It has been three years since the World Health Organization declared the spread of Covid-19 a pandemic, and we’re just starting to see how it is “not just a crisis of public health but also a distinct cultural era,” writes the Times Opinion section.
When you think back on the past three years, what cultural moments, trends and artifacts stand out to you? What did you watch, read, listen to and play to get through those first few anxious months of the pandemic, and then through the months of lockdown measures that followed? What shows, movies, songs, podcasts, books, games, events and other activities helped connect you with others, escape reality or just pass the time?
In other words, if you were to put together a time capsule of the culture of this era to show people 100 years from now, what would you include?
In “17 Pop Culture Moments That Define the Covid Era,” the Times Opinion section shares what would be on their list. The authors write:
Nine days after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, “Tiger King” premiered. The outsize success of this Netflix docuseries about a zoo keeper nicknamed Joe Exotic — reportedly watched by over 34 million people in its first 10 days — had nothing expressly to do with Covid. But it had everything to do with the jarring change in our collective circumstances — whether it was a need to escape our circumscribed lives or the longing, in our isolation, to do something, anything, together.
It’s been three years now. Covid is still with us, but it’s different. In this time of relative calm, it’s possible to see the pandemic as not just a crisis of public health but also a distinct cultural era with its own emerging canon. What unites these shows, movies, books and songs is not a common aesthetic or shared themes. What unites them is us — the audience — and the way we reacted to them: the surprising way they expanded our lives, assuaged our anxieties, lessened our isolation or just got us briefly out of our own heads.
We asked an array of cultural critics to consider the following 17 artifacts, each of which captured something essential during Covid. These works reflected a tumultuous moment back at us, illuminating it and us, too.
If you were putting together a time capsule to let people in 100 years know what living through this pandemic felt like, sure, you might include hand sanitizer and a surgical mask. But you must also include the theme song from “The White Lotus” and a group chat about Taylor Swift and an episode of “Love Is Blind” and the unexpected online drawing lessons from a famous children’s book author. As that author, Mo Willems, says below of the pandemic: “Science will get us out of this, but art will get us through it.”
These are the cultural moments that got us through it.
Their list includes Pop Smoke’s song “Dior”:
Even before Covid, the sound of Pop Smoke — the Brooklyn-based rapper, born Bashar Barakah, who was killed in February 2020 at age 20 — had come to represent the creativity and confrontational nature of New York. For my money, “Dior,” from his breakout 2019 mixtape “Meet the Woo,” is the song that exemplified his mentality and his appeal. In the summer of 2020, “Dior” became something else, too — an anthem for the combustible, furious season of protest that followed the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a song lawless and full of raw power.
The hit show “Ted Lasso”:
The Apple TV+ sitcom about an American college football coach brought to England to manage a Premier League football (i.e., soccer) team arrived with impeccable timing in August 2020. It has been held up innumerable times since as a widespread “balm,” a feel-good show when we were most distinctly in need of good feelings.
Because the pandemic solidified TikTok as the go-to destination for a generation that was spending their youth confined at home and just wanted to dance together.
The video game Among Us:
Among Us offered the usual thrills of a party game but with the added pandemic enticement of controlled chaos as the outside world was spiraling. Players knew their assigned roles — and also knew that any stresses from the whodunit would evaporate at the end of each gaming session. You could play the villain (or catch one), then log off, enjoying an escape valve that the real world wasn’t offering.
And Bo Burnham’s “Inside”:
Shot and performed alone in his Los Angeles guest house over many months, with his increasingly scraggly Robinson Crusoe beard as a testament to his unraveling sanity, “Inside” traces a 90-minute journey from entertaining ditties like “Facetime With My Mom (Tonight)” to ragged paeans of despair like “Welcome to the Internet.” It appeared on Netflix in 2021 like a message in a bottle from a shipwrecked man, except when we got it, we were all shipwrecked, too. And by the end of it, we were wrecked in other ways: In “That Funny Feeling,” a comedy song about active shooters, mass isolation and climate catastrophe, when Mr. Burnham sings, “That unapparent summer air in early fall / The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all,” it’s probably not the punchline we hoped for, but it’s definitely the one we needed to hear.
Students, read the entire article and then tell us:
Which items on the list bring you back to the early days, weeks and months of the pandemic? Did you listen to “Folklore,” play Among Us, watch “Ted Lasso,” participate in a TikTok challenge or do anything else? What line or lines from the article resonated most with you, and why?
“What unites these shows, movies, books and songs is not a common aesthetic or shared themes. What unites them is us — the audience — and the way we reacted to them: the surprising way they expanded our lives, assuaged our anxieties, lessened our isolation or just got us briefly out of our own heads,” the piece says. Do you agree? What words would you use to describe Covid-era culture as a whole? What makes it distinct from other cultural periods?
What would you add to the list? Choose one pop culture moment, trend or artifact and use the excerpts above as models to write your own explanation of how this item helps to define the Covid era. How did this piece of culture speak to the moment? What thoughts, feelings, hopes and anxieties did it capture? How did you personally experience this artifact? What does it tell people 100 years from now about living through the pandemic?
Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.
Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.