Lockdown Day 197 – Flash-forwards

Flash forwards are a powerful story-telling technique, which work particularly well in TV or comics. A character is given prophetic glimpses of their future, a scene that doesn’t fully make sense at the time. The best example I’ve seen of this was in Babylon 5. Viewers were shown the death of two characters was in the first episode. The question became how events would lead to this moment, and what the context would be.

I’ve been thinking about flash-forwards in terms of the pandemic. Walking down the street now, I sometimes pass people in masks without thinking about how easily the world has switched. Other times I have a sort of jamais-vu where the strangeness of it all becomes apparent. The posters and other background details remind me of the subtle set-dressing in the film Children of Men. These items work in the film to defamiliarise us, to show us the different effects of the catastrophe (which, in that film, was universal infertility).

I had a moment of this jamais-vu in the office on Friday, when I realised how strange the scene in front of me was. I wondered how I would have interpreted this moment if I’d seen it as a flash-forward a year ago.

Our office is huge, and dominated by a large atrium. Of the four floors, two are in darkness, even though it is daylight outside. The main communal space has been roped off. The office is mostly empty, many of the chairs covered in plastic, out of use for now. Only a few people are in view. All of them are wearing facemasks.

The scene would make no sense to my 2019 self. Where is everyone? Why is a large corporate office empty? We have fallen into a new world.

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