We are just a few weeks away from painfully acknowledging Year 3 of the COVID pandemic. On the Internet, many are referring to 2022 as the pandemic’s “junior year.”
Few of us had any idea this event would last this long or exact such a toll. But here we are, slogging through the omicron variant, wondering what might be next. The “not knowing” about the next phase or the phase after that is part of what has made COVID so exasperating.
In the meantime, we’re in a much different place than we were two years ago, and even a year ago. We’re learning how to deal with the pandemic – vaccinations, masks, social distancing, schools – and we’re learning how to deal with the disappointments.
Or are we?
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Pandemic or no, lots of things playing out on social media these days seem to be a microcosm of who we are and how we’re feeling.
First, there is loss. Crazily, there have been more prominent deaths during these past 10 days than usual. Maybe it actually started late last year when John Madden suddenly passed on. Or on New Year’s Eve when the late great Betty White passed away, on the precipice of reaching the big 1-0-0. In recent days, Sidney Poitier, Peter Bogdanovich, and now Bob Saget have departed this earth.
Most of us only knew these people from watching and enjoying their work, but many felt like we had a special bond with them. Celebrity deaths are like rocket fuel on social media. And when so much else around us is going wrong, we often feel a sense of loss from their passing.
Just 11 days in, our hope that 2022 would be a comeback year, a turnaround year, a year when life would get back on track is already circled with doubt. Less than two weeks past the ball drop on Times Square, many of us are already feeling that familiar sense of foreboding and hopelessness as the bad news cascades like a cruel domino effect.
Second, there is a feeling of redemption or even revenge. That is being personified right now by Britney Spears, celebrating her new-found freedom from her 13 year long conservatorship.
How is she marking the next chapter in her bizarre showbiz life? By posing nude on Instagram and performing freedom dances. (Rather than linking these posts, I’ll let you find them on your own.)
Spears’ reactions speak to many people who simply would love to let loose in an environment that just never wants to let go.
And finally, there’s anger. Many of the most optimistic and hopeful among us are finding it difficult to retain their equilibrium amidst another tragic COVID variant and its reverberations.
Over the past few days, a meme has made the rounds on various social media sites, revolving around “Sesame Street” characters. The main protagonist in this episode is the usually mild-mannered Elmo (of “Tickle Me” fame).
Elmo is no rookie. Generations know him and what he’s about. Elmo has been part of the “Sesame Street” team for more than four decades, described by most as kind and loving.
So, when social media resuscitated an old 2004 clip showing Elmo going off the rails over having to give up the last oatmeal raisin cookie to Rocco, a pet rock, Elmo loses it.
This unhinged clip has now been analyzed by psychiatrists, social psychologists, behavioral scientists, and counselors who are seeing great symbolism in Elmo’s rant.
It’s been covered by many media outlets, including the New York Times is an aptly titled story – “Elmo’s Unhinged Rant About a Pet Rock Resonates With the Exasperated” – by Eduardo Medina.
Some believe the oatmeal cookies are a metaphor for all the things we love and enjoy – travel, concerts, hugging each other – that are now out of reach, thanks to COVID. Elmo’s loss over giving up that last cookie to an inanimate object – a Pet Rock – is the last straw.
I get why this is trending because this is legit the angriest I have ever seen Elmo
It’s almost like the pandemic is getting to him too (and he doesn’t even have lungs!)
Right now we are all Elmo having an oatmeal raisin cookie denied him so that a rock can be placed next to it https://t.co/hzkxZvJCYp
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) January 5, 2022
Elmo’s debate with Zoe may be a reminder of the pointless arguments we repeatedly have with others over who’s to blame, who’s in the wrong, and how we got here in the first place.
Elmo is attempting to reason with someone who just isn’t hearing “the facts,” and of course, that frustrates him even more.
And Elmo’s disdain for Rocco (“He doesn’t even have a mouth. Rocco’s just a rock! Rocco’s not alive!”) sums up feelings that so many have about the pointlessness of this moment.
According to the Times’ Medina, people (with apparently very little to do) are now uncovering more clips of Elmo losing his cool over Zoe – and of course, Rocco. And doesn’t that remind us of the people on “the other side” who just get on our nerves, every time we see them on television or in the news?
But “Sesame Street” civility to the rescue. In a world where everyone’s dissin’ everybody else, and we all feel a bit disrespected, here comes Elmo to remind us that it’s all good – that he and Zoe’s friendship transcends these momentary disputes, debates, and distractions.
Appropriately, Elmo took to Twitter to make his case:
Don’t worry everybody! Elmo and Zoe practiced sharing and are still best buds forever! Elmo loves you Zoe! Ha ha ha!
Elmo doesn’t want to talk about Rocco.
— Elmo (@elmo) January 5, 2022
But this ripple in the force of good that is “Sesame Street” reminds us just how frustrated and even “unbalanced” (as a friend of mine described it the other day) many of us feel.
Even the most upbeat and positive among us are having trouble seeing a glass that is more than half full. And for those of us who occupy the darker regions of the psyche, there are but a few lousy drops left.
It is unusual that so many of us are experiencing the same emotions at the same time. And that’s when I think about the forces that have the power to make us happy, with very little effort.
And many of them are people on the radio.
I cannot think of a more difficult task than to walk into an enclosed space – alone – with the mission to entertain, elate, and enchant. Day in and day out. No matter what’s happening in your life.
But that’s the mission of thousands of radio hosts who have to put aside their own woes, frustrations, losses, and heartbreaks, and make us feel good for a few hours.
And in these Elmo-like conditions where nerves are on edge, frustration is palpable, and anger is just bubbling under the surface, turning on the radio and hearing reassuring, empathetic words – “You got this,” “It’s going to be OK,” “Better days ahead,” and “Thanks for listening” can be all someone needs to hear. Of course, playing a great song that helps an audience momentarily escape the doldrums, smile, and sing (or air guitar) along is all part of that magical elixir called “radio.”
I know of no other medium that has this same ability, the same one-to-one connection, and the mass reach to make so many feel better. If just for a couple minutes. The ability to make someone’s day, especially these days is so important. I can’t quantify it, put a value on it, or tell you whether it will reach a diary or a meter.
But I do know that even us jaded media people – those of us who know what’s going on “behind the curtain” – fall prey to the same emotional roller coaster.
I cannot help but think about that amazing quote from the late poet, Maya Angelou, who understood the importance of a moment like this one:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.”
Do it for the audience. Do it for yourself. Do it for Elmo.
And right about now, we could all use an oatmeal raisin cookie.
Special thanks to Allison Jacobs for inspiring this post.
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