Why isn't anyone wearing a mask!?

By Samantha Sutton
Oct 14, 2020 @ 3:22 pm
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It doesn’t matter what I’m watching on TV, my reaction is still the same: a tiny, panicked jump, followed by a sigh of relief once I remember that, wait a minute — this show isn’t real life. It’s not something spooky or scary that's making me feel anxious (although, yes, Bly Manor kept me up at night). It’s the fact that it’s 2020, and whenever I see someone not wearing a mask, I immediately feel alarmed and concerned.

Speaking with friends and coworkers, I know I’m not alone when it comes to viewer mask anxiety, or "Netflix and Panic" — a phrase we’ve since welcomed into our vocabulary. Party scenes, random hookups, a brief mention of “not feeling well” — even if it’s something fiction and even if that show or movie was filmed decades ago, it no longer feels silly and fun to watch. We’ve spent so much of this year social distancing and taking safety precautions because of a global pandemic. At first glance, someone pushing through a crowd or letting out a loud cough on screen seems extremely weird and even dangerous.

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Even watching reality shows, where I know the cast has been quarantined and tested numerous times, I’m still shocked to see such carefree behavior. I love a dating competition as much as the next Love Island or Bachelorette fan, but seeing people so comfortably kissing total strangers on the first night? I’m reminded how quickly COVID-19 can spread. While I’m still laughing and tuning in each episode, I’m also worrying in the back of my mind. What if someone had a false negative on their test? Or what if they get so used to this controlled environment, that they let their guard down once they get out of that house? It’s something extra I didn’t intend to be thinking about, and yet, here I am.

I know it doesn’t make sense. I know that the jumpy part of binging Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all the scenes with demons, not the time she ran away and rode a bus packed with people without wearing PPE. I know it’s more popular to think about how much it would be to rent a Friends-like apartment, and not that they’re all running back and forth in the hallway, touching doors and then touching each other. But it’s now a habit to be concerned about everyone’s health, and despite the fact that it’s an added stressor while trying to escape the doom and gloom, I’m not convinced that's a bad thing.

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We’ve heard over and over again that we’re living in “unprecedented times.” Netflix and Panic just happens to be one of those not-so-fun surprises of 2020, and I'm hoping that, just like coronavirus, it goes away soon.