I’m not going to write about the “Tiger King” documentary series on Netflix, although that show has come as close as we are likely ever to get to a return of television as a communal exercise. With the entire country shuttered behind doors, that creepy, weird, and I must admit, addictive series has become a kind of connector for people who are now sequestered hopefully behind nonvirus infected doors. Just look at social media and the internet and you will see the phenomena of people on Team Joe Exotic.
Well, I guess I did write about “Tiger King” after all, but what this odd piece of mind candy — the kind that will probably bore cavities in your brain the size of billiard balls — reveals is the need to escape.
During the Depression and World War II, a double-header of dread, fear, and the uncertain, Hollywood produced countless musicals, comedies, and pieces of fluff. They may not have had the same level of tawdriness as “Tiger King,” but the purpose was the same: Take people away from their own problems, even if just for a little bit.
There was plenty of awfulness outside everyone’s front door in the 1940s, and what people craved was a means to take a few hours of not reading a newspaper or listening to the radio (that was social media in mid-20th-century world) and just leave Hitler and Stalin alone and watch something on the big screen that would make them laugh.
We can’t go out to the movies now, but fortunately, the movies can come to us. That’s why Netflix and other streaming services are probably enjoying the biggest ratings numbers of their existence. Most people also still have large DVD collections, and between the streaming and the “ancient” Blu-ray technology we can build our own libraries of escapist fare.
We are certainly doing this at our house. I’m kind of like those doomsday preppers you see on other streaming services, only instead of stocking giant cans of pork and beans with a half-life of 500 years in my secret bunker in the woods, I am well supplied with Marx Brothers movies, Laurel and Hardy movies, Mel Brooks movies, Billy Wilder movies, and a host of other gems that are keeping myself and family sane during these rather insane times.
We still watch those British murder mysteries too, which also qualify as escapist consumption, as the crimes are never overtly gruesome and we just accept the fact that the British must be the most under-reported violent people of all time.
And as much as we have it easier than our parents and grandparents did during World War II — come on, let’s face it, we didn’t have to cope with the specter of triumphant imperial Japanese forces marching down Wilshire Boulevard — there is one aspect to this global crisis that is much, much harder for us than it was for our forebears.
When news of Pearl Harbor hit, or news of more American boys killed in action came over the radio, people could go to church. Almost any time of day, they could walk into an open church and kneel before the Real Presence and pray in silence. On Sunday, they would gather as a community and attend Mass and receive the Eucharist. They could also go to confession.
That is the worst part of this pandemic. Streaming a Mass just doesn’t cut it.
But as hard as that may be for the flock, I can only imagine how many times harder it must be for the shepherd. Think of a doctor, in perfect health and with all the requisite expertise to treat patients, told by authorities that he must isolate himself from the people he wants to help. That is the lot of our priests across the country and across the world. We are deprived of their consul and the sacraments they dispense in their walled-in isolation.
And to have these restrictions placed upon them as we come around the corner of the holiest and most profound week on the liturgical calendar is just one more weight leveled upon the cross’ beam that they and the rest of us must bear. So, take time to escape, enjoy a little mindless entertainment, and stay away from the news, but think about our priests out there and say a prayer or three for them.
And on Good Friday, let us all lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross and be blessed.