OCTOBER 24, 2020
Why don’t we try staying home,
Why don’t we try not to roam?
What if we threw a party for two
And asked only you and me?
I long to sit by the fireside,
My girl with me sittin’ by my side —
Wouldn’t it be nice?
We’ve tried everything else twice,
So why don’t we try staying home?
So wrote Cole Porter in 1929 for his show Fifty Million Frenchmen. In 1981 a less rhetorically soigné rendition of this notion appeared when a self-styled “futurist” (i.e., marketing consultant), calling herself “Faith Popcorn” (born Faith Plotkin), made something of a splash by renaming this social scenario “cocooning.” This term, Popcorn declared, described what she identified as a new societal trend stemming from the increasingly greater numbers of educated middle-class people who, rather than “go out” any number of times a week, chose instead to “stay in” and let the world “come to them” via the Internet, take-out food orders, and the occasional entertainment of a select few friends in rigorously controlled circumstances.
While the stock market crash of 1929 likely played a role in Porter’s cocooning avant la lettre, in 1981 the tumult of the 1970s, coupled with the emergence of the AIDS pandemic, might well have inspired the societal retreat Popcorn identified. And this in turn brings us to today, when COVID-19 has turned cocooning into less a social style than “doctor’s orders.” Wearing face masks and keeping at least six feet apart may do well in public places, but “sheltering in place” (as cocooning is now called), which my husband and I have been doing for several months, venturing out only for brief trips to the store for food, has been easily achieved. We miss visits from friends, though we keep in touch by phone and the Internet, and we do have the companionship of our cat. But apparently this “lifestyle” isn’t for everyone, as efforts to encourage cocooning have met with the wrath of the alt-right, expressed in tumultuous demonstrations and violent threats to the lives of cocooning–disposed elected officials.
The future of these cocoon-o-phobes is difficult to divine, and that of the pandemic itself even more so. While there has been much talk of vaccines, anti-vaxxers (who claim with no basis in fact that vaccination causes Autism, etc.) might well make efforts to create them pointless, as they’ll never take it. As for the disease itself, Donald Trump’s repeated declaration that it will disappear one day “like magic” is quite simply a lie. Mary McCarthy’s legendary shade–throwing at Lillian Hellman — her “every word […] is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’” — goes double for Donald Trump, if his wheezing breath is included, as the four long years of his Presidency have proven over and over again. Trump’s bully–pulpit antics may well fade into history, but there are other bullies out there. Meanwhile, we anti-MAGAs will surely find a way to cocoon in peace. Wouldn’t t be nice? We’ve tried everything else twice… Would you like some butter on that Popcorn?
David Ehrenstein is a critic who focuses on film and LGBTQ issues. He has written for Film Culture, The Village Voice, Film Comment, Film Quarterly, Rolling Stone, Cahiers du Cinéma, and many other venues. He is also the author of Film: The Front Line 1984, Open Secret: Gay Hollywood, The Scorsese Picture: The Art and Life of Martin Scorsese, and Masters of Cinema: Roman Polanski. He blogs at fablog.ehrensteinland.com