Inside is Our Covid Plague Art | Mark Seymour
As we slowly pry our way out of the current pandemic, we’ve started to see the fruits of this suffering. With every pandemic there’s an artistic bounce-back to consolidate the struggles that came from said pandemic. With the Coronavirus outbreak, Bo Burnham’s Inside is the art for this plague. For those that haven’t seen it, Bo Burnham’s Netflix special is entirely filmed in one room as a lockdown project, throughout the special Burnham addresses a plethora of topics ranging from the superficiality of social media to the pseudo-actualization of para-social relationships with humorous songs, all of this is underpinned by his declining mental health as a product of being isolated due to the virus.
What makes Inside so powerful as plague art is that Burnham masterfully becomes the world-spirit of lockdown, he focuses in on all the tensions affecting us in this trying time, to list a few: race relations and the renewed interest in power relations (explored in How the World Works), the breakdown of intimacy in the cyber age (explored in Sexting), and the acknowledgement of societal mental health issues (explored in Shit). Throughout the special, Burnham further solidifies himself as being the world-spirit of lockdown by developing this pseudo para-social relationship between him and his camera (which is used to signify the audience, and is treated as such (see All Eyes on Me)). Many content creators in recent years have struggled to ethically tackle the problem of para-social relationships where the content creator knows nothing of the audience, but the audience knows the content creator as if they were a close friend. Burnham seems to have an advantage here as, normally, his audience is physically in front of him, whereas for a streamer or a Youtuber they are much more divorced from their audience. This para-social relationship is interesting, as the camera takes a significant role in the special, instead of being merely what we look through when consuming media, the camera is treated as an object in the performance- the small adjustments and how Burnham picks it up and moves it around constantly reminds us as viewers that we’re nothing more than that camera in relation to Burnham, which helps dispel the para-social relationship that other content creators fall into.
The reaction we should have after watching Inside is a rebellious one, Burnham has clearly illustrated a lot of the flaws in modern society that we often struggle to address, philosopher Slavoj Zizek famously said “We feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom” and here, with Inside, Burnham is giving us the language to articulate our unfreedom, to diagnose society’s ills. For Conservatives we must paradoxically adopt a rebellious position against this rebellious modernity, no longer can we stand by and endure the suffocatingly unnatural way love has been warped, sites like Tinder turn the process of finding love into a factory line of right-swipes and reduce the potential significant other to looks and a brief bio. This is a perfect place for Conservatism to re-conserve, our political philosophy is a defensive one, but we must go on the offensive so as to create the conditions for conservation, reinvigorating the importance of a life partner is not only good for the lovers, but it’s good for society, understanding other people as people and not an extension of their cyber-selves will help bring communities together again. On the topic of bringing communities back together, Conservatism should be for everyone, and as such we should put serious work into how we address race relations. The Conservative political philosophy doesn’t yet have serious thought put into it relating to race relations, and so we are often characterized as being intolerant or behind the times. A Conservatism that dares to speak it’s name can easily build on, and work with, minority communities to bring out the common good. We champion the objective truths of beauty and God and community, but fail to champion these virtues when they’re coming from other cultures. This inconsistency is easily rectified by just looking at the wealth of beauty produced by communities other than our own, and as Conservatives we should push to defend those beauties, regardless of race.
Inside has painted clear as day some of the worst issues facing our society, and it’s the Conservative duty to defend society against these issues. We should channel our great tradition’s strength of compromise and order to break down these problems, and to rebuild our society better. Much like yesterday, just different. Once all is said and done and we reflect on the Covid era, I hope we can look back to plague art like Burnham’s Inside as something that pushed our society back into being something to cherish.