Music Break: “Bat & Pig” – Contagion Soundtrack

March 13, 2020


Contagion is both horrifying and a little comforting; the scientists do eventually find and release a vaccine, and even though a lot of people die, most of the world’s population manages to survive. World war doesn’t break out. It’s both a horror film and not the worst-case scenario.

But watching Contagion in 2020, what’s most striking about the film isn’t really the central virus itself — or at least it wasn’t for me, though seeing the rising coronavirus fatality count has been heartbreaking. What’s most striking, and what I hope iTunes renters are taking note of, is a different kind of virus, a parallel outbreak for which Alan Krumwiede (played by Jude Law) is patient zero.

Alan Krumwiede is a kind of character who still felt a little fantastical, as I recall, in 2011. He’s a blogger, a conspiracy theorist, a “freelance journalist” in the mold of Alex Jones, with 12 million devoted fans and a penchant for the spotlight. To his audience, Krumwiede peddles various theories about the virus, such as the idea that it’s been genetically engineered. He goes on national television to accuse CDC director Dr. Ellis Cheever (Fishburne) and the entire government apparatus of conspiring with Big Pharma to suppress a simple homeopathic cure, called forsythia, in order to profit off a vaccine.

But Krumwiede is a charlatan who stands to profit off forsythia himself. (Jones has made a hefty sum off his own hawking of dietary supplements — like a pill that will cure the “fungal epidemic” sweeping the nation.) In a video posted to his website, Krumwiede fakes the symptoms of the virus and then “heals” himself with forsythia. Later, we see him roaming the streets in full protective gear, even though he’s supposedly immune; it was all a scam.

Yet Krumwiede’s falsehoods contain just enough of the truth that they spread quickly, infecting viewers prone to his cocktail of fear, paranoia, and mistrust of authorities, particularly those who are supposed to be looking out for them. That, as he tells one man, is his “brand.”

When he confronts Cheever on TV, Krumwiede argues that, as with Hurricane Katrina and Wall Street (presumably he means the housing crisis), what’s really going on is being hidden from the everyday man. Cheever, trying to keep his cool, rebuffs him. “In order to become sick,” he says, “you have to first come into contact with a sick person or something that they touched. In order to get scared, all you have to do is come into contact with a rumor, or the television, or the internet. I think what Mr. Krumwiede is spreading is far more dangerous than the disease.”

“Oh, really,” Krumwiede shoots back. Then he reveals on air that an email written by Cheever has surfaced and is circulating on Facebook. Cheever had sent it to his fiancée, warning her of a quarantine about to be enforced in Chicago, where she lives. The quarantine wasn’t announced to the general public until several hours after the email was sent. See? you can almost hear Krumwiede’s 12 million viewers shouting through the screen. They arewithholding the truth from us.

The scary part about Krumwiede’s brand of “virus” is that it infects people’s minds and causes them to act in ways that expressly counteract their own best interests, not to mention the greater good. Once the vaccine has been developed, he threatens to advise his viewers to avoid it, and when he’s arrested and charged with securities fraud, conspiracy, and likely manslaughter, they pool their money and post his bail. 

Even “reasonable” people seem prone to his way of thinking in the wake of the virus, whether or not they’ve come into contact with Krumwiede themselves or would ever listen to someone like him in other circumstances. One scientist tells another, offhandedly, that he’s read that the Americans have a cure and are manufacturing it in secret; when she asks him where he’s read that, he says, “The internet.” 

“The internet? You believe it?” she says.

“I don’t know,” he replies.

Obviously, people have always been able to sell theories and fake remedies for all kinds of problems to people who are scared for their lives, throughout history. But Contagion reminds us that the structure of the internet allows bad information to spread in a way that uncannily mimics a very contagious virus. (Smallpox, Kate Winslet’s scientist character informs us early on, was often transmitted from one patient to three others; the spread of false, harmful information is much faster and covers more ground thanks to the internet.) And that false information — those unverified rumors and sinister theories — have real-world implications.

7 Responses to “Music Break: “Bat & Pig” – Contagion Soundtrack”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Watch the movie—-it’s really well done and scientifically accurate. I got it from Netflix a couple weeks ago,

  2. Oscar Bautista Says:

    I watched this a few years ago and have seen reruns a couple of time. It has remarkable parallels to today’s COVID 19 pandemic (though the lethality is through the roof).

  3. […] where was I? Oh, yes… I was over on the Climate Denial Crock of the Week website just now, and reading Peter Sinclair quoting Vox on […]

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