I am scared of the art affected by the pandemic.
It is inevitable that such a global, life-changing event will spread to films, music and TV for years to come. But for me, living through it is enough. So no, I don’t want to see characters from my favorite TV shows together again on Zoom.
However, I have made a grand exception. In May, comedian Bo Burnham released a special for Netflix called Inside. Set in a small guesthouse, Inside is an hour-and-a-half of Burnham’s signature comedic songwriting, with a few in-between scenes, and it’s crafted as if she’s spent an entire year’s worth of B&H catalog’s worth of gear. Locked together, playing with lights and cameras and barely rectifying his deteriorating mental state by making special.
Burnham becomes increasingly disoriented. He sits alone in the dark and wears a torn T-shirt and sweats. Despite my deep desire that I no longer have to think about the hellscape on the outside, I’ve seen Inside five times.
One of the best arguments for Inside Pandemic as a perfect piece of art is that it doesn’t outright acknowledge Pandemic. It’s feeling so deeply familiar at this point, Burnham never has to speak.”There are hints, of course. At one point Burnham says, “I’ve learned that real-world human-to-human tactile contact will kill you.” But many songs have nothing to do with the pandemic, such as Welcome to the Internet, a wild and disturbing overview of, or exemplifies, the chaos of online life .
Problems that existed before the pandemic – the fictional nature of social media (White Woman Instagram), the maw of content production (Don’t Want Know), the inevitability of aging (30) – all exist, but they are now the inevitable reality of our collective situation. Has backlight.
There’s no joke about sourdough starter or toilet paper. Because the mental load of living through a pandemic isn’t really about TP, is it? It’s about constant malaise, fear, either low or full-blown, and whatever the German word means “seeing the end of the world but still paying rent.” Burnham doesn’t catch it in tired jokes about hand sanitizer, but in the way he runs his hand across his face in between, or more frankly in bits like the dispatch of a Twitch streaming, where he plays a video. Plays a game that involves Option Press A to Cry.
Lying on pillows on the floor, draped in blankets, closing eyes while speaking at the mic – not much to offer but still performing – are real.
When Inside hit Netflix, I was completely vaccinated for a month. I didn’t return to the world, but took small steps, returned to my walk through Target, ducking into the grocery store because I forgot to buy onions. I dared to hug a friend. As it seemed for a brief moment that we might actually come out of this whole mess, I was chased by the feeling that whatever happened, there must be some kind of worldwide debate over what happened. Sure we can all have a meeting and say, “Well, that was absolutely terrible.”
Of course, this is not possible, and the epidemic, in fact, did not end. But, somehow, the inside helped scratch that itch for me. The claustrophobia and isolation represented on Inside Screen — the quick, knowing song about “being inside, trying to get something out of it” — made me feel a little better about facing the past year of being alone, calling it dead. Seeing face and acknowledging how much it sucked, even though I kept it completely intact with my job, health, friends and family. No matter how much time you spend on Zoom, there is no fun way to hide from illness and death.
What the Inside is pulling in is even more impressive because I know it’s not real. Burnham didn’t actually spend every minute waking up in that guesthouse. As I’ve learned from watching exclusive footage of him and many more clips on TikTok before, he’s got a penchant for creating moments that feel real, only to be revealed as part of a bit. If he didn’t wash his hair, it was intentional. If he knocked on the camera, it was intentional.
Maybe that speaks to his ability to empathize as an artist. At the end of the special, Burnham performs a song called All Eyez on Me, an almost delicate number bathed in blue light, in front of a non-roaring crowd. His voice is digitally downward, and he swings against a wall-sized projection of himself. He talks about leaving the tour for the past five years because he was having panic attacks, and like he felt like he might be ready to go back into the world — well, you know what. . You don’t need a pandemic to keep up with you.
Now, on the other side of summer, the horrors are not stopping. But with the help of vaccines and masks, I know that I am a little less on the inside. In my head, I hear the dark undertones of the otherwise bouncy, artificially optimistic little song that plays to Inside’s credits: “It’ll stop any day now, any day. Any day now.”