The virus has united the country and in doing so, made us all a little emotional
Last Thursday, I took my eldest daughter on a trip to our front step at 8pm to join the weekly ‘Clap for Carers’ in support of the NHS and other key workers. She squealed with delight and even I, hardened sociologist that I am, felt a bit teary. I looked across the road to see that my neighbours had put up a giant ‘NHS’ in Christmas lights across the entire front of their house. I waved at them — our first interaction ever.
Elsewhere, Boris Johnson’s speech on leaving hospital was lauded for being ‘his most heartfelt and emotional’ and the whole ordeal as having brought him ‘closer to the people’. Messages from the royals have been received in a similarly fawning way, including Prince William’s recent statements that Britain is ‘at its best’ during crises. Apparently, they evoke that ‘community feel’.
What’s making us so weak in the knees? Part of the answer is nostalgia. Coronavirus has awakened a misty-eyed longing for a past when Brits were fighting the good fight against a clear and common enemy.
For a long time, national causes have been a bit ambiguous. Wars in the Middle East have been met with widespread opposition; missions abroad, despite being sold in grandiose terms, have been viewed with suspicion. Who are the good guys? Are we the bad guys?
It’s no coincidence that speeches by public figures throughout the pandemic have consciously evoked a sense of the ‘Blitz spirit’ — a time when there seemed little doubt about the goodness of our mission and the evilness of our enemies. Nazis, and later the Soviets during the Cold War, were clear adversaries capable of rallying citizens around a common goal.
Societies with few shared meanings and goals often need shared enemies. If we don’t know what we’re for, we ought to at least know what we’re against. In a way, a deadly virus that disproportionately attacks the vulnerable is the perfect conduit for this search for meaning. For the first time in decades, people feel comfortable attacking a public villain. It’s not like the virus can claim to be misunderstood and tell its ‘side of the story’. The entire political spectrum appears able to unite against the common enemy in favour of an unambiguous public good, ‘Protect the NHS!’
For decades, we’ve been searching for a common enemy and we’ve found it in Covid-19. It’s making us all a little bit emotional. It may be bad news, but we can’t contain our joy.