Guys, I really wish I was joking right now, but Michael Bay is making a COVID-19 related film. We need to have a conversation about this.
Making a story about the pandemic while the pandemic is still ongoing is a risky move to begin with. We’ve seen two attempts at it with television shows already and they had varying degrees of success. In order to pull this off well, you need to be sensitive to the situation, have a subtle approach to the topic, and carefully think ahead about how the story will age. Instead of being sensitive, subtle, or have any sort of careful consideration about the future, we’re going to get a film described as being a “a taut thriller in the spirit of Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield” created by the King-of-Explosions Michael Bay.
Loss of taste is a symptom of Coronavirus, so I’m pretty sure Michael has it.
— Friz Frizzle Ruins the 90s | Friday @ 7pm (@FrizFrizzle) May 19, 2020
Let’s look at the two television examples that we’ve had so far and examine how they approached the situation.
Back in March, an episode of The Resident very briefly mentioned the coronavirus in a scene where a character declines to put on a mask. In my view, this brief mention was a bit of a failure as it was clearly written before the virus was really much of a threat. I predict that it will likely not age well. It seems alarmingly insensitive in retrospect now that we’re mandated to wear masks in so many places around the world. They likely should have waited a bit before attempting to do this.
Then again, I thought the same thing of the episode ‘September Tenth‘ for Third Watch, which aired about a month after the September 11th terrorists attacks. However, watching the scene 19 years down the line I actually think it aged fairly decently, so I’m willing to wait and reflect on The Resident at a later date. Perhaps the nonchalant attitude and refusal to wear a mask will in and of itself say something about America in the very specific time period of January and February of 2020. I’ll track down a YouTube clip in a couple decades and reflect on it I guess. Stay tuned.
The second example at attempting to tackle the coronavirus while it’s still ongoing is the Parks & Recreation Special, which I think nailed what it’s like to live in lock down. It was sensitive to how serious the situation was and didn’t attempt to exaggerate or speculate about how much worse things could possibly get. In fact, they only really name it in the cold open and spend the rest of the time examining the more human side of the equation. It was relatable, calming, and generally quite fun.
Additionally, it’s a genuine portrayal of what life is like at this exact moment, making it something that will assuredly age well as it’s a snapshot of a very specific point in time. This is who we are in America in March, April, and May of 2020. When we look back on the episode five or ten years down the line, it will still reflect that reality. Even if things change in June, this is who we are now. This is what life is like now. I was incredibly impressed by it.
But let’s take a look at what’s ahead for the Michael Bay project for a moment. The film, titled ‘Songbird,’ is a co-creation with Adam Goodman, the former President of Paramount. It’s described by Deadline as follows:
The pandemic has not gone away. Lockdowns have been rolled back and then reinstated and it becomes even more serious as the virus continues to mutate. I don’t believe there are supernatural elements involved, but there is governmental conspiracy and paranoia and how it impacts the cast of characters who remain in lockdown.
Is this sensitive?
Heck no. The movie is scheduled to film in 5 weeks, which means it’ll enter production while Los Angeles county is still under their stay-at-home order (apparently the actors won’t have to be face to face, but that’s hardly the point here). It will be written, filmed, and enter post-production while the event they are writing about is still underway. People will still be dying from the virus in great numbers while they’re acting out a fictionalized version of it. It’s awful. It’s horribly poor taste.
Additionally, it’s adding potentially (hopefully) fictional elements to a very real global disaster, while allowing those elements to still be within the realm of possibility. This is enough to cause a lot of people some very real distress even if they decide to avoid the film for their own well being. I expect that advertisements for it will likely be unavoidable, and news about it will be everywhere.
And yes, I recognize the irony that I’m writing a news piece about it, but I hope to not discuss the film moving forward after this article because it’s just so upsetting. I just needed to talk about it this once. And then I never want to talk about it again on this website.
Is this subtle?
Not at all. While Parks & Rec only mentioned the virus by name once and the tidbit in The Resident only lasted a couple seconds, this film is very clearly narrowing in specifically on COVID-19 and, worse yet, making it a thriller. There’s nothing subtle about this. It’s very clearly a film about the pandemic. The entire friggin’ film. There’s nothing subtle about this approach.
And have any of Michael Bay’s films ever really relied on subtlety for anything? This isn’t exactly a skill Bay is known for. He’s known for explosions and action and special effects. He’s quite possibly the worst choice to tackle this topic right now.
Christ, that is a hard pass from me. Literally any other director – someone who wouldn’t hammer in a nail with a JCB – and I’d have given the benefit of the doubt. But Bay’s as subtle as a sledgehammer.
— An Englishman In San Diego (@EnglishmanSDCC) May 21, 2020
Will it age well?
I highly doubt it. Granted, I’m not an oracle and I could be wrong, but this isn’t a snapshot of a specific period of time. This is a fictionalized and sensationalized thriller movie that sounds like it will have little to actually do with the realities of the situation. It’s going to do more to inform future historians about about how Michael Bay deals with stress (because, let’s be real, everyone is stressed pretty much everywhere right now) than it will about us as a society right now.
I feel like we’re getting an uncomfortable snapshot of what’s going through Michael Bay’s head right now and, frankly, I don’t like it. Start a journal, my dude. It’s helpful. Or maybe just go write some fanfiction. There’s an entire coronavirus tag. It’s very popular. And you won’t be subjecting anyone to it that doesn’t want to see it, because AO3 is super well curated that way. It’s fantastic.
Go write fanfiction, Michael Bay. You’ll get a lot out of it.
He’s gonna film a movie about how the pandemic could continue for 2 more years…. DURING THE PANDEMIC??
Man just stay home no one wants this film
— suburban sue (@blom_dot_com) May 19, 2020
You know Michael Bay, it’s probably a BAD idea to make a movie on Covid 19 WHILE Covid 19 is STILL going on! That’s like making a movie on 9/11 and you started filming it in late September of 2001.
— Star Giant Productions ♌🏳️🌈 (@Homestuckbrony3) May 20, 2020
Look. I get it. I get craving a disaster film right now. I wrote an entire article defending that desire here: Is The World Too Dark For Black Mirror? There’s a strong psychological need for a lot of people to specifically seek out this content. I even fall into this category myself so I understand the pull. I’ve rewatched almost every episode of Black Mirror at this point, and that’s a pretty dark show that a lot of people would likely be avoiding right now.
But this is different. I trust Charlie Brooker with heavy topics. He’s earned that over the years with Black Mirror and if he announced tomorrow that he was writing something related to the virus, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. But Michael Bay has not earned that trust. He is known for making poorly-rated action films that may make a lot of money at the box office, but don’t really have much to say. If you’re going to tackle this topic, you have to have something to say.
Even a lot of people who go out and see his explosion-filled films admit they aren’t really good, just mindless fun. And sometimes people need mindless fun and I get that, but about the very real pandemic that’s still ongoing? For real? We shouldn’t turn an ongoing disaster into mindless fun.
Additionally, a lot of the apocalyptic stories that we’re consuming right now are far enough removed from our current situation that they are providing some level of psychological benefit to a lot of us without the added distress of thinking about the virus. For the third time since the outbreak began, I’m going to reference this interview with Dr. Jorge Barraza, Ph.D., a professor in the online Master of Science in Applied Psychology program at the University of Southern California because it’s just so good:
It is completely natural for people to engage with content that they deem relevant to them or what is going on around them. In these times of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, we want to gain a sense of control. For some, it may also serve as a sort of detachment from the reality that the world is currently facing.
So if you think I’m just down on any and all dark media right now, that’s simply not true. You can take that counter argument and sit back down.
I’m even fine with choosing media that’s eerily close to our current situation, like the film Contagion or the upcoming remake of The Stand. So it’s not even that it’s about a virus in general that bothers me. I get that, too. But this is very specifically about a real life disaster that, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, is ongoing. People are still going to be confined to their homes and dying during filming. Almost twenty years on and we aren’t even doing this with 9/11. What makes them think this is okay?
Even if there’s someone out there who is legitimately craving an exaggerated and fictionalized version of this virus to cope (um, Michael Bay maybe?), you’ve got to understand that throwing this thing out into the universe where people are not going to be able to avoid news and advertisements is going to distress a lot of people. Contagion was made so long ago it doesn’t really have that problem and as for The Stand… well, we’ll see how they choose to market it. So far we just have some promotional images from Vanity Fair. I predict they’ll sit on it for a while to avoid this type of insensitivity, though I could sadly be proven wrong.
Just give it some time, please. This is quite literally too soon.
At this point I can’t tell if I’m going to mute a bunch of key words on social media to avoid subjecting myself to this, or specifically seek out news like I’m watching an impending train wreck. I have yet to see a single person express a positive opinion about this anywhere, though I suppose there could be someone out there in the vast social media landscape that might be excited about it. I’m sorry to be a party pooper to this mystery Michael Bay fan, but this is seriously not the time.
Literally who wants to see this
— enfant terrible. (@nemisixx) May 19, 2020
Please, don’t do this now. Don’t do this with him. Don’t do it this way. I’m begging you.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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