The ‘Parasite’ Pandemic

“An exam is like slashing through a jungle. Lose that momentum, and you’re finished.”

—“Parasite” (2019)

If grocery store shopping in 2020 feels like the “Hunger Games,” watching how many of America’s elected officials, members of the press and celebrities have responded to COVID-19 during quarantine feels like watching “Parasite.”

In “Parasite,” the Kims, a low-income family of four, deceive the Parks to gain employment as an English tutor, art therapist, driver, and housekeeper. What begins as a sympathetic attempt at making a decent living in South Korea (Ki-woo speaks English fluently but does not have a university degree) turns into a malicious, dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest scheme, making this truth abundantly clear: We live in a Darwinian world where we need to use our minds to survive.

In this world, low-income or “gig economy” workers try to survive in the jungle; higher-income earners removed from the jungle, like the Parks, play. The Parks’ living room, a former playpen, overlooks their lush, green backyard that, by no coincidence, resembles a jungle.

At face value, director Bong Joon-ho portrays the Parks unfavorably: the film implies Mr. Park has a cushy tech job because of his college degree, not his intellect. But the nuances show the Kims behave much like the Parks as their income grows. Wealth can make people less cautious and aware of the skills that enable them to survive. It can breed complacency and encourage risky behavior.

If Bong made a movie called “Virus,” the Kims would hoard bottles of Purell and sell them for 50 times the retail price; the Parks would be Senators Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) profiting from insider trading.

A third group would consist of people like the driver the Kims manipulate the Parks into firing. This group—the fired driver or any entrepreneur who earns his income the honest way—watches the media frenzy from their televisions, isolated or in quarantine, playing by the rules.

Many of those who have used their platforms to preach about staying out of touch act out-of-touch. They’re playing, but not by the rules, and everyone is watching: media consumption increases by about 60 percent when the government forces consumers to stay home, according to the Nielsen Corporation.

This pandemic makes clear why recent polls say the percentage of Americans who want to raise taxes on the rich equals the number who want to cut taxes for everyone. But in reality, entrepreneurs who have accumulated wealth by making things have added the most value in this pandemic.

While members of Congress were fighting over a relief bill, Elon Musk was building ventilators—and donating hundreds of the machines to New York’s under-supplied hospitals.

Politicians, members of the press, and celebrities need to take mindful, common-sense steps to show they match Americans’ top priority: survival. These steps show how they can increase their value while aligning themselves with the public’s interest.

By the end of March, upwards of 4 million Americans will have filed for unemployment claims, the highest on record. Members of Congress should exhibit leadership and comradery by forgoing their salaries that range from $174,000 to $223,000 per year to send to Americans.

Americans ranked the news media last in terms of how they have handled the coronavirus pandemic response in the United States, according to Gallup poll results released March 25. It’s not hard to see why: asking the same question about word choice (“Why are you calling it a ‘Chinese’ virus?”) multiple times does not inform a Pep Boys owner about when his son’s military base will open, the likelihood of his ICU nurse daughter contracting the disease, or whether or not he can keep his business afloat.

Journalists add value in that they create knowledge. Regardless of one’s own personal view of President Trump and his verbiage, these questions divert attention away from finding solutions and cheapen the serious economic and health effects the country faces. Reporters should be “above it” and ask questions about medical progress and economic plans.

Many television journalists need to replace fearmongering with pragmatism. I advised a private healthcare organization about how effectively to communicate with the public during the 2014 Ebola crisis. Words like “prevention” and “pragmatic” don’t catch people’s attention. If they did, leading causes of death like cancer, suicide, and auto accidents would take more precedence. But including a live death tracker that resembles a New Year’s Eve countdown (or a North Korean ticking time bomb) clock implies CNN cares more about its headlines than it does about its viewers.

Replacing the death tracker with a timer, starting with the date and time Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced the COVID-19 response bill, would have aligned them with the public by instilling a sense of urgency: Congress needed to act. Acknowledging the public’s fear—and their right to be fearful—builds trust. Stoking fears does not.

Celebrities need to stop announcing their test results (positive or negative). Americans sympathized with Tom Hanks when he announced he and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19. It also made the reality of the virus’ presence more real. Now, as thousands of Americans wait for their results (if they’re lucky enough even to get tested), the country reading about Heidi Klum’s negative result corroborates “Parasite’s” message: the wealthy have it easy.

Public figures need to show leadership. Mark Cuban ensured Dallas Mavericks arena workers would receive compensation, questioned why 3M increased ventilator mask prices, and demanded that Republicans and Democrats pass the response bill. Brad Paisley started a service in which volunteers deliver free groceries to the elderly from “The Store,” a supermarket he founded with his wife in 2018 that provides free food for people who have fallen on hard times.

Gal Gadot, an Israeli model, released a video montage of celebrities singing “Imagine,” an anthem John Lennon himself called “virtually the Communist Manifesto,” during a time in which the world is suffering from a virus that originated in a Communist-run country. “Come Together” would have been a better choice.

The CDC uses patriotic terms like “war” and “protecting America.” It’s time politicians, the press and celebrities align themselves with the third group: the ones who elected them . . . read their articles . . . and stream their content.

The climax of “Parasite” results in the former housekeeper’s husband, quarantined in the Parks’ bunker, starting an all-out riot in their backyard. People with a platform need to maintain calm while aligning their audiences’ priorities with their own. Calm trickles down, but so does panic. Calm is essential to enduring any crisis. This one is not exempt.

About Melanie Wilcox

Melanie Wilcox is a Chicago-based marketing specialist at Praxair Distribution, Inc., a leading industrial gas company in North and South America, and worldwide. For several years, she wrote speeches, crafted communications plans and created advertising campaigns for members of Congress, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies at a D.C.-based public relations firm. She received her Master of Science in Journalism degree from Northwestern University in 2019, where she specialized in business and technology reporting and documentary filmmaking. Views do not reflect that of her employer.

Photo: Getty Images

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