If we're to believe what we're told, we're in danger. Not because of an unstoppable novel coronavirus ravaging the social fabric. Not even because of the concurrent right-wing wet dream of ever-expanding police powers. The real danger of this holiday from hell, if you're to believe the meme repeated ad infinitum across Twitter? People making podcasts or writing novels. People might start trying to fill the demoralising sameness of life in a vacuum. People might start getting ideas.
I get it. Art that tries too hard to capture the moment is often grim, and some very annoying and talentless people will be all too empowered by this. From Green Day's American Idiot to the mere existence of the #EUSupergirl, every crisis of humanity has its own execrable art, and we're getting ours already.
Think: that bunch of celebrities singing "Imagine" – turns out there is a way to make Band Aid more depressing, and it's doing Band Aid on a Zoom call. Think Alain de Botton's The School of Life, a sort of expensive church for people who shop at Oliver Bonas, publishing and hastily deleting the poem "Fuck You Virus". Closing with the immortal couplet "We're going to fuck you to the death / And win", it quickly joined Carol Ann Duffy's tribute to the Orlando shootings in the league of tragedy-poetry somehow worse than the tragedy itself (hers poignantly closed by rebutting to the shooter that "God is gay").
But here's the thing: between the gaping holes in Britain's so-called safety net and the distress of watching my favourite big Sainsbury's descend slowly into a warzone, I'm finding very few upsides to the abrupt halt of human civilisation. But there is one possible contender: the crisis is freeing up time for creative pursuit (for some of us anyway), and we're sure to eventually see some decent stuff by people who otherwise wouldn't have had the time to make it.
Many of us have been liberated from the slow sap of commutes and constantly having to pretend we're being productive in offices. Despite what the Twitter scolds say, that is cause for hope, not fear. Your enemy is not the smalltime creator with more time to piss about. Your enemy is a system that suffocates creativity at every turn, in favour of a monoculture of empty productivity. We should be welcoming its brief demise with open arms.
So why aren't we? Only a few short weeks ago, we were full-tilt beholden to the hot-take-industrial complex, and a contrarian sneer at any art was the easiest way to stake oneself out as a unique voice on the "socials". It's a tough habit to break. The first person to loudly disavow something becomes a twisted sort of winner in an attention economy that compels us to move from issue to issue at breakneck speed. Sneering at stuff that doesn't even exist yet? Basically a way of securing your winnings indefinitely.
But that world is paused and its profit extractive machines turned off, for a while. We no longer need be such willing contrarians at the coalface of the attention economy. So let it go. Your preemptive snark about imaginary novellas and podcasts, about every novice quarantine techno mix that'll appear on Soundcloud? Ultimately, they're far more tedious, predictable and epochal an art form than whatever shit they end up staging at Edinburgh Fringe 2021 about all of this will be.