“Don’t Look Up” will soon be the most watched movie in Neflix history. The plot is astronomers discover a massive asteroid headed for a direct strike on Earth with a 100% certainty of destroying all human life. It’s a comical dissection of America drowning in stupidity, self-absorption, adolescent obsession with celebrity and trivia, and paralyzed to address the impending annihilation of humankind.
Spoiler alert, humans lose to the asteroid.
The movie is a metaphor for our failed collective response to the climate crisis. But Americans aren’t just “not looking up,” they’re not looking down, sideways or over their shoulder. An entire fleet of asteroids, far beyond the climate crisis, are coming at us from all directions, and the only thing Americans are “looking at” is their phones, which they spend one third of their waking hours staring at. And those phones have an asteroid in them, too — algorithms that make social media kingpins filthy rich by fertilizing propaganda, polarization, ignorance and hate, shredding the very fabric of civilization itself.
Every branch of the Trump Party is working to institutionalize the granddaddy of asteroids, an American “idiocracy,” where government and society boil in a cauldron of lies, delusion, suicidal contempt for modern medicine and scientific expertise, embrace witchcraft cures and whirlwinds of paranoid conspiracy theories. An idiocracy is a precursor to authoritarian, minority rule and a return to the glory days of white male dominance.
The pandemic has now killed far more Americans than the 1918 pandemic, more than any of our most deadly wars. But thankfully the “pro-life” conservative justices of the Supreme Court came to the rescue — of the virus not humans. Channeling judicial and scientific brilliance worthy of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials, SCOTUS ruled that ending the pandemic and saving tens of thousands of lives is unconstitutional. You never want reality or survival imperatives to contaminate ideological purity. Apparently viruses are people too.
America is welcoming back an old asteroid — racism; reburying Martin Luther King and resurrecting Jim Crow, suppressing black votes and polishing history to hide that white Americans ever did anything wrong. We demand the suppression of critical race theory but not the suppression of racists. While we sleep, white supremacist paramilitaries multiply like cockroaches.
We clutch our pearls after abandoning Afghan women to the Taliban, yet subject American women to our own Taliban, turning back the clock and making women second-class citizens by reversing Roe vs Wade. Once that’s done, I guess it’s on to burning witches.
American wealth inequality would embarrass Marie Antoinette. Billionaires now have no new toys left to play with but personal space rockets, and nowhere new to play on but other planets.
Gun lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene is an asteroid all by herself, openly declaring the GOP may have to “use their Second Amendment Rights” on Democrats. Yet Kevin McCarthy has untied her straight jacket, allowing her to swim in the mainstream of the Republican Party.
Utah is ignoring our own asteroids. Our legislature is little more than a Real Estate Developers Marching Band who only know one tune — growth, more growth, and deny the consequences.
Utah’s business leaders indulge in their personal real estate fantasies at everyone else’s expense: the dirty energy inland port, more drying up of the Great Salt Lake courtesy of the Bear River Project, the Lake Powell pipeline, carving a huge new open pit mine in Parley’s Canyon and cramming a new city of 500,000 onto a fake island in the middle of Utah Lake.
Our Legislature kneels before a cruel, self-indulgent, bullying fringe who equate common sense and common decency with “tyranny,” and selfishness with “freedom.” They’ve granted freedom to the virus to continue snuffing out lives, crushing our health care and education systems, exhausting and demoralizing our doctors, nurses and teachers. They are willing to sacrifice the health of our children rather than take orders from medical experts.
Polls warn Republican voters aren’t “looking up” at any of these asteroids, they’re actually looking forward to them, they helped create most of them. Many Democrats aren’t “looking up” either. They seem largely in denial that anything drastic must be done to stop them, including those that could, like Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“Don’t Look Up” feels more like a documentary than satire. With so many people refusing to look in any direction, the ending may very well be the same.
Brian Moench, M.D., is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the the author of two books, “Death by Corporation/The Killing of Humankind in the Age of Monster Corporations,” and “The Great Brain Robbery/Why Women Have Become Smarter Than Men/Science With an Attitude”