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Entertainment & Arts

Column: Has the coronavirus canceled culture? Not on our watch

Customers wait in line for the elevator to the parking garage after shopping at the Costco located at the Village at Topanga in Los Angeles.
Some of the few public cultural events occurring these days are at supermarkets. Here, customers wait for the elevator to the parking garage after shopping at Costco at the Village at Topanga in Los Angeles.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Well, at least we now know what cancel culture actually looks like.

Not, as it turns out, a group of young people poking their elders by using social media to suggest that men who have admitted to sexual harassment maybe shouldn’t get stand-up shows mere months later. Or that making racist and homophobic remarks should have consequences.

Cancel culture is when all the culture — parades, sporting events, conventions, classes, film premieres, poetry readings, art workshops — is canceled. When all the cultural institutions — the Louvre, the Prado, the Broad, Broadway, Disneyland, Disney World and the entire freaking nation of Italy — even the less highbrow gathering places — movie theaters, bars, restaurants, yoga studios — are closed.

When “canceleverything” becomes a hashtag and a mindset. When whatever remained of even office culture dispersed into a cloud of laptops hastily decked out with Zoom, Slack and dial-in numbers. When members of Gens Z and Alpha, who have been criticized since infancy for preferring screens to physical social contact, have been sent home from school to perfect their “social distancing” skills.

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(How exactly are we going to walk that back, I wonder?)

Coachella, SXSW, “Hamilton,” the next “Fast and Furious” movie and even Disneyland have been affected by the coronavirus. But wait — there’s more.

In Los Angeles, local parks and beaches remain open, as well as — for now — the bigger gardens, including the Huntington, the Arboretum and Descanso, which offers some respite from sitting at home trying to figure out how to use Zoom and/or falling into a soul-deadening contemplation of yourself as nothing more than a potential conveyor of germs.

“Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt / Thaw, and resolve itself into a dew!”

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Except for the past two weeks, the Lord and an atmospheric river have seen fit to meet coronavirus concerns with much-needed but perhaps ill-timed rainfall. Even during a normal flu season, it’s not a terrific idea to go for a walk in the rain, or the dew for that matter.

Indeed, the only real public cultural events occurring these days are at supermarkets, where we have apparently agreed, as a nation, that the most significant contributions to human existence are toilet paper, bottled water, bleach, mac-and-cheese, canned soup and ramen.

Especially ramen. But not, if my local Ralph’s is any indication, the soy-sauce flavor.

Citrus aisles, on the other hand, remain pretty well stocked — I guess with all our vitamin C, not to mention CBD gummies, scurvy is no longer a concern — as were, when last checked, the liquor shelves. Which is odd given the popularity of cocktail culture, as well as alcohol’s multitasking abilities (analgesic, antiseptic) and its historical black-market value.

Everclear is, however, enjoying a new popularity, which is worrisome on many, many levels.

So is Amazon, which stands to benefit both as a delivery service (for the record, toilet paper is pretty scarce there as well) and a streaming service. now that everyone is being told to stay home.

(In the Netflix version of this pandemic, Jeff Bezos, Bob Iger and Ted Sarandos would be off on some island somewhere, cackling over very dry martinis. Except the Disney resorts have closed, so maybe just Bezos, Sarandos and the guys behind Postmates.)

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Obviously, television and streaming services will play a big part in sanity maintenance during this period of self-isolation. Over social media, people have been listing all the things they finally have time to watch. “The Wire,” obviously (how did “The Wire” become such an iconic show when so many people still need to find time to watch it?) but also “Love Island,” endless franchises like “Criminal Minds,” “Law and Order,” nature docs and, of course, all those cooking shows.

Where, I can only hope, we will learn many tasty things to do with ramen. Especially the soy-sauce flavor.

I personally will be confining myself to the work of the afflicted but still ebullient Mr. Tom Hanks, at least until he and Rita Wilson have been returned to us once more, even if it means sitting through “The Circle.” (Though I am confident it will not come to this.)

The Happiest Place on Earth shut its gates Friday night due to the coronavirus crisis. A full non-weather-related closure of Disneyland has happened just three times in the park’s 65-year history. But this time is different.

I, like many others, also have high hopes regarding long-avoided household chores — all those bedrooms to paint, closets to clean. Could I redo my own countertops with only the aid of YouTube videos? (Once the danger has passed, I do imagine contractors will have their hands full repairing all the DIY projects begun at this time.)

I also will be taking solace in books. Indeed, the silver lining of all this self-isolation could be a revived publishing industry, especially if people become paranoid about buying used books or get so tired of looking at screens they put down their Kindles. What, after all, is more pristine than a brand-new book, so untouched that the binding cracks when you open it?

Everything you want — art, poetry, theater, even the deconstruction of film — is available in books, and perhaps, with all these public-event restrictions, we can go back to the old ways and discuss things among ourselves, either with family members or online with virtual gatherings.

Through books, or screens, we can experience paintings and sculptures, perhaps not in their original and ideal form, but singly and without the distractions of other museum patrons, the siren call of the gift shop or our own aching feet.

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Years ago, playwright, essayist and my hero Jean Kerr (“Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” “Mary, Mary”) wrote about how, when she discovered her children had not even a casual relationship with poetry, she and her husband (then-New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr) established a culture hour. Each child chose a poem to memorize over the course of a week and then recited it to the family on Sunday evening, after which they were exposed to some classical music.

I have always wanted to institute a similar event in my family, but what with basketball practice, soccer practice, football practice, choir, chorus, field trips, training sessions, sleepovers and all those after-school activities that I was told were required (and I hope actually existed), not to mention my general state of bone-tired exhaustion, I never got around to it.

I did once, on a road trip to a soccer tournament in Pleasanton, Calif., have my daughter (who somehow missed the family car-sickness gene) read “Jane Eyre” aloud so we could discuss the possibility of various school essays. It was lovely.

So now I have big plans.

All my children will soon be returned to me with, at least in the foreseeable future, strict instructions to not wander too far. And we are a house well-stocked with many books of poetry, plays, art and history. Not to mention my husband’s ever-growing collection of symphonic and classical choral music. (The man lived next to the Grateful Dead in the Haight; how did this classical choral thing happen?)

We also have an absurd accumulation of legal pads, sketch pads, colored pencils and other art supplies, not to mention several laptops, cameras and smartphones, so we are going to have a high old time. Because the best way to experience culture is to create it yourself.

If nothing else, it will keep you from deciding that it can’t be that hard to install a new bathtub on your own and blowing out the plumbing — which, with all those kids suddenly back from school, is pretty much the worst thing you could do. Jean Kerr may have helped teach her children a love of poetry, but when it came to renovating the Kerr-Hilton, she called in the professionals.


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