October 7, 2020

Creature

A fly sat atop Mike Pence’s head for two minutes and three seconds during the vice presidential debate. This headline appeared in the New York Times and elsewhere, and I’m glad it was recorded for posterity. During this debate between two supernaturally telegenic candidates, a large fly landed on the vice president’s perfectly shellacked, snowy-white hair. It hardly moved while the man rambled about hallucinatory riots. The fly complemented the aura of this man who already lives in the uncanny valley, a man who seems like an alien lifeform doing its best impression of a movie president circa 1958.

The fly felt like a portentous symbol in a year that has reached the caliber of myth. Perhaps it was an emblem of this administration’s rot, bringing to mind Sartre’s play that introduces Zeus “as the god of flies and death.” (As a counterpoint, there was the time a little bird landed on Bernie Sanders’s podium in 2016.) The fly could also be read as proof of our craving for spectacle—and as a symbol of our attention spans. Within a week, we’ve darted from the president’s tax evasion to a horrifying presidential debate to wondering whether the president was dead to tracking the spread of the coronavirus throughout the White House to, oh look, a fly. For two minutes and three seconds, the fly had done what even a pandemic could not: it briefly unified the nation.


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Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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