May 19, 2022

Can Works Like ‘Don’t Look Up’ Get Us Out of Our Heads?

At the start of Jim Gaffigan’s new Netflix comedy special, “Comedy Monster,” he responds to opening applause by saying, “That almost makes me forget we’re all going to be dead in a week. I’m kidding. It’ll probably be a month” — seemingly referencing both the pandemic and general vibe.

And “Squid Game,” a wildly violent, rich-eat-the-poor satire from South Korea that was a global smash for Netflix last year, while not about climate change, explored many of the same themes as “Don’t Look Up” — wealth inequality, greed, desensitization and voyeurism — flicking at the same anxieties and offering a similar catharsis.

As with “Squid Game, ” some critics were lukewarm about “Don’t Look Up” — for being too obvious, shallow and shouty — but many climate scientists were moved and appreciative. In therapy, we’re often told that the best way to address our demons is to speak them out loud, using words that don’t skirt the issues or make excuses for them. Otherwise, they will never seem real, thus can never be dealt with. In “Don’t Look Up,” most people don’t snap out of their daze until the comet is finally in physical view. Do the popularity of shows and movies that don’t mince messages reveal a growing readiness to bring our common dread out of the deep space of our subconscious — to see it, to say it, to hear it?

We’ve long been enveloped by a 24-hour news cycle that unfurls in tandem with social media feeds that give near equal weight to all events: Clarendon-tinged vacation photos, celebrity gossip, snappy memes and motivational quotes are delivered as bite-size information flotsam that sails alongside news of political turmoil, mass shootings, social injustice and apocalyptic revelations about our planet.

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