I read this piece by Willa Paskin on how we project cinematic narratives onto real-life disaster situations like the Ebola outbreak. So our response to the epidemic says a lot about how we interact with narratives:
Living in the midst of this particular “movie” allows us to feel a simultaneous mixture of smug and panicked. Smug, because we know how this plays out: Despite promises the disease can be kept under control, it spreads, civil society breaks down, and then, probably, the ZMapp teased at the beginning finally gets rolled out. Since you’re the hero of your own movie, you’re probably OK, though who can say about your co-workers? And panicked because, well, we know how this plays out: with the total collapse of civil society and, best case, you holed up with your children and a gun, rationing out clean water and cans of beans. And, besides, are you really sure you’re the hero of this movie? What if you’re one of the important characters they kill to prove that no one is safe?
Admittedly, when browsing news coverage on Ebola, I found myself thinking of “the waterless flood” in Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. And that seems to support the idea that we make spectacles out of disasters, but the psychological distance which makes the exercise “safe” is provided by those authors of narratives who rely on real-life disaster situations. So it’s something of a mutual relationship between reality and narrative.