One of the most difficult things that an actor learns to do is to say a line, after having already having said it dozens if not hundreds of times, and make it seem like the first time they ever said it. This involves playing a trick on the brain, convincing yourself that you are doing something that you aren’t really doing. The initial challenge is to understand and deliver the words when you first experience them; the harder challenge is to sustain that moment of realization. America’s coronavirus response is now in that second phase.
An excellent example of how performative this has all become is CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo and presidential candidate Joe Biden broadcasting from their basements. In both cases, appearing in the basement began as a fast solution to the problem of isolation, in Cuomo’s case because he caught the Chinese virus, and in Biden’s out of fear that he might. But over the past month, both CNN and the Biden campaign have had time to create alternatives. So why are they still in the basement?
The basements have become sets, everything visible in them props, and sets and props absolutely help to tell the story. The message being sent is that things are not normal; we know they aren’t normal because look, Cuomo and Biden are still stuck in their basements. Just as so many Americans are stuck in their houses, unable to reclaim their normal lives. Even if they really don’t have to be.