Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Swine Flu

You might be thinking that this topic is a few weeks old and kind of stale by now, and you wouldn't be wrong...but it's actually much older than that. I remember reading somewhere (please don't ask for a link; I don't have one, and I'm not going to look for one) that there was a Swine Flu outbreak in the mid-'70s that caused a mild panic and then faded away (sound familiar?).

Well, sure enough, as I was checking my e-mail this morning and looking for stories to comment on for my work blog, I turned on, as I often do on weekday mornings, an old episode of the spectacular '70s game show Match Game on Game Show Network. (If you don't know Match Game, don't worry; there's likely to be an entire post about it at some later date.) While trying to forget that many of the people on this particular episode of the show, which ran circa 1975, are now dead, I heard host Gene Rayburn (dead for years now) make a reference to the Swine Flu.

"We all know about the Swine Flu," he said, opening one of his madcap fill-in-the-blank questions, and everybody on the celebrity panel nodded knowingly with no sense of confusion or bewilderment. Seriously, who knew? When Swine Flu hit about a month ago, there was the requisite panic--primarily in the press, to be fair--with school closures, Joe Biden freak-outs and the like. There were, and still are in some corners, lots of comparisons to the horrible flu epidemic of the 19-teens (around 1918, if memory serves) that killed millions, but almost nobody talked about the fact that the Swine Flu itself had come and gone back in the mid-'70s, during my lifetime.

That wasn't that long ago--easily tens of millions of people in this country alone, maybe more, remember 1975 in some way--and yet almost everybody old enough to remember the '70s clearly seems to have forgotten an outbreak that the Match Game contestants and panel were very familiar with circa 35 years ago. I'll leave you to speculate as to why folks who were adults and teens in the '70s might not remember much about that era...but I digress.

It's just one of those footnotes in history, I suppose, that everybody forgets about until it comes up again somehow or until VH1 reminds us all of it in an "I love the (fill in the decade)" special, which will inevitably feature a bunch of comics nobody has ever heard of along with Sebastian Bach, the guy from Skid Row who, to his credit, seems to be making a decent living Kathy Griffin-style by prostituting his former minor-celebrity status on basic cable.

There are some candidates today for future Swine Flu status--that is to say, people or things that folks will eventually forget they ever knew about. Joe the Plumber springs to mind (he might already be in Swine Flu territory less than a year after his star turn), as does Susan Boyle, who just entered her 14th minute of fame and didn't even win the competition that made her a YouTube "celebrity." Hopefully the netbook (I'm typing on one right now) won't get there, but it's a candidate, too.

Pop culture and collective memory are funny, fickle things, and this is just another example 0f that being true. As for the Swine Flu, if and when it comes back again in 35 years and everybody freaks out about it, I'm determined that (if I'm still alive) I'll just shake my head and say that I've seen it all before. But chances are I probably will have forgotten about it, too.

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