I have been rewatching the Damon Lindelof TV show The Leftovers1, which I admit I didn’t finish the first time around (so no spoilers, please). I have noticed that in a “post-COVID” world, parts of this show begin to appear prophetic. The scare quotes reflect the uncertainty many still feel, but here in Denmark, we are definitely post-COVID.
For those unfamiliar, The Leftovers is set in the aftermath of “the departure”, where 2% of the world’s population (140 million-ish) suddenly disappear. The subject of the show is not why these people disappeared, instead looking at the effect on those left behind. A new departure-related industry emerges, cult membership booms and dogs revert to being wild beasts. But for many, as we see now with “post-COVID”, life goes on.
In S02E04, “the departure” is referred to as:
“the greatest scapegoat in all of civilisation”.
Of course, the scales are different (the current death toll from COVID is around 4% of the number that are departed) and the causeless nature of the departure means that The Leftovers expresses an extreme result. However, this is one of the strongest parallels between the reaction to these world-changing events.
We are currently facing cost of living crises across Europe, which are sold by many as a direct result of COVID, overlooking decades of runaway and unrestrained capitalism. Globally we are facing major supply chain problems, inflating prices and increasing wait times, and we ignore the influence of the developed world propping up dictators that became rich on the back of a sweatshop economy. Finally, the UK’s current Conservative government is in the process of convincing the populous of the exclusive role that COVID has played in the imminent collapse of the National Health Service, and not more than a decade of active dismantling through underfunding2.
The “over-the-top” reactions that we see in The Leftovers will always have parallels in the real world. At the start of the pandemic, I (naïvely) hoped that, should we make it through this, we would live in a more caring world. I hoped that a universal basic income would remove the worries we faced at the start of the pandemic over government-supported furlough. Yet, the reduction of the pandemic to its effect on economic growth reveals that I was overly optimistic.