger, who bypasses authority entirely rather than merely bending the rules, whose actions are unmitigatedly bad and damaging. It’s interesting that they chose to have him team up with the shady investment bankers, making him a fully fledged con-artist, when they could so easily have made him merely a misguided conspiracy theorist. That much didn’t ring true for me: that somebody who’d initially seemed motivated by the strength of his principles should be shown to have been self-serving to the extent that even the hedge-fund fraudsters shake their heads at him. I would have liked a bit more ambiguity in this character, who up until that point was more interesting by far than any of the saintly doctors and scientists, risking their lives and reputations to do the Right Thing, or just doing their best under difficult circumstances while hounded by inconvenient mobs of faceless protesters.
Still, I’m quite glad that probably the nearest high profile pandemic story to the release of Bad Influences did feature blogging as a theme and did it from the polar opposite angle that I’ve planned to. The significance of blogging, in both Contagion and Bad Influences, is as a communications network that can say things the mainstream press can’t or won’t, especially under circumstances in which population control becomes a matter of life and death. Who controls the population under those circumstances, and to what effect, is a central theme of both narratives. Contagion plays out the opposition between the benevolent authorities and the viral forces of rumour and misinformation, embodied in an irresponsible blogger. Bad Influences will, I hope, use the multiple viewpoints of bloggers to investigate the struggle for control between the authorities and populations themselves.